To create a short brand video for Differentology, to offer an insight into the company culture and approach and to promote awareness of the brand.
What we did
We didn’t want a standard company culture video featuring footage of staff in the office, because Differentology has a much larger outlook than that. It’s a company of curious people who are curious about other people, and the clients it attracts are curious too. We wanted to capture the essence of the brand: human truths, powerfully told.
With such rich territory to explore we came up with lots of initial ideas which we whittled down to three draft scripts. Of the three, this was by far the bravest and most powerful. It was a risk – a big ask of CEO Mark James and his team because of its sheer sparsity – many clients feel the pressure to shoehorn too many messages into the work at the expense of the final overall takeout, but Mark and MD Lizzie Gilthorpe saw the need for clarity and cut-through from the start.
The idea was simply to see through to the truth of people – all sorts of people – the way that Differentology does through its research and insight. We wanted to show a sense of the humans behind the faces; to envisage what they might, or might not, be thinking about various issues. To be human is to be ambiguous, opinionated, private, stubborn, vulnerable and changeable, and we wanted a filmmaker and photographer who could capture all of that. No easy task, and in all our minds there was only one man for the job: multiple award-winner Alex Telfer.
We feel very strongly that to achieve real quality work you must surround yourself with people who are amazing at what they do – and then allow them the freedom to exercise that talent. From the beginning Alex was keen to get involved and full of ideas to bring the project to life. We were insistent that our cast should be made up of ordinary people, not conventional models – we wanted viewers to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, and to see that every individual had a story to tell. Alex and his team, together with casting agency NE1, brought together ten amazing characters of all ages and backgrounds who radiated personality and presence through the lens.
The shoot took place at Alex’s studio, a converted church in Byker, Newcastle. With both time and budget squeezed, both the shoot and edit were meticulously planned to dovetail together over a single day. Given that we had a cast of ten and wanted to shoot every person from two different distances, as well as shooting some still images to complement the video footage on the company website and social channels, we needed an experienced crew and a bulletproof schedule. We allowed an hour for the first person, to perfect the lighting and camera setups, and half an hour per person after that.
We wanted to shoot a film that had an arresting air of stillness about it – moving image that was barely perceptively moving. Alex opted for a low-key setup – “very simple but beautiful lighting” – shooting against three very plain, neutral backdrops (“nothing too textured, so the beauty of the people shines through”). Using a sky panel allowed us to alter the colour temperature with a click from, say, a cool tungsten blue to an intense ‘road flare’ red, which transformed the mood of the footage from one person to the next.
The video camera was an ARRI Alexa Mini. “Its pared-down design strips out everything that isn’t needed, so it just delivers great images in a documentary style,” says Alex. “It was tested and proven on The Revenant – the big Alexas were too big for shooting in the Canadian wilderness, but the minis were perfect.”
Stills were shot on a Leica with a Noctilux lens. One of the fastest lenses in the world, it gives the resulting images a distinctly ownable look, with an aperture of 0.95 delivering an incredibly narrow focus that magnifies the intimacy between subject and viewer and captures the humanity we wanted to portray.
As footage for each subject was finished it was sent immediately to the editor, Dave Scott for East Wing, who got straight to work piecing together the narrative, playing with the grading and crafting a coherent story where captions and imagery complemented rather than eclipsed each other. Once the entire cast had been filmed it was a case of appraising the work holistically, fine-tuning the sequencing and making sure the captioning flowed seamlessly across the piece. The caption questions are deliberately wide-ranging and thought-provoking, echoing Differentology’s offering and culture of curiosity.
Meanwhile, composer Rich McCoul had been given the storyboard and a brief to create a brooding, filmic soundtrack that allowed the imagery to breathe. Again, on being sent the completed visual timeline at the end of the day he could hit the ground running in crafting the pace to enhance the edit and finessing the finer details.