CAST & CREW INTERVIEWS
IAN McARTHUR - PUBLICIS HQ
In 1989, a TV advert appeared based on "The Prisoner", for the Renault 21 car. The following interview is with the maker of these adverts.
Adapted from an interview conducted by Dave Lally, with his kind permission.
DL: Thanks, Ian, for letting me come and see you. Now, in Publicis, you promote the entire range of Renault cars?
IMcA: Yes, that's right.
We're responsible for all of Renault's national advertising.
DL: So, on to the advert. How did the idea begin? What was the germ of it all?
lMcA: Well, Renault 21 is a car which is in the Sierra/Vauxhall Cavalier type market and it was launched on a platform using the Cream song "I Feel apart from the herd and that was how Free". And the brief for that was it started with "I Feel Free". essentially that the Renault 21 is a car And that was quite a sort of "soft" for somebody who wants to be a little treatment of the car bit different - somebody who doesn't want to be one of the crowd. In other words, if you buy a Renault 21 you are making a bit of a statement about yourself and your own choice because thousands of people buy Sierras or Cavaliers. So as a driver of a Renault 21 you are setting yourself apart from the herd and that was how Free". And the brief for that was it started with "I Feel Free". And that was quite a sort of "soft" treatment of the car really and when they updated the model - effectively re-launching it - the same sort of brief applied. The main consumer proposition for it was "set yourself apart" and drive a Renault 21. And from that brief came the idea - who is the most individual of people?
DL: (Laughter) PMcG ...
IMcA: "I Am Not A Number, I Am A Free Man" - which was slightly tricky 'cos we were trying to promote the number, but that's how it came about. It was coupled with the fact that in age terms, if by no other qualification, the people who would be likely drivers of the Renault 21, be they company car drivers or private purchasers, would be likely to have remembered "The Prisoner" and that was how it started. When we got to the stage of a script and did some research on it, we found that consumers said a number of things about it. They said mainly: we know "The Prisoner", therefore we like it, or we don't know the programme but we find it quite intriguing and interesting in that sort of James Bond/Cadbury's man-in-black situation. But they also said to us originally "Don't be too sixties, don't be too like the original" because that could be viewed as being spot-dated. And originally we were going to re-work the music - keep the tune but re-work the music. Some of the clothing and the like we have used in the commercial are more of today than they are of the era.....
DL: Yes, the bowlers and suits rather than T-shirts.....
IMcA: ... But we kept the original music at the end of the day. There didn't seem to be any point in changing.
DL: Well - Ron Grainer's theme has lasted a long time. That is the original music.
IMcA: Well at first we were worried that it would sound just a bit tinny ('cos we had got the record and some cassettes) because it was recorded some time ago. But we were putting the rough cut together and we took it from a tape - the original music rather than re-working at that stage - and everybody said it fits perfectly, there's absolutely no point in re-doing it.
DL: Ian, there are two segments to it: there's the beginning bit which is mainly studio with that very sinister looking No. 2 demanding the increased surveillance and then we switch to Portmeirion and indeed, there is a third bit in the quarry. So roughly how long was your shooting schedule?
IMcA: It was five days in North Wales, I think two days in the Village although the schedule was somewhat disrupted by the weather.....
DL: So, when did this happen?
IMcA: It was in the second week of July when the rest of the country was sweltering and it was terrible weather - absolutely appalling but everybody concerned was very helpful really.
DL: They are now used to people coming up to Portmeirion and doing bits and pieces connected in some way with the series because the Village features in every tourist brochure etc..
IMcA: Yes, for the chess game, all the people in it and indeed the queue of people dressed in grey, all of them, or most of them, work in the Village.....
DL:... oh really, that's interesting.....
IMcA:....that is the waitresses
from the hotel etc and friends. All of those people are local.
DL: Did you do most of your costumes yourselves or did you borrow some?
IMcA: Well, it was all put together by the production company (Challenge Films).
DL: And the director, for the record?
IMcA: He is a chap called Roger Lunn. And as I say it was five days altogether and we were going backwards and forwards because of the weather. The locations were the Village itself, the quarry across the road from Portmeirion and the place where there is the tunnel where they stored in the War.
DL: Ah yes, the National Archives ... I think that's Blaenau.
IMcA: That was Monday to Friday and we had to shoot on a Saturday as well because of the weather, and then the following Monday and Tuesday it was studio-shooting the opening scenes.
DL: A number of people have said that in the film the Village appears to have been brought up to date - to 1989 because the fashions look a little more modern.
IMcA: Which was the idea.
DL: . . . And the signs - they're all diamond-shaped signs with logos for a hand, and a chess sign etc. It looks as though they've upgraded the Village to today. You know its not 1967/8 but it still exists - the Village, I mean - and that stood out, because we tend to watch out for these images. Indeed the Village has even got rid of those old chess boards and put down a new roll-it-up-afterwards.
IMcA: Yes, a canvas chess
board ... and we needed to roll it up often.
DL: Was the ground sodden?
IMcA: Well, it rained on and off and we had the extras very patiently waiting round.
DL: Ian, obviously you shot more than you used.
IMcA: Not that much more, some more but not much more in the Village, I mean, we shot scenes from one or two different angles but mainly what you see is what was shot. There were four main Village shots: going down the stairs towards the car, he first gets in, the drive-away shot.
