BE THE FASTEST
Earlier this year, Virgin Media debuted a sophisticated short film comprised of ten separate vignettes or montages featuring Usain Bolt in action. The campaign is titled Be the Fastest, and the short is built around the number 9.58, synonymous with the Jamaican sprinter since he shattered the 100 metre world record with that time. Virgin’s strategy was to associate their brand with Bolt, and with the power and thrill of speed – an important concept given that one aspect of their service is broadband internet connection.
The spot, directed by Academy Films’ Seb Edwards, combined stock footage with new imagery shot by Alwin Küchler BSC. The agency was BBH London. Some shots depict Bolt’s grueling training, but others show him joyfully dancing or interacting with hometown fans. Timed with the Rio Olympics, the spot also saw unusual distribution like the 100-metre-long video screen that Virgin floated down the Thames River.
The film was also conceived as a way to depict the superhuman distance Bolt covers, and “what 9.58 seconds feels like.”
“We had many shots where he is running through tunnels or along streets,” says Küchler. “He’s a national hero in Jamaica, and he has a lot of personality. We wanted to communicate that he is a very cool character.”
“WHEN HE’S ACTUALLY IN THE STARTING POSITION, EVERY MUSCLE IN HIS BODY IS LIKE THE BOW JUST BEFORE YOU SHOOT THE ARROW”
Küchler’s initial idea for the shoot took advantage of recent advances in miniaturisation, including the ARRI ALEXA Mini.
“I love the idea of putting a camera down on the floor while he’s doing push-ups, for example,” Küchler says. “Once you get a good quality picture with a spatial impact that is that small, it becomes interesting. You can try out new things. And it feels less intrusive for the actors. People respond to it differently. It’s not a massive camera staring at you from ten inches away. If you are an artist or an athlete, you can forget about it and focus on your own process. And that is a wonderful thing.”
Once on the shoot, however, the small camera idea became unworkable for a variety of reasons. Küchler adapted, making extensive use of the larger ALEXA XT. The camera’s internal Codex ARRIRAW recording brings the maximum amount of picture information into post production. A Phantom camera was also used for very high speed situations. The crew had Bolt for two days.
Photographing the athlete was a memorable experience for Küchler.
“When he’s actually in the starting position, every muscle in his body is like the bow just before you shoot the arrow,” says the cinematographer. “It’s completely tense. There’s not a gram of fat on his body. The uniform helped by revealing and emphasised every muscle. He couldn’t assume that position very often, or for very long, because it’s actually quite painful.”
Although the athlete is physically imposing at 6’5”, he is personable and warm, traits that Küchler wanted to capture.
“He’s such a nice guy,” says the cinematographer. “He’s very natural to the people around him. But the way he moves is different from a normal human being. That was part of the reason we didn’t use some of the smaller rigs that we had planned. We had to be very careful to avoid injury, especially since we were shooting just before the Olympics. He is proud of his heritage and loyal to Jamaica, and he insisted that we include local people in the cast and on the crew. He brings commercials and other projects back to Jamaica as a way of helping.”
Since then, Küchler has been busy shooting commercials for top clients like Levi’s, Honda, Xbox and Adidas.
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