Your Shot: How DDB NZ & Robber’s Dog Brought Back 1905’s Original All Blacks for Steinlager
In 1905 a group of regular New Zealanders set sail for Britain - a land sat six week’s journey away. The men aboard that boat were the original All Blacks, destined for a rugby tour of England in which they lost only one out of 35 games. And as they say in sport - and all walks of life in general - the rest is history. New Zealand’s All Blacks have since been, and still are, one of rugby’s most dominant and feared national teams. They were the champions of the previous Rugby World Cup back in 2011 and are favourites to win this year in England too, back upon the turn on which they made their name. To mark the occasion, Kiwi beer brand Steinlager and DDB New Zealand have launched ‘The Originals’, a beautiful one-minute story, helmed by Robber’s Dog director Adam Stevens, that properly tells the story of the All Blacks of 1905 for the first time. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with DDB executive creative director Shane Bradnick, senior copywriter Rory McKechnie, and director Stevens to find out how it felt to tell such a culturally important story to the masses.
LBB> The 2011 RWC campaign was really successful - how tricky was it to follow that up?
Shane Bradnick> It’s always tricky to follow up a successful campaign. I can only imagine how the All Blacks (and the whole country for that matter) must feel after winning in the RWC 2011. But we feel we’ve found an inspirational story that could get the country to believe it’s possible.
LBB> When did you first discover the story of the team of 1905? Is it a commonly known tale in New Zealand?
SB> It’s a fairly well known story. Rugby is almost a religion in New Zealand, and the All Blacks are the pinnacle of New Zealand rugby. The 1905 team are known as The Originals, the beginning of the All Black legacy.
AS> I think most All Black supporters – which is about 95 per cent of NZ males – that I know knew of ‘the Originals’ but their story was possibly a little fuzzy or confused by the ‘Invincibles’ – the All Black team of the ‘20s. So I knew the name and had an idea of the period but it wasn’t until initial chats with the agency and some good research that the true story emerged. (There was a Maori team called the ‘Natives’ that went over in 1895.)
LBB> Adam, you worked on the 2011 campaign - which was a real success - how was it to be asked back and work on this year’s?
Adam Stevens> I was stoked to be asked back. The previous spot was so much fun to craft and this had all the promise of something equally as emotional. It appealed to me as an All Black’s fan and as a director.
LBB> Why was Adam the perfect fit this time round too?
Rory McKechnie> Adam understands what these moments mean to New Zealanders, and he takes them on with that in mind. With him we know we’re getting a partner who feels the same sense of responsibility in bringing them to life
LBB> And how did the story end up being the centre point of the campaign?
SB> The 1905 team had the belief they could go halfway across the world and the belief that they could foot it with the best. We felt that if we could tell their story well, we could inspire the nation to believe we can do it again.
LBB> Shane, you and fellow ECD Damon Stapleton are both South African and big Springbok fans! How was it delving into All Black history like this? How was the pressure working on it as South Africans?!
SB> As a Springbok fan (but a rugby fan more so) there is no better game than The Boks vs The All Blacks, and whilst working on the campaign was a constant reminder of how great The All Blacks are, it will only make beating them in The World Cup that much better!
LBB> And how about you guys as Kiwis, how was it for you to bring back the heroes of 1905?
AS> Being given the chance to put my own spin on this story was a real honour. It was also a wee bit terrifying, making a mess of the ‘Legend of Originals’, in this rugby mad country, would probably have meant exile!
RS> It was a bit scary actually – there’s a lot of pressure telling this story for the first time. You don’t want to ruin it for everyone else.
LBB> I hear the set design was particularly important for the spot. Can you tell us a bit about that?
AS> Chris Elliot, our art director, created two bespoke sets for the ad – the changing room and the tunnel. As we didn’t have the means to travel to the UK we wanted the detail to be as authentic as possible to emanate the location and time period.
For the tunnel set we borrowed elements from turn of the century tube tunnels with their ceramic tiling, low ceilings and sparse lighting. With the changing room, Chris really delved into the period detail, looking at the brickwork, carpentry and ironwork on the changing room stands. It was all custom built and designed. Chris also created a hanging back drop to create our deep BG stadium crowd.
LBB> What kind of research did you do into the specifics of the era? I can imagine wardrobe and casting was especially important…
AS> We did a lot of research into not only factual detail about the look and feel of sporting venues of the period but also into contemporary textures and materials. Again, our art director Chris was great at nailing the fine detail. In terms of wardrobe we had every outfit and sports kit made to measure for each actor. We looked carefully at historical sources from the 1905 tour to get as close as possible to the real thing.
With casting, we used real rugby players from all over NZ to make up the ‘Originals’ team. It was a way of adding a further layer of authenticity in look and performance. I wanted guys who looked like they were from that era and guys who had a true pre-game ritual. We found most of our boys in Taranaki, a very proud rugby province, and it was an honour having these guys step forward. The performance was true, knowing how it feels before a big game – it’s very intimate and personal, to then add the pressure of a black jersey and therefore a nation onto their shoulders was very cool. All rugby players in this country fully honour the All Blacks and the legacy of such a team – there is plenty to draw on.
LBB> What kind of conversations did you have with them to ensure they nailed their parts?
AS> Being real rugby players and New Zealand nationals, the performance came to the guys very naturally. They could tap into their own pre-game nerves and the hopes for their national team. I set the scene for them by playing on natural reactions and exploring them.
LBB> What was your starting point when developing the look and feel of the film?
AS> We wanted something authentic that would define our wee nation as the bottom of the world taking on the big boys and holding our own. To avoid cliché we attached ourselves to authenticity but with a contemporary edge. The structure of the narrative allowed us to add a sense of timelessness with lensing, lighting and in-camera VFX whilst also allowing room for abstraction in the story and cut. Not producing something expected was a mandate.
LBB> Tell us about the production in general… how long were you shooting for? How did it go?
AS> We had a lot of lead time before the shoot to prep and plan; get costumes made to measure, moustaches grown and the custom sets built. But the actual shoot we completed all in one day in Auckland. This included setting up all the lighting. It was a challenge time-wise but great to see all of the details we’d been working on pulled together.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
AS> The trickiest component was probably convention itself and how to avoid it. Lets be honest, creating a scene of a group of rugby players preparing in a changing room and running out onto a field is not exactly something that hasn’t been done before – so a big challenge was to create a piece that gave the audience something fresh to chew on, to honour this moment in history by not slipping into visual cliché… The mantra through prep and into the shoot was to avoid creating something ‘expected’.
RM> The biggest task was telling the story in a way that didn’t just feel like a history lesson. For us we felt like the ambiguous set up solved this, where you’re not quite sure if they’re soldiers or something else in the beginning.