DL: And the screen appears to be at an angle - it's not a full screen - there's black above and below.
IMcA:... and also the chess scene and the scene of him weaving his way round the people standing. So they were the four shots. We had to do them very very early in the morning so it couldn't have been a lot of fun for the extras - we started at 5 am in the morning filming.
DL: There is one interesting piece - when Number 21 comes down the stairs and there is this line of people all with briefcases, for some reason or other, whether it's a camera angle, whether it's the sun or whether you super-imposed it on afterwards on the image, there is a sparkle from somebody's briefcase buckle. We tend to notice these items .
IMcA: There's nothing significant in that, it just happened. The reason for doing that scene is again: don't be one of the herd - don't be a grey person.
DL: What has been
the reaction so far to the film?
IMcA: Well, there's been quite a lot of reaction. From a client's point of view it's selling quite a lot of cars for them! And without that, it's never a success really. But lots of critical acclaim, we got "Ad of The Week" in "Campaign", we had of course the Today article which is amazing, and lots of comment. Of course it's just off the air now, its finished.
DL: Are you thinking of doing any more or is this the end of the campaign?
IMcA: No, we can't be sure because they work a calendar year and we haven't got round to discussing next year's plans yet. It's on air in some parts of the country but it's finished in London area ITV.
DL: Oh, its not
IMcA: Yes it is but the budget dries up more quickly in London! But I'd be surprised if it doesn't re-emerge in perhaps February or March 1990.
DL: Were you aware of "The Prisoner" before all this happened?
IMcA: Oh yes, very much so.
DL: You've seen the Ogilvy & Mather/LBC stuff that was done.
IMcA: Well, I remember watching it when it was on TV.
DL: Yes. Well the LBC stuff caught us all off guard two years ago, since they managed to get clearance to use actual footage in their commercial interspersed with news items.
IMcA: Yes it was very clever
use of it, in a different way to ours. "We want information" was perfect
for the programme.
DL: They didn't expect such an impact internally from us - they knew people in London would see it but people outside the region wouldn't normally see it because it was not transmitted nationally. Ian, you mentioned its possible re-transmission in Spring 1990. Will there also be more Press advertising?
IMcA: The Press run lasts longer than the television although the posters are now finished.
DL: When you had the format all arranged, you had of course to go to ITC to get the rights clearance and so on, How easy was that?
IMcA: No problem at all, as far as we can tell. I didn't get involved in that, it was a combination of Challenge Films and our TV people here.
DL: And the "Today" article made reference to the fact that you would like to have had a certain gentleman who shall remain nameless (laughter) actually giving the words at the end.
IMcA: . . . Yes, in an
ideal world, of course.
DL: Was contact made with him?
IMcA: We did try, but it
was not successful.
DL: So you got an actor with a similar voice to do the voice-over.
IMcA: His name is Enn Reitel who does a lot of "Spitting Image" and various other things. And the actor playing No. 21 is Neil Duncan. But I'm stuck on the actor who played No. 2. (Ed's note: It was Anthony Brown).
DL: Yes, he is
very sinister, did you choose him so?
IMcA: Yes, we like his sneer a lot (laughter).
DL: Yes it's great (laughter). And the way he goes: "increase surveillance" and you immediately think, "Oh what a nasty piece of work".
IMcA: We were going to have a midget in it as well.
DL:... Gosh, Do
you mean a la Angelo Muscat?
IMcA: Yes, as the camera zoomed in on No. 2, the butler would pour a glass of milk up there, but unfortunately due to ITV rules, we were unable to use him because they claimed it was derogatory to small people. So you see there are more strict rules applied to adverts than to ITV programmes. We actually went as far as casting the guy who would do it but couldn't use him.
DL: That's sad but interesting. In a sense, Ogilvy & Mather opened the gates in usage of "The Prisoner" in commercials.
IMcA:... but I guess we've closed the gates for a while.
DL: Yes, I expect there will be a gap before someone tries yet another angle on the programme, though what we don't know. But now let's turn to the ending - the scenes with the tunnel and the Rover.
IMcA: Ah yes, the escape from Village and the tunnel which was lined up at the slate quarry. The reason it was filmed there was that it fitted in and also it was an entrance.
DL: An old railway
IMcA: ... An entrance we could charge a car into. We had that nice "Do Not Leave The Village" sign and the sentry box is quite nice, 'cos its got a cone and head on it.
DL: That was a prop specially brought up?
IMcA: Yeah, a prop, but how it was done was interesting because the entrance to the tunnel was quite large - big enough to get a car to go through it, so they used an amazing piece of polystyrene artistry and the chevron lines and all that -- that was all polystyrene. And it was just a hole in the rock but was rebuilt to look like a proper tunnel entrance. But because you need the tunnel to be of a certain size to get the car to shoot through, we couldn't get the balloon to be that size cos the whole thing would be overpowering the car so they built two. They built the one tunnel entrance and then they built another, smaller entrance and so Rover went in the tunnel, and then that was all taken down and then the car was shot going through so the ball was shot first, then the Renault 21 was shot and both were cut together and you can't tell.
DL: That they are two different sizes of tunnel!
IMcA: And that the Rover entrance is much smaller than the car entrance.
DL: Great, well I think we can wrap it up there except by saying thank you indeed to all the team at Fublicis and at Challenge "Films for their help.
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