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Into the Library with Sam Cadman


The Hey Wonderful director has become the go-to filmmaker for hidden camera trickery - LBB’s Addison Capper gets the lowdown on a particularly fun and distinctive selection of work

Into the Library with Sam Cadman

'The Creative Library' is LBB’s exciting new launch. It’s been months - years, probably - in the making and we reckon our re-tooled archive will change the way you work, whether you’re a company looking to store and share your work, or a marketer or creative looking for new partners or inspiration for your latest project.

The latest stage of this launch involves you, our readers. If you have ever been credited on campaigns or music videos, you can now personalise your creative profile - find out more about why and how here.

To coincide with launching The Creative Library, we launched a regular feature called 'Into the Library' where we catch up with the industry’s most influential directors and creatives to talk about their career highlights, past and present. Think of it as a reel showcase with a big dollop of personality. We interview directors and top creatives about their favourite commercials and music videos from their catalogues to find out how these works shaped them.

Sam Cadman’s award-winning career began with the iconic British hidden camera prank show series, ‘Trigger Happy TV’ . Carrying that irreverent style to commercials, he holds the distinction over the last 20 years of being advertising’s go-to director for real people - both hidden camera and experiential - leading to a ‘creative library’ that is fresh, funny and distinctive from traditional advertising. 

Sam recently won a Webby for his ‘Blind Taste Test’ spot for Liquid Death, which features in this very list. He speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper.

IKEA – Swapping

This was my very first US commercial. Working with the super-talented Geordie Stephens and Franklin Tipton, we hit 52 front doors in two days. It was real seat-of-the-pants stuff, driving through the residential suburbs of Minneapolis in two SUVS like an FBI motorcade about to pounce. We had a camera shooting through the back window of SUV one, two handheld operators that would leap out of SUV and hide in the bushes, and absolutely no idea of who or what would answer each front door. We cast two fantastic actors who were intentionally the least ‘Swedish’-looking possible - they had an apple pie in their hands, and me in their ear guiding them live. Wonderfully, not once did any resident think this pair were anything other than chatty new neighbours stopping by to say hello. Even the swapping couple were warm and friendly. After the awkward misunderstanding about his wife, they gave our Ikea couple a complete tour of their home. 

Hardee’s – ‘A vs B’

It’s amazing how, for the most part, we all seem to assume the best in others. Indeed, stopping tourists just off Hollywood Boulevard was perfect proof of this, as most, and I really mean this, didn’t spot the double entendre. That said, by then I understood how important the language used in setting up a dupe like this is. Like those Las Vegas mind-magicians, what you say and the way you say it can really affect people’s thoughts and behaviour. Here, our host peppered in plenty of ‘Pepsi Challenge’ lingo, so by the time he asked which hole they preferred, their thoughts couldn’t have been purer. We then asked them lots of questions for bonus bits of content, including any alternative name ideas for Hardee’s ‘Biscuit Holes’. My favourite was from a guy who had finally caught on: ‘Bisticles!’. 

Febreze – Couch

I still can’t believe we pulled this off. Standing on the corner of Broadway and Grand, we managed to stop real New Yorkers on their lunch break and convince them to try some new scents for an air freshener company. They were blindfolded by stooges in white lab coats, driven round the block in a golf cart, handed over to some ‘scent engineers’, and led into what they were being told was our ‘R&D laboratory’. Every person (except one!) went along with this experience without question, which is why the shock on their faces when they eventually took the blindfolds off was so visceral. The ‘laboratory’ was in fact a basement in an abandoned printing works, the sofa they were sitting on had been in a cattery for five days, and stray dogs wandered the space freely. The cameras were all hidden, the ‘scent engineers’ had vanished, so as their eyes got used to the lights, they were startled to find themselves utterly alone in what looked like a scene from 'Saw'! 

Virgin Atlantic - Upper Class Bench

200 actors in full wardrobe was the only way to make this happen - hiding around the corner and ready to perform an entire menu of in-flight entertainment in whatever order the ‘mark’ chose. We shot this all in a single day, having had a few days rehearsing, so this incredible troupe knew the beats of their scene. On the day, I used a loud klaxon to help cue each group of entertainment on and off. It was quite the spectacle, a period drama shuffling off, as a Japanese Yakuza got started. My favourite moment was when the video game had to freeze for the mark’s meal to be served... isn’t this exactly how it happens in-flight? All the attendants were real Virgin employees, total pros who showed up on the day like this was nothing out of the ordinary. I should add, sending a dashing prince on a galloping horse down New York’s 5th Avenue has to be a career highlight, especially as, after having said he did, the actor had no idea how to ride. 

