The director behind the beautiful but painful-to-watch Boob Balls spot on colour, creativity and a soft spot for ‘80s infomercials
Leilani Croucher’s work is eye-catching at the best of times – colourful, stimulating and packed with character – but her latest project is also a bit of an eyeful. ‘Boob Balls’ for underwear brand Berlei’s sports collection replaces basketballs and tennis balls with squishy silicone disembodied breasts. The result is a gorgeously crisp ad that… really makes its point.
Usually when we say an ad makes you feel something, we’re talking emotionally. Sadness. Joy. Confusion. This one… made us feel something more physical. Ouch.
That is some mad directorial witchcraft.
So of course, we had to get to know the director of this intense Aussie commercial. Leilani Croucher is a director and creative director at Revolver/ Will O’Rourke. LBB’s Laura Swinton delved into her back catalogue of zingy music videos and found out what fuels Leilani’s creative eye.
LBB> When did you first pick up a film camera?
Leilani > When I was in high school, I was a drama nerd and thought that if I wanted to be an actor I had better also learn about the other side of things. My school offered a film and television class, and that was really the first time I opened the door to the world of filmmaking. Soon after I realised I was definitely not cut out to be an actor (my face burns red), and that being on the other side of a camera was much more me.
LBB> And when did you discover that directing might be a feasible career?
Leilani> It’s always been the career I have wanted to go for, and slowly over time it has felt more and more like a feasible goal. A lot of my job at Revolver has been about assisting directors with the creative reference and image research, and formatting that to help sell their treatments.
A few years ago I started a second Instagram account, because I realised I needed a place for these images (that meant something to me) to live. A place to visually stimulate my brain. It was always purely something I was doing for myself, but soon after a friend of a friend asked me to do a music video for them off the back of it. It was good timing as I felt I needed be creatively active as a director, and felt the most feasible, simply because I was ready for it.
LBB> What was the first professional directing gig you did?
Leilani> My first job with a professional crew was a music video for Polish Club, recasting the band as a 1960s-esque pop girl group.
The first real job with a commercial client was a VR and documentary hybrid on Google Tilt Brush for Semi Permanent. Hours spent inside virtual reality artworks waving my arms around, plotting and coding camera pathways. It was a whole new learning experience.
My first real commercial with both a client and agency was Berlei. A great collaborative team and a really fun job to work on.
LBB> How did you learn your craft – are you self-taught or did you go to film school or art school?
Leilani> I studied a fine arts degree in film and television at university, which was a great foundation. BUT I definitely knew that it was most important to learn from working in the real world. Working at Revolver has easily given me the best education you could get.
LBB> You’re creative director and a director – how do you balance those two roles and how do they feed into each other?
Leilani> In a way, one has fed the other, being creative director at Revolver has allowed me to work alongside some of the best directors in the industry. That in turn has pushed me to be better, to work to a higher standard, and really go for things that I believe in.
LBB> You taught in Japan for a bit – that’s a culture that’s got a really interesting take on aesthetics (both modern and traditional). Is there anything that stayed with you and found its way into your own creative output or process from that time?
Leilani> I love Japan, it really is my favourite place. The mix of modern and traditional is so ever present. It’s being engulfed in a throng of people one moment, and then standing in silence the next. Seeing beauty in things that others have discounted is something I think that I have taken on from living in Japan. Artists and filmmakers, like Leiko Shiga, Yayoi Kusama, Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murakami, Takeshi Kitano, Tadao Ando and Hayao Miyazaki, all ask you to look past the surface and the reality we are used to and see what’s underneath. And that’s a really great place to be.
LBB> You’ve been with Revolver/Will O’Rourke for seven years – how and why did you come to join them?
Leilani> I worked at The Editors on the front desk for two years after finishing uni. Over the time I was there I became more certain that film directing and being in production was definitely where I wanted to be. It was a great place start as I met a lot of production companies, and I could see the work first hand that was produced. Revolver was always somewhere I wanted to go, the quality of work and people was what drew me in, and what made me stay.
