The people behind Nike’s ode to the city explain to LBB’s Alex Reeves how they pulled off the Immortal Award winning film
Decades from now, people will show their kids Nike’s ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ to demonstrate what growing up in the British capital in 2018 looked, sounded and felt like. Through the combination of incredible craft talent, considered creativity and cultural plugged-in-ness at every level, this campaign will endure in people’s minds. That’s why it deserves its status as one of only four winners of the inaugural Immortal Awards. As chief production officer for McCann Worldgroup, EMEA, Sergio Lopez, recalls from the Immortals jury room: “It was one of the few pieces the entire room agreed on; we were all very much aligned.”
Fellow jury member Tom Rainsford, director of brand, engagement and culture at giffgaff calls it: “Hands down this is one of the best ads for years. It wonderfully captures the spirit and energy of the capital and bottles it up in an engaging, creative and playful way. It's a wonderfully balanced creative, leaving the viewer not only with an enjoyable watch but a clear brand message that both resonates and is remembered. I love it.” Pretty much everyone does, in fact.
The challenge Wieden+Kennedy London set out to beat was a feeling that the youth in London didn’t feel like Nike connected with them anymore. This campaign had to prove to these kids that the sportswear giant could still speak their language - could get on their level. Crucially, the idea had to understand and reflect London culture, but it also tapped into something deeper - a feeling that this city and its people can beat the world at anything when they focus. The campaign would celebrate the city and the champion talent it produces, from Skepta and Dave to Mo Farah and Harry Kane, but more importantly it would pay its dues to the youth coming through, grinding their way from London’s streets towards their dreams.
VFX supervisor at Time Based Arts Francois Roisin instantly fell in love with the script when it ended up in front of him. “The promise of mapping London's subcultures, getting a feel for the zeitgeist of the city I love but also hate, at a moment where political uncertainties make it a little bit more tricky for everyone. We needed this - a celebration of London's diversity and Londoners’ ability to push through adversity.”
Riff Raff executive producer Matthew Fone sensed the extraordinary power of this idea as soon as he encountered it. “I was impressed with the detail, but most with the smartness of the creative writing to simplify a big idea and ambition from the client,” he says. “When I knew [French directing collective] Megaforce were interested and read the way they wanted to do it, I realised with their talent this could be good. But you never know until it is done and you see people’s reactions.”
Editor Joe Guest of Final Cut had the same experience. A high-profile director who was also pitching on it first showed him. “It was one of the best scripts I’d seen in ages and ‘right up my alley’ as they say. I knew I had to edit this film,” he says.
With the decision made to shoot on 16mm film, the team at Cinelab saw greatness on the horizon too. “We’ve worked really closely with Riff Raff on a number of projects, so when this project came up with Megaforce directing there was no doubt that it was going to be something special,” says sales manager Aarti Mahtani. “It was a creative choice to use film and the extensive VFX blended seamlessly to create an authentic and memorable film.”
Considering the all-consuming London-ness of the idea, the agency’s choice of director for the film was a curveball that injected something interesting into the campaign. Megaforce knew the city, but being a Paris-based collective they didn’t understand it as Londoners do. Their love for the place was clear, though. Speaking to LBB in February, when the campaign was released, they reflected on their feelings. “We feel this city has a special relationship with creativity. We feel that more is possible there,” they said.
The directors had a wealth of references they could have drawn on, but they were confident in their ability to celebrate London like it’s never been seen. “We really like grime artists like Skepta and Dizzee Rascal and great Nike commercials, like the one Guy Ritchie made [2008’s ‘The Next Level’
], but here the concept was really different,” they said. “We took more inspiration from English culture in general and mixed it with our own universe.”
Shooting the ad didn’t dilute Megaforce’s love for London at all, but spending almost two weeks filming in different locations around the city did give them a new insight. “We discovered that the city was even bigger that we thought,” they said. “It’s so huge!”
VFX supervisor Francois remembers this challenge viscerally. “I think we had a 13-day shoot all throughout London, different locations everyday, re-shoot days, all in the dead of winter,” he says. “My little feet will remember - intense! The shoot might have been tough, but the team was truly ace, it was such a pleasure to meet up with everyone each day knowing we were shooting a film that would resonate with every Londoner.”
