Director Rune Milton on heading to the Grand Canyon to brilliantly capture a young boy’s soaring journey through the air, into outer space and back again
Video games’ greatest power is their ability to free our minds into otherworldly universes, places we would otherwise never be able to explore. This glorious new spot by M&C Saatchi Stockholm for Swedish telecom brand Com Hem pays dividends to this with a tale of a young boy soaring through the clouds before breaking through the clouds to the stratosphere above. The underlying message of this cinematic epic is Com Hem’s whopping offering of Internet speeds up to 1,200 Mbps.
The film was perfectly captured by director Rune Milton and his production company in Sweden, Bleck, the production itself took them to Prague, the Grand Canyon and Sweden all in the space of a week.
LBB’s Jonny Martin chatted with Rune to find out more.
LBB> What kind of script did the agency initially present you with and why were you keen to get involved in it?
Rune> In the original script I immediately saw an opportunity to create a very personal and unique film. All of the ingredients were there. So I was inspired from the beginning, and I was fortunate enough to work with an agency (M&C Saatchi Stockholm) who valued collaboration.
They began with a sharp story that had very strong mechanics. But I also saw potential to create something visually striking. The otherworldly landscape, the chrome airplane, the analogue approach to filmmaking and the subjective point of view from which the story is told - I found these components really interesting. The agency agreed and we were on the same page from then on.
LBB> How did you capture all of the flying scenes, especially the further out more landscape shots?
Rune> All, except for the stratospheric part, is shot with helicopter in and around Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The cockpit mounts were shot in a studio in Prague and the reflections and backgrounds were added in post from the aerial shots we did. The stratospheric part was created with a mix of post and studio work.
LBB> How much of the ad was captured in post production?
Rune> A lot, of course. But we also wanted to create the bulk of what you see almost entirely in camera, so that post would focus on piecing everything together rather than creating it from scratch.
The entire team worked with the same vision (including DP Paul Meyers and post production). We wanted the film to have an extremely grounded and analogue feel. I guess we all get depressed when we watch a CGI breakdown of a slick Hollywood blockbuster. So we made rules. All close-ups are mounts, like you would do it for real. We added flaws. Slightly off angles, shakes, deliberate front light.
We created the airplane in 3D for the exterior shots, and replaced the cockpit mockup for the cockpit mounts with the 3D airplane as well. There were a few shots that worked so well without the mockup that we just kept them in. For example, if you look at the shot I use as a thumbnail, the tail you see behind the boy is not the tail. It’s the bar we used to move the cockpit. It works, so why fix it?
The wide shots had to imitate a camera airplane following the super agile airplane travelling at 500kmh. So it can only keep track in wide shots. The shots of the airplane going into frame are often a bit off, not how you would do it in CGI where you have total control. There is actually only one concrete wide shot, and that is where the airplane is going slow. From the moment it goes up, we lose the imaginary camera airplane (final exterior shot is the extreme wide), and from then on it’s just mounts. This gives the film a weird feeling, which I like. But of course, you doubt it sometimes. Like, where are all those slick money shots with the camera doing impossible things? But we stuck to our initial vision.
For me, the great filmmakers were working in the ‘70s. Where story, acting, camerawork, light and editing just came together. All the films and filmmakers I love follow this tradition, even in recent films.
LBB> The landscape is pretty stunning and almost otherworldly - how much of that is post? Where did you shoot / where is it based on and why?
Rune> I probably already touched on this a bit, but Monument Valley was the location of reference from the beginning, and my treatment is extremely close to the final film. We wanted to create something very dreamy, almost otherworldly and visually pure. Basically, there are only two colours in the film: brown and blue, and then shades of them. Only a few locations around the world could offer what we wanted, this natural landscape that the boy could explore. To our luck, we ended up getting the permissions in place for the actual Monument Valley and shot there. I still owe Lars Nordenson, the producer, a fine bottle of natural wine for that! Truly, the entire production team at Bleck Film moved mountains to bring this film together (don’t worry, we left the beautiful Grand Canyon untouched).
