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Somers Town - A movie or an experiment in brand communication?


Posted by Eliza Williams, 15 August 2008, 14:42    Permalink    Comments (15)

Stills from Somers Town, directed by Shane Meadows, produced by Mother Vision for Eurostar

Somers Town, the new movie by Shane Meadows, director of the acclaimed This Is England, opens across the UK next week. On the surface it looks like a typically British movie, a gritty tale of urban life and friendship set on the streets near King's Cross Station. However there is something that sets this film apart, and it comes from how it was developed, and, more keenly, how it was funded.

The film is the first release from a new division set up by Mother advertising agency, Mother Vision, which aims to create "entertainment ideas and non-traditional communications", and it was funded by Eurostar, as part of the promotion for the UK's first high speed rail service, which runs from the new St Pancras station. "They were interested in marking the occasion with a piece of communication that had more longevity than perhaps a traditional ad campaign, something that could be enjoyed long after the station opened," says Mother.

"Brands are in a position - like never before - to connect or build relationships in more interesting ways," they continue. "If we can tell genuinely entertaining stories that are authentic to the brand's core values then it's good news for everyone - brands find an audience, and that audience is entertained."


Somers Town has no overt Eurostar branding - the poster advertising the film only mentions the company in the small print, and there are no logos on display in the opening credits of the movie. Yet the station and the train forms an integral part of the story.

The film opens with the arrival of Tommo, a young runaway from Nottingham who arrives at King's Cross knowing no-one. He rapidly gets mugged, losing his money and bag, but, surprisingly undeterred, strikes up a friendship with Marek, a Polish teenager whose father is working on the rebuild of St Pancras station. From then on the film becomes a buddy movie, with the two boys vying for the attentions of a young French waitress working in a King's Cross cafe, and generally trying to find ways to make some quick cash. There are some rich themes here - immigration, runaways, surviving and finding ways to thrive in London's urban gloom - yet Meadows approaches them with a light, at times almost whimsical touch.


Towards its end (Spoiler Alert!!), the film, which is until this point shot in stark black-and-white, suddenly adopts colour, when the boys travel to Paris on the train in search of the French waitress who has returned to her home town. It is possible that this is meant to be a dream sequence, and the grainy Super-8 feel certainly looks nostalgic. Either way, it is an optimistic, uplifting end to the film.

It also, of course, plays well for Eurostar, as does an earlier scene when Tommo and Marek look out from the tower block where Marek lives and remark on the beauty of the new station, in construction below them. Despite this, Meadows was apparently given free reign to make the movie he wanted to make without corporate interference, and the movie certainly also has the Meadows stamp upon it.

It is easy to have a knee-jerk cynical reaction to this and accuse Mother and Eurostar of sneaky advertising tricks. Yet it would be naïve to think that the movie industry as a whole exists above such commercial tactics, after all product placement has existed almost as long as cinema itself. And ultimately a good film has been made, which has already garnered awards and rave reviews. Perhaps the key to this was Mother's intelligent choice of working with Meadows - a director who has an audience of fans in the UK who will be interested to see a new film by him, regardless of how it was produced.


The benefits for Eurostar remain to be seen. Outside of blogs such as these, the brand's involvement has been less trumpeted, and there have been reviews where it is not mentioned at all. Yet the movie demonstrates that such overt branding is not always necessary - we all know that it is Eurostar that operates the train between London and Paris that Tommo and Marek travel on, so we do not need the brand name shoved down our throats, in fact it would be a detriment to it if it was.

The success of the film also places Eurostar in the position of potentially being a brand that could grow to be seen as a patron of British cinema, offering funding to an industry that is always strapped for cash. This would require further investment of course, plus the even braver step of backing films that might contain no mention of trains at all. As it is, Mother and Meadows have managed to pull off a surprisingly difficult trick - making a film that is credible and watchable, which also serves as 85-minute ad.


hardly an innovative idea if you tell me.
did you watch castaway? 2 and 30 min commercial for fedex dramatising the lenghts they'd go to deliver a package.