LBB> I love how you use colour in your work – at what stage in the process do you start working on colour? And do you have a particular colourist you like to work with in post?
Leilani> I am drawn to things that pull you in, things that jump out at you and I think colour plays a big part in that. For me that starts right at the beginning, creating a world for something to live in. I love things that feel a bit wrong, that it’s right. I have worked with a few different colourists, all who have brought a different layer to the work. Scott Stirling has been a big collaborator.
LBB> How do you decide what projects you want to work on?
Leilani> I think the biggest thing to consider always is, does the job appeal to me as a person? Is there opportunity and room to build on an idea, to take it into a world I want to explore, and I guess ultimately is there something about it that speaks to me?
LBB> Got to ask you about the Boob Balls… when you saw the idea what was your initial reaction?
Leilani> I think I was surprised, and then really excited. It’s such a powerful idea and something that really speaks to our experience as women. You FEEL it, even when it’s just words on a page, any idea like that is one you have to jump on.
LBB> As the owner of some boobs myself, I definitely experienced some… empathy twinges. Which I guess is one of the goals of the spot!! Was that reaction something you were going for?
Leilani> The goal was to show how boobs move under pressure, and I think part of that is always going to make you feel weird. When we were developing the Boob Balls with Odd Studios we would test prototypes by dropping and bouncing them; and every time I felt it. For me that visceral, emotional reaction really encompasses the idea.
LBB> What were the main production challenges with the Berlei ad?
Leilani> The biggest challenges were making the Boob Balls. Finding that line that made them feel both real, and surreal. It’s a difficult mix to get right, too far one way and it could have been just a bit too anatomical, too far the other way and you lose the impact. We had a LOT of conversations about nipples, areola sizing, jiggle vs bounce; the research and development phase was very thorough.
LBB> There’s a real graphic and clean look to the spot that I guess makes it more playful and bit less salacious – how did you get to that aesthetic and what sort of influences or ideas did you draw from?
Leilani> I loved the idea of making the world something that was a bit removed from reality. Somewhere that felt stylish, fun, inviting and wasn’t taking itself too seriously. We worked with a production designer to create a hybrid sports court that remixed lines and markings from various sports to create a space that felt both familiar and intriguing.
The colour palette was created to complement and enhance our hero bras. We used that as a base and built a set that would work for both the bras and our Boob Balls. For this idea to really cut through we needed to embrace the unusual, and play up the surreal.
LBB> And what are the boobs made from?
Leilani> Odd Studios made the Boob Balls using silicone, with different percentages of deadener to make them squishy or bouncy. Creating boobs of different sizes, colours and softness wasn’t an easy task. They had to be seamless, to bounce and squish photogenically with extreme slow-motion capture. For filming we made a mix of practical and softer hero balls (for close up jiggles and squishes). The practical balls were real sports balls covered with a ‘skin’, and the softer balls were filled with silicone. There wasn’t a single construction method that worked for all; some balls had an inner ball structure to hold the shape and structure, and this also avoided adding unnecessary weight.
LBB> Which of your music videos are your favourites and why?
Leilani> That’s a hard one, I really like the Jack Ladder ‘Susan’ video as it combines so many things that I love. The infomercials and television specials for psychic hotlines from the 1980s are a truly fascinating reflection of our constant desire to find the answers. It’s a combination of over-the-top melodrama mixed with real people trying to better themselves, which I find captivating. The promise of a better life is something everyone is searching for.
LBB> What’s the craziest memory you’ve got from set?
Leilani> At the end of the Berlei shoot our last shot was dropping the tennis boob balls for a ‘raining boobs’ shot. There was six or seven crew trying to drop the Boob Balls from different heights with precise timings so they would all bounce up in the right formation; this was a very odd moment to witness.
LBB> What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
Leilani> Watch too much TV, and scroll to the depths of Instagram.
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