Joe’s feet won’t forget all this work in the cold either. This job wasn’t contained within his warm edit suite - he had to get out on the roads to make sure the complex jigsaw puzzle would fit together. “I was editing on set and tasked with checking all the transitions as they were shot. It was hard work but great fun and I got to wear my best Nikes every day,” he remembers.
There were a lot of aspects to protect to make sure the idea was as brilliant as he knew it could be. “As the shoot was so spread out we had a lot of gaps and bits of animatic in the edit for quite some time,” says Joe. “The challenge was stopping the agency from fiddling too much before we had a complete shoot. I spent a lot of time finding music, which is a process I love doing especially when it’s that style.”
If the scale of the shoot wasn’t ambitious enough already, the idea required a lot of work with young people whose talents lay in sports rather than acting. “The idea from the beginning was to use real London kids that practice sport,” said Megaforce. “We were a bit worried about their ability to act but we were surprised to discover really interesting personalities during the casting. We realised we had to push them even when the first impression didn’t feel right. When in the casting we saw them starting from a very shy place, then finding the strength to break the ice and finally deliver a great performance they probably never imagined they were capable of, we felt really amazed. The kids we selected in the ad are able, even if they are not professional, to give emotions and performance like a proper actor could.”
Kinney Edwards, executive creative director at Tribal Worldwide and Immortals juror, believes this is one of the great strengths of the work. “From start to finish you just can’t look away from the film, every second is engaging,” he says. “But beyond that, what makes it immortal is the depth that went into truly representing the diversity of London, its creativity and its athletes. Sure you can pop a celebrity into a spot and make it captivating but for us, highlighting the spirit of young unknown athletes and giving them the stage to represent themselves is something special.”
But one of the many brilliant things about the film is its variation and Megaforce relished the chance to work with young sporting talent, world-class stars as well as performers like Michael Dapaah (who was riding high on the wave of his viral hit ‘Mans Not Hot’ at the time). “It was a chance for us to create this unexpected comedy break in the middle of the film. It makes it different,” said the directors. They dropped other subtle comic moments into the film elsewhere, too. Here’s one they wanted to draw attention in particular: “In the quick shot with the tennis player hitting the ball in the wind, we put our producer flying and holding a fence in the background (he has an orange jacket). Yes it’s subliminal, but now you see him, right?”
With everything in the can (literally, as they were shooting on film) there was a lot of work left to finish the ad. Speaking in February, Francois reflected on the VFX challenges he took on to exaggerate the pace, composition or the comedy in each scene. “For example, we recreated the droplets running on Michael Dapaah’s face in the barber’s scene,” he said. “We wanted to be able to place these droplets in the right place, dripping down along the side of his forehead at the right speed to enhance this feeling of embarrassment and loneliness. Another example would be the T-shirt rip of our football player at the beginning of the film. We simulated clothes flying off into the distance for the scene - it is exaggerated but still plausible. How about freezing over Docklands in the swimming sequence? Or adding 10 rugby players on Micheal Dapaah’s shoulders in CGI! The list goes on but it all contributes to the tongue-in-cheek silliness of the film.”
Like everyone else on the project, sound designer Sam Ashwell 750mph realised the potential to deliver the best of his craft on this project. “It looked fresh and exciting, I couldn't wait to get into the studio and start working on it,” he says. He relished the challenges it brought, working “to bring the environments and action alive with sound design, to knit the music and edits together so they flowed and to make sure that the shoot dialogue and ADR [automated dialogue replacement] was clear and audible in the mix.” Thanks to his talents, the sound pops throughout.
Thanks to the film’s ambition and scale, the colour grade required the utmost consideration. “The underlying look was one of classic subculture street photography and that meant shooting in 16mm film seemed the ideal direction,” said Time Based Arts head of colour Simone Grattarola in February. “Inherently it’s full of grain and texture, a definite rawness that’s hard to emulate shooting in digital formats. Despite the story happening at street level across London in winter, the look also needed to be rich enough to carry the story as it escalates into the fantastical and absurd. During the post production phase, as the VFX started to populate the edit, we continued to constantly review the grade, making sure that across such a super-eclectic crazy edit, it all felt coherent as one film.”