And the other thing is, the involvement of mother is a bit opportunistic really. The only credit they have in the matter is handing mr meadows bank account details to eurostar. His creative input was rejected by meadows from the very beginning and he only became interested when he was allowed to use his own ideas and script writer.
2008-08-15 23:00:33

Do they have peculiar advertising ideas? I wonder how they get people to go into the cinema watching this if they are not Meadows' fans.
2008-08-16 18:26:07

no change here.
its just advertising in a film, it happens all the time.
as it is said in the article 'after all product placement has existed almost as long as cinema itself'.

on the other hand, i do look forward to seeing this film,
especially seen as the majority of it is shot in B+W, something i haven't seen in a great film since Schindler's List.
Thomas Wood
2008-08-20 15:18:18

no change here.
its just advertising in a film, it happens all the time.
as it is said in the article ‘after all product placement has existed almost as long as cinema itself’.

on the other hand, i do look forward to seeing this film,
especially seen as the majority of it is shot in B+W, something i haven’t seen in a great film since Schindler’s List.
rob hughes
2008-10-03 15:33:41

Pretty much every film you watch these days could be perceived as an advertising feature, whether it's for sitting in a certain cafe, or drinking a certain drink, so why has Somers Town sparked more critisism then any other film.
Shane Meadows has said that he was a bit weary at first, claiming that he didn't know whether it was the best idea for him as he had never heard of the writer before, but when he saw the script fell in love with it, therefore agreeing to direct it for his love of film making not to be bigging up the Eurostar.
The polish boy wore an Arsenal shirt throughout the film, is this seen as advertising Arsenal Football Club?
No. It is simply just a part of the film to show they live in London.
Nik Robinson
2008-10-03 15:43:17

To be honest the only way that British film will ever do as well as American films, is if we brake into the commercial market. This film is trying to combine its Britishness, with the ability to make money through advertising. Sure it may be a little Eurostar supportive, but do you complain whe Bond uses Lynx or when there is a giant flashing McDonalds sign in Die Hard? Advertising is part of what enables a film to be sucessfull, and it's what British directors need to realise.
2008-10-03 15:46:51

In an industry with no sound financial structure, it would be foolish of a film director not to take up this kind of offer, regardless of who it is from and their intentions.

Meadows had full creative control over his project and it shows. Somers town covers the same social issues as in his previous films and the inclusion of the ‘Eurostar’ takes nothing away from that.

Yes, this film has subtle hints of an advert but it is never forced down our throats. With the majority of films featuring product placement nowadays, it would be ridiculous to accuse ‘Somers town’ of selling its soul.

As long as subtle advertising in a film detracts nothing from the story and cultural representation then funding from big companies such as ‘Eurostar’ may very well be the saviour of the British film industry.
2008-10-03 15:47:44

Many people seem to be under the impression that British films need to be independant. How can they be expected to do this when we have an industry with no stable financial structure.
'Somers Town' appears to be a great film with a good plot however people are criticsing it because it used advertising as a way to get it off the ground.
If Shane Meadows hadn't sought out this alternative way of aqquiring funding people may never have gotten to see the film. Meadows argues that he had complete control of how he intepretated Eurostar into the narrative, although some may argue the narrative seems to focus on eurostar completely, how can anybody possibly know what the original plotline was and how much it really differs to the outcome.
It is hard for British directors and writers to find funding to make their films a hit and I don't believe it is right for people to claim 'Somers Town' has been ruined just because Meadow found his through advertising.
2008-10-03 15:52:08

If the film maker has an idea and no one will fund him I personally don’t see the problem to have gone to euro star. So he might have to alter the film a bit so what we see it every day in American film. Its funny when I-robot came out, converse all stars became fashionable again. if the film is seen as a big advert I’ll go book tickets for euro star; now it can be a successful film and marketing at the same time. I am not going to say the film is my type but I can see why the film appeals to some people. It’s not just a normal film either it has the art element as it is filmed in black and white then it changing into colour isn’t just because Paris is a dreamland with euro star because that’s what the film is trying to show about the kids lives
zac park
2008-10-03 15:57:10

How we can attack Shane Meadows for advertising in this, what seems a good example of British cinema. If people are saying Meadows has “sold out” they are completely wrong. Attacking Meadows for the slightest bit of advertising is completely hypocritical of some viewers and/or critics of such films as “James Bond” “Sex In The City” and other pieces of American based cinema.

