Close-Up: Live Issue - How Mother and Eurostar abandoned branding to embrace the feature film

Eurostar believes Somers Town has harnessed the 'power of unbranding', Caroline Lovell writes.

The first time Greg Nugent, Eurostar's head of UK marketing, saw Somers Town was at its first screening at this year's Berlin Film Festival.

Yet Nugent is an executive producer, Eurostar is a co-funder and the whole idea came out of Mother's failed pitch for the Eurostar ad account.

But then Somers Town isn't about advertising. The film does not feature smiling train drivers, logos or even a shiny, new Eurostar train. The closest you'll get to sniffing out the subtle scent of Eurostar is its location: Somers Town is right behind the new St Pancras rail terminal.

And Nugent is excited about it all. He repeatedly stresses that Somers Town is not an ad; it's a Shane Meadows film. He says: "If we had shots of the Eurostar with train drivers with their thumbs up, no-one would have won anything."

Meadows is the Bafta winner of this year's Best British Film for This is England and a leading light of UK cinema with films such as A Room For Romeo Brass and Dead Man's Shoes in his back catalogue.

Somers Town tells the funny and touching story of a friendship between two lonely teenagers: Tom, a runaway, and Marek, the son of a Polish immigrant who works at the new Eurostar terminal. As Barnaby Spurrier, the film's producer, explains: "It begins and ends with a journey. We didn't set out with it in mind, but it's about how journeys educate and change your life."

Somers Town has been screened at film festivals in New York, and will be shown next month in Sydney. Also, the film's leading actors, Thomas Turgoose and Piotr Jagiello, won the joint best actor award at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The film is a collaborative project between Mother, Tomboy Films, Eurostar, Meadows and the scriptwriter Paul Fraser, who all wanted to push the boundaries of brand communications. Mother will not make any money from the venture.

The idea originated during the Eurostar pitch in 2006 that Mother eventually lost to Fallon. The pitch brief was to develop a campaign in preparation for Eurostar's transfer from Waterloo to the new St Pancras. Despite eliminating Mother from the pitch, Nugent loved its proposal to create a series of short films around the regeneration of the area. And when Robert Saville, Mother's creative partner, came back to him with a "more creative and potent idea", he was sold.

The concept was inspired by Saville's son, who came up with the idea of telling the story through a child's eyes. And the project was managed by Mother Vision, which creates entertainment and non-traditional communications. After approaching Meadows, who thought it was a "really lovely story", Tomboy Films and Fraser, who had collaborated on previous Meadows films, including Dead Man's Shoes, the idea transformed from a nine-minute short into a feature-length film.

The Mother creatives Augusto Sola and Gustavo Sousa, Markus Bjurman and Ben Mooge co-wrote the first draft script with Fraser, which was approved by Eurostar.However, before Meadows and Tomboy agreed to come on board, agreements were put in place to ensure the director had total control over the script, the cast, the final cut and the music.

As Meadows explains: "The script was always going to stay as the blueprint for the film, but the way me and Paul work is very organic - a process of constant development and improvisation, so Eurostar just left us to it." However, he admits to some initial scepticism: "When I was first approached by Mother with the idea of doing a film for Eurostar, I did back off. I didn't want to get involved in some kind of corporate ego trip. But when it became clear that the team at Eurostar and at Mother understood all those issues, I forgot about it being 'for' anyone and just got on with making it."

Once he was fully on board, the fact it was commissioned by a brand did not make a difference to how Meadows directed his first film shot outside of Nottingham. He says: "I made the film exactly as I would have made any other film."

It is a point Nugent keeps repeating. However, it begs the question, why fund a film that erases your brand's message or logos? Nugent says he wants to move away from traditional communication and harness the "power of unbranding", while gaining credibility from creative and innovative circles. "If we are going to deliver unique projects that engage people, we need to take big steps as an industry, and this is a giant step," he says.

Saville adds: "We are living in an age where, in the US and Japan, billions of pounds go into creating an industry that develops blocking mechanisms against what we do."

And he believes advertising must now encourage consumers to come to brands by giving rewards, such as entertainment: "We spend so much of our time trying to logic our way into people's ambitions and hearts, but when people like you, they will automatically believe in you."

However, Spurrier stresses the necessity of a "gentle approach" to film sponsorship. "The real secret will be finding enlightened clients who see that branded content does not have to be full of logos and messages," he says.


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