This three-minute film hit the public on February 9th 2018, ready to inspire British youths just as they broke up from school for the half-term holidays. Nike supported the film by parachuting over 75 pro athletes into the community to inspire young Londoners through a week of sporting and cultural events. Social media was flooded with cut-downs, vignettes from the film, GIFs and branded filters. It blew up.
Craig Stead, strategy director at Mindshare, explains the 'tap to advance' media strategy surrounding the campaign, which was informed by varied research but "crystallised in the insight that dispelled an industry myth for us – our audience do not have the attention spans of a goldfish – it’s in fact the opportunity to engage them that’s short (as they are ‘master curators’, using a wide variety of social apps, and media in general, at speed)."
The location-heavy idea encouraged Mindshare to dig even further into understanding Nike's audience here: young, Gen Z Londoners: "We had to better understand not only their household locations, but also their movement around London. This informed where we placed and targeted media, when and for how long."
“It captured a moment of what it was like to live in London,” says Matthew from Riff Raff, who had been curiously waiting to gauge the public’s response. “A reaction from not just 16-year-olds but everyone no matter age, location - in London or the world - they felt a connection to it. Which is what great advertising should do.”
Sergio remembers his response when he first saw it - a feeling that rose again in the Immortal Awards jury room recently: “Finally here is a piece of film work that translates millennials’ mobile and social media culture into film! It represents a new generation of storytelling and filmic style. If Nike’s ‘Good vs Evil’ set the bar for advertising in the ‘90s, this piece encapsulates millennial culture: fast-paced, raw, real, honest, mixed, bold.”
Sally-Ann Dale, chief creation officer at Droga5 and Immortals jury member, loved the authenticity that the spot achieved. “It takes London and uses it appropriately as both a backdrop and a immersive playground,” she says. “How it shows the audience what these athletes feel when they play. And inspires a younger generation to feel confident in their abilities and surroundings.
“And still everything about the spot is relatable, even with the fantastical visuals. I like the way it's shot, cast - all of it. I also think Megaforce was the perfect choice.
“The spot doesn't speak at anyone. It doesn't tell you how to feel or what to do. You're a part of it. And can relate to it (especially if you love sports and live in London).”
Immortal Awards juror and Great Guns founder and CEO Laura Gregory’s connection to the film is intense and personal. “I grew up in Peckham and didn’t run through it at night, I wasn’t a fast enough runner,” she says. “I’m a sucker every time I see this spot. Imagination gone mad, that’s what being a Londoner is all about - we are immortal.”
Creative Agency: Wieden + Kennedy
Copywriter: Tom Bender
Art Director: Tom Corcoran
Producer: Michelle Brough, James Guy
Planner: Paula Bloodworth
Executive Creative Director: Iain Tait, Tony Davidson
Production Company: Riff Raff Films
Executive Producer: Matthew Fone
DOP: Nicholas Loir
Producer: Nick Goldsmith
Edit Company: Final Cut
Editor: Joe Guest
Post Production / VFX
Post Production Company: Time Based Arts
Flame Artists: Michael Aveling, Jamie Crofts, Thiago Dantas, Al Ford, Stephen Grasso, Matt Jackson, Adam Paterson, Ben Stonehouse, Luke Todd, Leo Weston
Colourist: Simone Grattarola
VFX Supervisor: Sheldon Gardner, Francois Roisin
Producer: Chris Aliano
Motion Graphics: Jess Gorick, Stephen Ross
Nuke Artists: Aitor Arroyo, Ralph Briscoe, Linda Cieniawska, Matt Shires, Bernardo Varela, Leandro Vazquez, Grant White
CG: Ben Cantor, Dan Davie, Oscar Gonzalez Diez, Federico Guzzardo, Tom Hall, Dave Loh, Sam Osborne, Nigel Timms, Federico Vanone, Chris Wood
Matte Painting: Sylvie Minois
Sound Company: 750 MPH
Film Lab: Cinelab London
Film Lab Commercials Producer: Aarti Mahtani