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Opinion and Insight

Why Trust is the Winning Formula When It Comes to Creating Commercials

Southwest Productions’ Staffan Tranæus and award-winning director Jesper Ericstam reveal the driving force behind any successful partnership

Why Trust is the Winning Formula When It Comes to Creating Commercials

Since meeting in 2001 and bonding over their shared international background, Jesper Ericstam and Staffan Tranæus have continuously brought creative vision and world-class production values to a whole host of commercial projects. 

The Executive Producer and Owner of Southwest Productions, Staffan has been servicing productions for almost three decades, having established his company as the go-to expert for shooting in Portugal and beyond. Since expanding into commercial filmmaking, director Jesper’s knack for capturing natural performances and comedic charm in everyday situations has been steadily winning him a reputation and an award-winning portfolio. Last year, his film for Allegro became a viral hit and received widespread acclaim, being dubbed one of the top Christmas adverts of 2016.

LBB caught up with the pair - who have just finished work on a new campaign for French supermarket chain E. Leclerc - to talk about why, when it comes to creating distinctive work year on year, they’re a match made in heaven and how they managed to convincingly shoot a script that called for a dozen countries in - mostly - just one hotel in Portugal (and did we mention it was all in-camera?)…

LBB> You guys have known each other for over 15 years. Having worked on multiple projects together over this time, how would you describe what is obviously a fruitful partnership?

JE> I love working with Staffan; I can skip all the industry politics with him, just pick up the phone and talk frankly. Previously, Staffan was a fashion photographer so he has a creative eye and, because we’re both from Sweden, he’s familiar with my cultural references and will immediately understand what the camera needs once he’s read the treatment. He’s a great guy to hang around with, so shooting in Lisbon feels like coming home. We often work together to pitch the idea of shooting in Portugal - when it’s suitable for the script - because we know that we have a winning set-up there. The whole SouthWest team is a perfect fit for me, so working with the same crew that understands our needs really helps get the job done. 

ST> It feels like we’ve known each other forever! There’s a lot of trust in our relationship, which, for me, is the most important quality in a partnership, especially a long-lasting one. I understand his briefs well, for all the reasons Jesper mentioned but also because we share the same values and have a similar sense of humour. Jesper only accepts scripts he feels he can make something great out of, so I always enjoy working with someone who’s just as committed as I am to creating some great work. He has a unique style, paying meticulous attention to the details and directing his actors in a way that bring out the best in them, so it’s a good working environment.

E.Leclerc - 'Marque Repère, 20 Years'

LBB> The ‘Shrimp Sandwich’ spot for OneCall campaign you both worked on is brilliant and the details of the café are down to a tee - from the cashier lady’s garish outfit, to the uninspiring interiors, and the troll mascot. How did you find the location and what did this shoot involve in terms of the logistics?

JE> The location was perfect. A couple of small touches really completed the scene and transformed the set into a typical Norwegian location. We brought a few things in our hand luggage that we couldn’t source in Portugal like the troll doll, and left the rest to the great art directing team. The shrimp sandwich is a perfect example of Staffan understanding the cultural details, because in Scandinavia is a very typical sandwich with a very specific look - but it’s so difficult to convey if you’re not familiar with the culture. What the Portuguese art director initially provided was not at all what it should look like but, thankfully, Staffan was on hand to help us get there in the end!

ST> When we’re working with Jesper or with a Swedish production, there are certain references that are so obvious to Swedish audiences that mean nothing to a Portuguese person. So I’m actively engaged in translating these to make sure that people on my side can deliver to perfection, and I’m on the scene to tweak the details when necessary. After extensive location scouting, we chose an in-house café in a senior living home that really captured the feeling that Jesper was looking to achieve naturally. This meant that we didn’t have to do a major dressing job. Logistically, it was ideal because it was right in the middle of Lisbon and on the ground-floor with easy access.

One Call - Shrimp Sandwich

LBB> In the decade and a half that you’ve been collaborating, you’ve completed 12 commercials – but is there any that stands out as a particular favourite?

JE> I’m very picky when it comes to scripts so when I do take a job, I’m 100% in. I think the Flytoget campaign was the most fun project that we’ve worked on because we were really creative with how we could use the space to accommodate the wide range of scenarios. 

ST> Flytoget was great fun because each day we were shooting what was supposed to be four different countries. Before lunch, we were in Goa, then afterwards we were in Saudi Arabia, then in China in the afternoon. People can’t believe it when I tell them it’s mostly filmed in one hotel! To top it off, Jesper could stroll out of his room and straight onto the shoot so that was the perfect situation. You can’t get a better recce than that. 

Behind the scenes

LBB> How did you manage to capture all of the locations in the Flytoget advert?

JE> We had to pull off this huge script which was supposed to be shot around the world on a modest Scandinavian budget. Staffan knew of this perfect hotel in the centre of Lisbon where we could film the bulk of the scenes, and where the cast and crew could also stay. The hotel is actually an old palace with a huge garden and park around it, containing a Chinese pavilion, which worked very well for the part of the advert that represented Asia. That’s the great thing about film, that you can transport the audience anywhere with creative thinking and the right details. We dressed up the hotel conference room to look like it was in Saudi Arabia by adding flags and dressing the cast in Saudi Arabian clothing. We also filmed some scenes in the corridor that were supposed to be in Bombay. That was just a question of getting what was supposed to be an Indian heavy metal band, so it’s a combination of these details that allow you to convincingly transform a space. 

ST> Portugal has this incredible capacity to double for other countries. I’ve filmed scripts in Portugal that were set in Afghanistan, Brazil, Tanzania, Cambodia, India, Uruguay, and the USA, to name a few. In terms of casting too, Portugal offers so many ethnically diverse options due to its nature as a melting pot of different cultures. When I first moved to Lisbon, I kept recognising all the best parts of the cities that I’d grown up in. It’s one of the many reasons I fell in love with the city and why I’m still here 27 years on!

Flytoget - 'Always On Track'

LBB> Jesper, your film for Allegro was met with widespread acclaim. You must have known that it would be a good script but did you expect it to do so well? 

JE> No! I knew we’d done a good job but I had no idea it would become a viral hit! It’s the first time I’ve bid on a Polish script, and I worked like crazy to make it happen and create an atmosphere where the Polish team felt perfectly comfortable with me. With a lot of hard work, all the casting and the development eventually clicked into place and we were able to put together everything you need for a Christmas ad. 

Thanks to the agency, Bardzo, trusting us to do our thing, we were able to add some depth to the advert – having ethnic diversity, which was an agency idea, was also an important factor. Representations of interracial families on screen are still quite rare in Poland so this was quite a statement. I’m proud of that because I think the power of adverts is in their ability to comment on society and encourage progress.

Although I knew it’d be well received, I didn’t expect it to resonate globally with so many people. My inbox was flooded with messages from strangers, who were so moved by the advert that it had made them cry. I even got job offers from companies like Allegro in America. Strange things happen when things go viral! 

Allegro - 'English For Beginners'
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Genre: Action , Comedy , In-camera effects , PR , People , Scenic , Storytelling , choreography