BBH in London brought together a stellar team to create this epic two-minute ad for Baileys, which is a modern reworking of traditional Christmas-time ballet The Nutcracker. CR talked to them about how it was done.
The spot is directed by Ringan Ledwidge and stars Royal Ballet dancers Steven McRae, Thiago Soares and Iana Salenko. Providing the choreography was world-renowned dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, famed in part for his work on Black Swan. The finished spot takes influence from that movie, particularly in its clever use of the camera to take the viewer into the heart of the dances, but also the musical West Side Story. The contemporary reworking of a classic story is also reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet, particularly in the set, which was designed by Sarah Greenwood, who has previous worked on films including Pride & Prejudice and Atonement
The ad, shown above, tells the story of three women enjoying a girl’s night out at Christmas; as they arrive at the Candyland bar, Clara locks eyes with the Nutcracker Prince, and they begin to dance, before The Mouse King jealously moves in on the scene. The two men perform a dramatic dance sequence as they fight, before the Nutcracker Prince is rescued by Clara. In a twist to the usual happy ending though, she opts to rejoin her friends and carry on their night out together. The end tagline, ‘Spend time with the girls this Christmas’, then appears on the screen.
Photographs taken on set; all photographs by Will Morgan
The Baileys ad is the latest collaboration between Ledwidge and BBH, following the award-winning Guardian campaign Three Little Pigs, and the Barnardo's ad Life Story. Millepied became part of the project through Ledwidge: “Bizarrely, Ben and I had been put in touch with each other by a mutual friend about a month before,” Ledwidge explains. The duo were talking about forming an alliance between Rattling Stuff, the arm of Ledwidge’s product company that focuses on projects outside of commercials, and Millepied’s production company Amoveo. The ad provided the perfect opportunity for the duo to begin working together.
From the outset, they wanted emotion to drive the story. “What Benjamin and I talked about from the start is that the emotion of the story has always got to be the driving thing, and the motivation for what the camera does and what the dancers do,” explains Ledwidge.
While Ledwidge hadn’t worked with ballet dancers before this didn’t prove to be a problem. “I wasn’t intimidated by it because I’d spoken to Ben a lot,” he continues. “We started bouncing ideas around and as soon as we started talking I was like ‘this is really good fun’. Particularly for a director, because it takes so many working parts to get things going – what I’m quite jealous of in choreography is it is a bit more like playing an instrument, if you want to try something, you just try it and you can see it.”
“[Ringan] was so clear with what he wanted,” says Millepied. “In his head he already had a sense of how things should move in space, so my work was really to follow his suggestions and put something together that would really work for this idea.”
Ledwidge, top, and Millepied, below, centre, on set
Millepied is familiar with working in advertising both as a dancer – he appeared in a recent Air France ad – and as a choreographer and director. He enjoys the process. “What I like about the chance of making these short films is you have a very short period of time, a very focused period of time, to be able to tell a story and make everything work, which is an incredible challenge,” he says.
“Also having the command of what the viewer actually sees; on stage I make work that everyone sees from the audience, here I can control the image. I think it’s one step further into really understanding what I do.”
Ledwidge also defined how the set and the costumes for the ad would look. “The great thing was Ringan had a very strong vision, which was fantastic, his brief was very distinct,” says set designer Sarah Greenwood. He described the atmosphere for the set. “There could be something baroque about it,” continues Greenwood, “there could be something urban about it, there could be something like a speakeasy about it. It’s an amazing after party, or an after-after party.”
This style extended naturally into the costumes too, which were designed by Ledwidge’s long-time collaborator Rosa Dias. “You’ve got romance, but interpreted in an urban kind of way,” she says of the look they were going for. “It’s still very edgy, yet it’s romantic. That’s what I tried to do with the girls as well, even Clara’s dress, I wanted it to have the romantic, beautiful, ethereal, but then I wanted the dress to be torn and to be distressed. A little bit punky, an element of punkiness.”
The fact that they were working with dancers that needed to have full flexibility of movement added an extra challenge for Dias, who didn’t want to fall back on the usual ballet standards of leggings and pouches. “All the fabrics were considered for that,” she says. “The Nutcracker, I wanted his clothes to be really distressed, so it looked like he’d been at war for four years. I knew that lycra was not going to distress at all, lycra is hideous when you distress it. So I had to use something like a drill cotton, which is thick and heavy, and problematic for a dancer…. I used that fabric but then there was a lot of gusset planning [to allow freedom of movement].”
The finished ad feels like a dramatic new direction for Baileys – a classy, beautifully executed piece that positions the brand well within this year’s particularly crowded Christmas ad market. As Ledwidge acknowledges, it required a leap of faith by the client to come to fruition. “It definitely has a bit of attitude,” he says. “It’s the first time where I’ve had a client actually say to me, ‘I want you to make us really uncomfortable. There are times when we might push back but you have to push back again.’” Watching the end result, the risks were clearly worth it.
Agency: BBH London
Deputy ECD: David Kolbusz
Creatives: Ed Cole, Lewis Mooney
Production company: Rattling Stick
Director: Ringan Ledwidge
Choreographer: Benjamin Millepied
Set designer: Sarah Greenwood
Costume designer: Rosa Dias