There is no way that funding has affected the construction of this film, Apart from maybe the scene with St Pancras station in the background and the use of euro star in the final scene, but how can u compare that to the use of “the Rolex” and “the Aston martin” in most Bond films.

Meadows is one of our only good British directors left, unless we’ve forgotten what masterpieces “This Is England” or “Dead Men’s Shoes” were. Unfortunately advertising is always going to be there unless the film that’s being made isn’t going to get any money. For example in the un-likely event that someone uses euro-star solely because of “Somers Town”, euro star makes money, and therefore “Somers Town” makes money.

In my opinion if a British film such as “Somers Town” makes money, does well, people enjoy it and most importantly if ordinary people who would pay to see this film can relate to it, I don’t think it maters where the money comes from.
Maks Szymanski
2008-10-06 10:00:16

All of these reviews and criticisms of ‘Somers Town’ being too commercial are perhaps overlooking the fact that every successful Hollywood film has subtle, or maybe in some cases obvious, references to advertising products. Take ‘James Bond’ for example. We get close ups of his Sony Ericsson mobile phone, his Rolex watch, his Valo laptop and much more, for what purpose? To advertise and sell, and if that doesn’t get criticised for being blatant advertising, then no film should.

‘Somers Town’ should not be looked down on for having slight references to Eurostar, Shane Meadows has incorporated it into his narrative in a way which may be obvious to some, but can be ignored if the film is good enough. Also, the issue with the end of the film suddenly turning to colour is clearly because of the dramatic change in the boys’ lives for the better, NOT because of the Eurostar reference.

It is very difficult for British film makers to get funding for their films, so perhaps critics should consider this before slating the film for being a “covert advertising campaign”. Like I mentioned before, if the film is good enough, then the advertising just slips into the film, as a part of the narrative, after all, nobody’s forcing anyone to buy Eurostar tickets.
2008-10-06 10:03:19

I think that Eurostar’s funding towards Shane Meadow’s latest film Somers Town barely affects the value of the film and its values and it still portrays the same meaningful message that Shane wanted to put across. With film being harder and harder to finance there are limited choices as to where the directors obtain money from to carry out their art.

Although Eurostar may have funded the film and it certainly does have elements of advertising of their services I believe that in no way does it detract from the story or even make an impact in the long run. Eurostars involvement in the film and storyline is somewhat subtle and is only really noticeable at the end of the film where the two young lads travel to Paris aboard a Eurostar train.

My opinion is that the funding from Eurostar has not changed the storyline and Shane Meadow’s has been able to develop Somers Town and mould it the way he saw it. I think that this situation has caused such uproar because British films don’t usually use such commercialised funding like American films and has lead people to question the films integrity. I find that the film is an interesting movie and one that looks interesting enough to watch the trailer and go out and watch.
2008-10-06 10:03:59

Somers Town seems to undergoing a lot of criticism for being funded by Eurostar. Wikipedia described it as “covert advertising campaign”. However I believe Shane Meadow’s has made a good film here. I don’t see what wrong with a bit of advertisement in fact it makes it more realistic. Although to me the film doesn’t appeal to me however that is purely to do with the story not the funding or the advertisement with in the film. I think Shane Meadows would not have gone for anyone who would have gone against what he wanted this film to be like. For example if film four was to of have funded his film I still believe it would contain the same amount of advertisement
2008-10-06 10:08:23

Funny how this recent flood of supportive comments for the Somers Town film are all coming from the same IP address - I smell a PR operation.....
CR Patrick Burgoyne
2008-10-06 10:25:14

It's a tough one to call. Although, I doubt that Eurostar's involvement in the financing of the film had much of an impact on Meadows' integrity for the storyline. However, I'm not keen on the idea of a film starting out with the idea of product placement as the basis for its production.

Meadows has also got a new mini-drama follow-up to This is England coming to Channel 4 soon. It's called This is England 86.
2010-08-08 10:36:00

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