Cancer Research UK – Lump

My mum died of cancer, so I was happy when this job was booked. For all its pranks and silliness, hidden cameras can be just as effective when making a serious point. We shot this in central London where the actual sidewalk was scanned by the SFX team and then manipulated on a computer into four different-sized swollen lumps: small, medium, large and extra-large. A robot arm carved each of these out of huge foam blocks with incredible detail - you could even see the blobs of old chewing gum trodden into the bricks. The art department painted each lump, the biggest of which was 5 feet high and 8 feet long. Amazing! In fact, the only thing more incredible than this heroic, creative effort was the absolute non-reaction from all the real passersbys. No one, not one person, noticed or cared. In fact, we had to use an actor for the last puzzled look, which, of course, was ultimately the point. Trying to ignore what’s going on around you is something the British excel at, but remember, that’s a bad idea when it comes to lumps in your body. 

Burger King – Good Samaritan

I’ve been lucky to work with lots of super-talented creatives, and some very smart CMOs too. Fernando Machado was one such CMO, who knew from the get-go that the only car we could feature was a Chevy Corvair. This is a rear engine car, which meant we could install a genuine BK grill under the hood and still have it able to drive. It’s also a convertible, so it was easy for the king to reach for some perfectly finished Whoppers. Because we didn’t know exactly where each passing car would stop, and we didn’t want the drivers startled by hairy camera dudes hiding in the bushes, we had to put the cameras on remote heads, on 300mm zoom lenses and doublers. And trying to hide the king was no mean feat either - that guy must be 8 or 9 feet tall with his head on. Unfortunately, we couldn’t include it in the final edit, but the local fire department pulled up at one point. Somewhere there’s a lovely shot of all of them, the employee, and the king sat in a line by the side of the road, all eating Whoppers. 

Popeyes – 12 Hour Drive-thru

I’m very much a believer in the Werner Herzog approach to filmmaking; an odyssey to immerse yourself in completely. So, I jumped at the chance to document Popeyes fans driving 12 hours across country. The entire production was shot using iPhones. Each vehicle had one in their hands and one mounted on their dashboard, and I was in a following vehicle with an iPhone too. We had surprises planned along the way, like the fans on the overpass and the advertising van that drove alongside them for a mile or two, which we had to get first time because there was no going back. And I could radio ideas and suggestions into each vehicle from time to time, although we couldn’t see any of what they were shooting. I loved this level of authenticity, spontaneity, and loyalty to the idea. By the time we pulled into New Orleans, it was really late and we were all exhausted, so the euphoria you can see at finally having made it was 100% real. That final scene was quite something to choreograph, especially walking into it for the first time right as we arrived, but I came to realise that’s often when I’m at my best. 

Safe Roads Alliance – ‘Text & Drive’

Taking someone for a ride they didn’t agree to is technically abduction, so we knew from the get-go we’d have to find a smart way to guarantee a steady flow of willing passengers, but who didn’t know what was going to actually happen. These kinds of predicaments are a common part of real people filming, and something I’ve come to relish. So, by the time our passengers were getting inside this cab, they believed they were helping the city with some research on the mass transit system of New York. This way, we weren’t breaking any laws, and yet their potential surprise remained intact. Rodrigo Luzzi, the actor who played the driver, had actually driven a yellow cab in the past, so he instinctively understood the ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ attitude. In fact, Rodrigo’s performance here is one of my all-time favourites. We shot the texting before the drinking, and it was incredible how no one cared, which is why I suggested Rodrigo ask them for help with the spelling of his texts, to try and encourage a reaction. By contrast, as soon as he started drinking booze, everyone went berserk. Obviously, these were just sodas, but Rod must have the bladder of a whale because he was chugging them all day. 

Liquid Death – Blind Taste Test

I love what these guys are doing - their cheeky, playful spirit is very much my bag, and the word from the CEO was to turn it up to 11. Again, a large part of getting reactions like these is in how the participants are treated in advance. From the very first point of contact to the point of filming, everything they’re being told needs to be reinforcing a version of reality that seems to be genuine and sincere. And in this instance, everything had to look like authentic market research for a corporate client too. This is crucial, making sure what the marks walk into doesn’t feel like a commercial shoot. Only then do you get performances that (quite literally) heave with spontaneity. Over the years, I’ve learnt how to make this process much more controlled than perhaps it appears. Indeed, by the time we’re filming, I usually have complete control over every aspect of production except the surprise and innocence of the participant – as that’s where the gold is. I still find the kindness of real people incredible, the trust and willingness to please. Subconsciously, it’s what I think we’re really enjoying when we watch pranks, surprises and experiences like these. And in my opinion, long may that continue. 

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Hey Wonderful, Fri, 26 May 2023 17:10:00 GMT