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The Enduring Power of a Story Well Told: The Man Who Walked Around the World

10th August 09

We’re super proud of our friends at BBH London who’ve produced something very special for Johnnie Walker. “The Man Who Walked Around the World” is a six-minute piece of storytelling that features Robert Carlyle walking through the Scottish Highlands. Carlyle tells the story of the brand’s birth, growth and development via some dazzling copywriting from BBH’s Justin Moore. This alone is an achievement – to keep the viewer listening intently for six-and-a-half minutes in a world where 140 characters constitutes ‘engagement’. Clearly Carlyle plays a huge role here as well.

What’s even more impressive, for us, is that this was all achieved in one take, with no editing done afterwards. Apparently there were 40 takes in total, and this was the last, completed at 8pm on the last day of the shoot. When you see how finely timed this is you’ll see why we’re in awe of the production.

There’s a great interview with the Director, Jamie Rafn, on the Shots site which goes into detail about how the piece was shot and some of the considerations that affected how it turned out. Definitely worth checking this out. Rafn took on a challenge many others thought impossible. As Mick Mahoney, BBH London Creative Director of the project told us:

“Every director we spoke to told us that it wasn’t possible to do what we wanted. That we would need concealed cuts and so on. Which would still have made a good film, but it’s the undertaking, the commitment, of doing it all in one take that makes it.  Jamie Rafn was the only director who felt the same. Getting Robert Carlyle to do it then just took it up a gear. He has exactly the screen persona that we wanted. Tough, uncompromising, enigmatic.”

The inspiration came straight from the brand. Mahoney talks about the relentless, unstoppable progress, & tough, no-nonsense men that marched the brand forward: “Justin and I decided that the best way to realise it would be a single continuous take. No cuts, no cheats. Just a genuine, bullish progression”.

We were curious about what came first, the time frame or the idea, but Mahoney’s clear that time length was never an issue. “It just so happens that that was how long it took to tell the story. We were concerned though that it was going to end up too long. But we felt that if the performance was strong enough and the single take mesmerising enough we would be ok.”

Although one would expect us to be heavily biased (and yes, we are), we think it’s very strong work.

For a start it’s one of those pieces of content that you look at and wonder how on earth it was done, so it has that element of magic that’s so important for a propagation-based media approach (this was produced originally as a film for internal use, with zero formal media budget behind it).

Second, in a world that feels at times mesmerized by the new, the shiny, the glossy (and we’re certainly guilty of swaying in that direction occasionally here at BBH Labs), it’s actually delightfully refreshing to watch something that takes that long to watch, that involves relatively little post, and is, in effect, a piece of film that could have been shot decades ago (someone far more expert than us will surely be sharpening their pencil to tell us that this is in fact not the case).

But more than anything, it’s a reminder of the awesome power of a story, well-told. At BBH Labs, we’re heavily into the role of new forms of narrative from brands that involve audiences in novel ways. We’re also into forms of storytelling that use emerging technology platforms to engage people more deeply, particular across platforms, and in a social fashion (see our posts on interactive storytelling & the art of storytelling, for example). “The Man Who Walked Around the World” is, in one sense at least, back to the future. It’s long form, it’s linear, it’s free of special effects. Yet it engages because the story is strong, the delivery is (as far as we can tell) flawless, and the role of the brand – whilst central – is carefully nuanced.

As one of our favorite media thinkers, Griffin Farley, of agency 22squared, rightly points out when discussing the piece on his ‘Propagation Planning’ blog, it’s frequently the case that online video features fly-by-night production and little (if any) talent. That’s not to say that this rough & fast approach can’t work (it very often does), but when something of tangibly better quality comes onto the radar, it’s a reminder of the value that can derive from spending a little more time and money on making the production stand out. Yet it’s also a reminder of the power of a well-written story, told exceptionally well.

Watch out for plans to develop & extend the platform. We think this story is just beginning.

CREDITS

Brand: Johnnie Walker whisky

Agency: BBH London

Agency Producer: Ruben Mercadel

Creative Director: Mick Mahoney

Creative: Justin Moore

Planner: Lisa Matchett

Business Director: Jason Cobbold

Business Director: Pablo de Arteaga

Director: Jamie Rafn

Production: HLA

Producer: Stephen Plesniak

Director of Photography: George Richmond

Post Production: Glassworks London

Editor: Kate Owen


One comment on “The Enduring Power of a Story Well Told: The Man Who Walked Around the World”

  1. [...] Se le prodezze di Hitchcock e di Sokurov sono per motivi intuibili (primo fra tutti la necessaria unità di tempo e di luogo) difficili da replicare in un lungometraggio, nei formati brevi di uno spot, di un corto o di un trailer la soluzione costituita dal ricorrere a un unico piano sequenza può dar luogo a risultati incantevoli. Oltre al Sunday Times, ha usato magistralmente il piano sequenza Johnny Walker (bellissimo: sei minuti e mezzo di macchina da presa che retrocede senza un’esitazione o una sbavatura su un sentierino delle Highlands). Quello che vedete è – lo dice il regista Jamie Rafn – il risultato ottenuto al quarantesimo tentativo. [...]

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