It’s all about the balls

How advertising ‘making-of’ films went from private indulgence to public embarrassment

The making-of film was once a purely self-indulgent exercise, crappily shot by a second-rate corporate video director and biked around on a DVD to the client who would watch the thing once (possibly with his wife) before tossing it in the bin.

Nowadays, the exercise is equally self-indulgent, but the difference is it gets seen by the world. The making of the T-Mobile Dance ad has been viewed 1.4 million times on YouTube, FFS.

And whereas once it was optional to have a making-of, this ability to reach a wider audience has meant it has become a mandatory. I can understand why the general public might be interested to see how the latest Sony or Honda ad was put together (there used to be a very popular TV programme called How Did They Do That?, which often featured adverts). But does anyone really want to see how the latest dross for Foxy Bingo was made? No. And yet these making-ofs, and many more, are now playing at your local YouTube.

The making-of video follows pretty much a set form. It opens with a technical guy – the production manager or some Orc from the art department – saying “It was one big experiment from the beginning”, or “We didn’t think it would be possible”. The film then runs you through the production of the ad, interspersed with interviews with the director (sunglasses soldered to his face), the creative director (for some reason always required on the big foreign shoots) and occasionally even the client, who will be the only person who mentions the ‘brand promise’. After a couple of gratuitous shots of tourists gawping at the giant bunnies/ entire cityblock of foam, the film then ends, with a bit of whooping, and the production guy saying “It was the most technically difficult job I’ve ever done” or “We had a great time making this”.

Most of the action is extremely dull. Thrill as a gaffermoves a light. Marvel as a producer stares at a monitor. Yawn as five middle-aged men wearing shorts stand around in the desert talking about weather balloons (Toshiba Space Chair).

To be fair, there are occasional insights for the viewing ad professional. In the Balls making-of, Richard Flintham reveals on set that “We’ve been listening to some Jose Gonzalez”. Interesting – to me, at least – that they had the track before they’d shot the ad. How often does that happen? And the way they animated the rabbits in Sony Play-Doh is kind of cool – after every frame, they swapped each bunny with one of the same colour but in a different position, so that all the bunnies they had were being used all the time.

But most of the insights are banal. “The ingenuity of the piece was very important,” asserts Tony Davidson in the making of Honda Cog. “It’s all about the balls,” explains Nicolai Fuglsig … in the making of Sony Balls.

The rare moments of comedy are unintentional, like the sight of the production assistant whose only job consists of holding a Perspex shield in front of Fuglsig to protect him from stray rubber balls.

Or it stems from the YouTube comments. At least 95% of these are moronic, such as “I’d love to skate a bowl full of them baloons lol” on the Aero ad. But there is the occasional gem, such as the commenter on the Play-Doh making-of who asks whether anyone else agrees that [director] Frank Budgen “totally looks like Lord Voldemort”. (Not a bad comparison. Except Frank has more power.)

But overall, making these films viewable (and commentable) on YouTube doesn’t alter the fact they are still essentially a self-indulgent waste of time.
I’ll leave the final word to Paul Silburn, who makes this eloquent comment after being interviewed for the making of a Visa ad: “And there you go. It’s only taken me five minutes to take you through a 60-second ad.”

‘James McNulty’ is a creative at a London ad agency

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