The biggest challenge was, of course, the distances. Most of our time went to transportation. When we finally reached a location point we wanted to feature, we only had minutes to shoot everything. Plates for the cockpit mount, wide shots, the whole deal. It was a bit nerve wracking, but we managed in the end.
LBB> The moment the plane pierces the clouds is punctuated with distinct changes in aesthetics and audio - what is this meant to represent?
Rune> It’s a transition. The boy loses control as his sister interrupts his experience and rips him back to reality. So the idea is that he starts with a nose dive, then he rockets up into the air, higher and higher. He bursts through the clouds, but it’s not as he expects. It’s basically an abstract mental image of him gradually realising that she is throwing popcorn at him. The music, sound and reactions support this. They take us out of the subjective experience he is having.
This was what we changed the most. We definitely didn’t want a cartoon feel with giant pieces of popcorn. We wanted it to be abstract, organic and as ‘real’ as possible. I came with an idea to the agency, they’d push back, we’d go back and forth a bit. Eventually, we agreed that it should be abstract, not grounded in a natural phenomenon that uses popcorn instead of rain or snow. This is one of the great examples of my close collaboration with the agency, how these discussions slowly transformed the overall approach and kinda made it a ‘whole’ thing with a coherent look and feel. We all wanted the same outcome, but it’s not that simple. You have to think and discuss a lot to make all mechanisms click.
LBB> How was the casting process and why was this actor right for the spot?
Rune> The boy needed to be balanced between the childish and mature. He needed to feel credible for the role and add a certain seriousness to it, but still needed to have a natural joy that a boy would experience in his situation. In casting we tested the kids’ abilities to imagine flying through a landscape. Then I made them scream for joy because it’s one of the most uncomfortable things to do in front of a camera in a studio.
Even after we had a few good candidates, none of us really felt like we had found the perfect boy. It wasn’t until the third round that he made himself known to us.
LBB> What kind of conversations were you having with him on set? It must have been an interesting challenge because he needs to have childlike excitement in his face, but also you don’t want to give away the ending...
Rune> When I work with kids (or actors in general), I don’t explicitly tell them what I want to see. I was more of the boy’s partner, helping feed his imagination so he could really visualise the journey. I would describe what was happening around him as the cockpit would shake and move in our studio. So his performance came naturally as a result of his physical experience and my prompts.
But that physical experience was also a challenge for him. We were constantly rotating, turning and shaking the cockpit while moving light on a crane while dimming up and down, helping him react in the right way. With all of this activity and so many crew members doing things around him, it became pretty intense. The more technical stuff you add on a child actor, the more challenging it becomes. And here we added tons of technical stuff on him. He was tough! And his great performance really shows, which is impressive considering it was his first time ever in front of a camera.
I also knew what beats I needed from him and what his emotional evolution should be. But I didn’t want him to know in advance, and he didn’t. We took him on a journey and tried to let him experience it first hand, in the moment - which I think makes it feel very real and natural.
By working this way, where every experience is fresh, I was also able to provoke a genuine change of emotion from him. That’s one of the hardest things to do with actors, to shift emotions in the moment. But we succeeded.
What results is not merely a childlike experience, but a credible and exciting one. If the boy was too childlike, you would never believe and invest in the story. Of course, he had to enjoy it but he also had to look cool and focused. A natural.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Rune> Well, in just over a week we shot two days in studio in Prague, prepped, travelled to Las Vegas, shot in a helicopter, flew to Stockholm, and edited the film.
But that was all logistics. The biggest challenge was creative: nailing the analogue feel. Everyone on our team was working towards that end. Not least among them was Paul. He was really the perfect DP for the job, and when he came on board I was so happy. We shared the same vision. He has a lot of technical experience with big production car films, but his work is also spot on in terms of naturalistic lighting and beauty in the details. I’d say without the look he gave the film, it wouldn’t have been nearly as inspiring.
Last but not least, our world class post team had the vision and skills to seamlessly piece all of the elements together. Our VFX supervisor, Mikael Balle, was like an extension of my own self. We’re so closely aligned. And the guys at The Gentlemen Broncos VFX hit their mark every time.