On the scene

Date: Monday, July 25, 2011

What Van? was invited to witness the glitz and glamour as VW shot its first television advert in six years. Paul Barker went along to watch.

 We’re on a building site in East London, under the flight path for City Airport. Though it’s sunny, there’s a bitter wind blustering around, reminding everyone that it’s April, and summer most definitely hasn’t arrived. Show business at its most glamorous.
Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has decided that the time’s right to head back to the small screen as part of a new £4m advertising campaign to underline VW’s 60 years of commercial vehicle heritage.
A range of VW vans from history are included in the 60-seecond advert, which aired from 22 May-3 July, including a slot in the middle of the football Champions League Final, and again from 7-28 August.
Some of the vehicles involved are owners’ vehicles sourced through forums, including the split-screen T1 that opens the sequence. But the finished minute is the culmination of six months of planning that lead to three packed days of filming involving more than 20 vehicles and around 60 people.
What Van? isn’t included in those 60 people, and I’m hovering at the back of the set, trying desperately to not get in the way, or sneeze, cough or breathe while the cameras are rolling. For people that have seen the advert, we’re witnessing the shoot of the four-second scene with a new Transporter on the building site, unfortunately not the one with the cute air hostesses in the back of a Caravelle. It’s a real building site just near the edge of London’s City Airport, with proper construction work going on in the background. It’s one of 10 locations around London, including on-road filming in real traffic around the Brent Cross shopping centre, where the traffic caused a knock-on delay that’s led to much scrabbling to try and finish the day’s filming before the light goes.
Director Tony Barry has recently worked on McDonalds and Birds Eye adverts, with MTV, Land Rover and Persil also on his CV, and was in 2009 named as one of the ten best new directors in the world by advertising publication Boards magazine. He’s sat in front of a monitor reviewing the action as it’s shot, but despite the clapperboards, there’s no stereotypical director’s chair. The fast-paced nature of trying to shoot an entire advert in three days means he’s on several locations in a day.
One of the reasons Barry got the job was his “understanding of the brand”, according to Lindsay Wall, managing partner at VW’s creative agency Iris. “You get a script you’re happy with and a good director adds another 20%-30% on top,” he tells What Van? “Tony’s got a VW T3, and he understood the brand. Others had views on the script but didn’t get VW’s tone.”
“The whole premise is the relationship between people and their vans, from the T1 through to the modern-day Sportline,” he continues. “People with kayaks, landscape gardeners, people like the breadth – it’s not just builders and typical white van man.”
The scene is unfolding on the building site, though there’s a lot of hanging around while different details are finalised and intricate details tweaked.
There’s a British Gas-logoed Caddy van being used in the background, and it’s first of all turned round to face away, to make it look less placed, before being swung back round forwards when it’s decided that there’s too much bright blue in the background if the van’s facing away. But then the nose has to be hidden from view, because VW doesn’t want it obvious that it’s a pre-facelift Caddy. Look carefully at the building site scene when you see the advert, and the Caddy’s nose is carefully hidden by an array of site barriers and hording. And even the vehicles gets make-up, with some artistically applied mud and dust spread along the side of the builders’ Transporter.
From my spot it’s also amusing to watch the same two poor extras lug a long plank of wood backwards and forwards on each take, when the final version that made the cut was one where they’re walking empty handed across the scene.
The attention to detail is immense. It’s difficult to make out the phone number on the side of the landscape gardener’s van in one scene, but if you manage it, VW assures us that it goes through to its call centre, in case anyone chooses to ring it.
As director Barry calls “cut” on the final take on the construction site it’s time for What Van? to leave the crew to their next scene. It’s off to film another scene, this one starring UK Volkswagen CV boss Simon Elliott’s son in a sequence where an RAC-branded Transporter arrives at a broken down car.
Pretty much an afternoon’s work for what ends up being four seconds of film in a 60 second advert, and may even miss out completely when the 30-second version airs.
There’s more goes into these commercials than meets the eye, but at least VW’s showcases some classic commercial vehicles.
Makes a nice change from washing powder adverts, and may just make it worth watching the ads for a change, rather than ducking out to make a brew.



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