Nike’s ‘Make Every Yard Count’ has won over 50 awards, including ones at Cannes Lions, One Show, D&AD, Clio, Adfest, Spikes Asia and Goafest in the past year. The biggest win, for the film’s director and national creative director at JWT behind the film Senthil Kumar, was India's first three Gold Pencils in Film, Film Craft and Innovation at The One Show, and of course seven Cannes Lions (for one film).
The only other Indian film to come anywhere close to this kind of global recognition was ‘A Day in The Life of Chennai’ also done by JWT, for The Times of India launch in Chennai. In a staggered interaction over e-mail and phone conducted over a few weeks, Senthil Kumar tells us that ‘A Day in the Life of Chennai’ won two Gold Lions in 2009 and went on to win 21 international awards. But this one was different, and had a bigger haul. “Nike Make Every Yard Count" activated a full circle between mobile, digital, social and television, breaking all traditional boundaries, activating 11 million cricket crazy Indians across multiple channels to own cricket in India,” he adds. More from the interaction...
You mention that the idea took root a while ago. Tell us about its genesis.
I have been playing with this idea of stringing together a single action or a single play across a thousand different playgrounds ever since I started working on Nike 10 years ago. We did get somewhere close to the finish line with the epic Nike ‘Parallel Journeys’ film, which was also recognised and awarded globally. But somewhere the epic geographic scale in that film overtook the idea and I did realise that maybe video action sequences when stitched together did not really make the cut on this big idea.
That’s why when it was time for the Nike World Cup film and the brief was to include the millions of cricket crazy youth in India, the execution idea of using thousands of still frames, stitched together to complete one action, knocked me out like a thousand bricks. And since the budgets were really low, I decided to jump into the playground myself and direct the film to ensure that this one seamless action sequence was brought to life, like never before.
Would it be fair to say that the big idea for the film, was crowdsourcing? And that everything else was added on to that core?
The big idea was ‘One action across a 1000 different playgrounds’. The athletes will change, the playing fields will change, the weather will change, the time zones will change, but the action will be one and the same, designed to flow seamlessly across 1,440 different frames.
Our starting point and the finish line was the same: to compose one split second action sequence from bowler to batsman to fielder to keeper by threading together at least a 1,000 images (aiming for 24 images @ 24 still frames per second).
The objective was to inspire the cricket crazy youth to relentlessly pursue their dreams and their journey to greatness. With a playing population that runs into many millions, the campaign had to celebrate the youth of India by putting them at the center of the communication.
“Yesterday was not good enough. Today is not over yet. Make every yard count”: the manifesto of this campaign motivated the cricket crazy youth to make the most of every moment they spend on that hallowed pitch. Urging them to seize every moment, snatch at every opportunity and train so hard that they never drop the ball. Because the only thing that matters is what you do on those 22 yards.
The soundtrack has also come in for global appreciation. How did this come about? What were the other options considered?
To achieve one seamless action visually it was painstaking craft but what helped make this really happen was powerful sound design in the soundtrack that held 1,440 frames together and made them all seem like one moving action image.
Cricket crazy chants, breaths, screams, appeals and sledges were recorded on mobile cameras across a multitude of live game locations and rendered into the soundtrack by legendary vocal percussionists and sound designers.
On Nike, we have always worked with Wah Wah Music for their amazing sound design and collaborate with rock music director Dhruv Ghanekar, legendary vocal percussionist Taufiq Qureshi and sound engineer Joseph George. One such brainstorming session resulted in the team sending out audio recorders, cheap recording-enabled mobile phones and dictaphones out with the travelling photographers, so that they could record some live sounds during the on-ground activation across thousands of playgrounds.
All the raw sounds captured live from the screams, appeals, sledges and chants and crazy talk on the various playing fields were put into a synthesiser by Ghanekar and some of the sounds were converted to percussion notes and beats by the Qureshi. Over three days of sound engineering, we came up with a soundtrack that was ready to inspire the cricket crazy youth with a mirror of their own sounds held up to them.
What was the total budget for the film?
The exact budget cannot be revealed but I’ll just tell you that it was below US $50,000 and that’s exactly why, we won India’s first ever Gold Pencil in the Low budget Films category at The One Show.
What were the challenges and cost cut-downs? How did you go about each?
The biggest challenge was to crowd source action frames that you have imagined and hope that the content captured on mobile cameras and the quality and resolution of low-end cams by the cricket crazy youth would fit the action needed to make this film a seamlessly stunning sports action film. But of course there were many other challenges like the ambiguity of crowd sourced possibilities, the internet penetration and reach of the activation across as many cricket crazy youth in the country as possible.
This campaign was driven by co-creation through social media. Cost limitations did not allow for great crowd sourced video content due to the lack of video cameras and the complexity of uploading video content from small town and rural India. So we made the mechanics extremely simple by design. All you needed to do is inbox a cricket playing picture to nikecricket.in on or tweet the picture with #justdoit.
Since the budgets were low, all 108 photographers had to take buses and trains to complete this project and therefore it took longer for the second leg to be completed. There were the tantrums of the extended team that needed to be huddled up and held together as one team focused on one project, amidst other active productions; edit changes were constant and more often than not, on a daily basis, because of either a great image that has to be included and therefore needs a few more to work or a really bad one that was sticking out and we had to drop an entire section because of one image and so on.
It was an epic adventure that lasted 45 days. We were huddled up in one war room, chasing one action and the same action everyday from bowler to batsman to fielder to keeper to complete this project on time and reach the finish line without dropping the ball anywhere along the way. Whenever the going got tough, we looked up at the wall of a 1,000 images (the wall that changed everyday) sent by cricket crazy youth, we saw their belief, and just did it.
How long did the campaign take to create?
The campaign broke with short action teasers on Instagram and Twitter and the Nike Cricket page, all linked to the user generated content living on nikecricket.in.
Thousands of crowd sourced action images from the campaign flooded social media and were shared by millions of cricket crazy youth within minutes. These images were also posted in over a thousand Nike stores across India and made it to the shop windows helping draw more young people to the stores and making every cricket crazy image count.
A few days later, just before the India-Australia World Cup semi final match, the full length Nike ‘Make Every Yard Count’ film broke on Facebook and YouTube and crashed into national prime time during the big match on World Cup television. India won the match and the film went viral across social networks and topped the viral charts in many online forums.
You also directed the film. How different was the process of 'directing' a series of still images?
The editing part was the toughest and most painful leg of the process here.
One had to stay committed to the thread of this one action and having to go through over 2,25,000 crowd sourced images and a whole bunch of 100 different albums from all the travelling photographers. They would e-mail and upload folders with hundreds of images every day from various corners of the country at odd hours.
To identify all the elements in thousands of images and stitching the action with images that would fit in and those that won't and putting the action together in extreme split seconds i.e. stitching together 12 to 24 images per second and making the entire action seamless was a giant challenge. Once the music was finalised, the editing process flowed more fluently to form the seamless action.
The entire process from sorting, slotting, structuring and stitching the edit took 30 long days and nights and we literally lived in the studio throughout the entire project.