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New Work Alert: WSJ x Star Alliance

To many an outsider the perception of filmmaking is that of an endless carousel of excitement, travel and glamour. Whilst that might be true of Daniel Craig and his James Bond chums jumping out of planes in Dubai and then enjoying 7 star luxury, for most of the rest of the industry it is, sadly, a pretty distant dream. For many out there a more accurate description would be shooting a series of familiar talking heads and interviews in equally familiar locations with all the glamour and excitement of an appointment at the dentists.

Here at Casual Films we’re pretty lucky in that our clients often allow us the creative freedom to move a little closer to the Daniel Craig model and shoot cool stuff in exciting locations, and we’ve never been more Bond than on our recent assignment from Star Alliance. In fact barring the super villain, the super car and the relentless violence this shoot ticked about every box on the James Bond checklist.

– 5 different countries
– Every weather condition from blazing sun to freezing cold
– Running across rooftops
– Riding horses over mountains
– Hand to hand combat with skilled foreign agents
– Millions won at casinos

Okay, so the last one is a lie, but the rest genuinely happened.

Star Alliance is a group of 27 major airlines with over 4,500 aircraft flying right across the world. They wanted to celebrate their twentieth anniversary in style through a series of films showing the joy that travel can bring if you allow yourself to become immersed in the culture of a place. The idea being that holidays don’t have to be standard city or beach breaks, if you explore a little you can find some incredible experiences.

In a move that made us feel both incredibly proud and very much like the junior partners, the project saw us team up with two media goliaths – The Wall Street Journal (their primary partner who commissioned us) and National Geographic. Needless to say they were equally awestruck to be working with us. Both publications were helping to promote the films, and while the paper provided us with their research expertise, NatGeo lent us a key element – a star. Robert Reid is one of their top travel journalists, and he agreed to see the world with us (which in fairness is his job) and face a series of exciting challenges (which is not). Then all we had to do was figure out where to go and what to do.

Having the whole world to choose from is pretty intimidating – seriously, have a look at a map of it, it’s huge. So great credit has to go to our London production team of Oliver Atkinson and Rebecca Morgan for the months of research that led us to our final list. If you know one of the places that didn’t make the list please let them know it’s nothing personal, we could only pick five.

The five locations they selected, and the challenges they chose to take Robert Reid out of his comfort zone were as varied as they were brilliant:

In Bangkok, Thailand he had to train in the martial art of Muay Thai – and the next day actually have a fight.

In Stockholm, Sweden Robert was challenged to hike to the top of one of the cities most iconic buildings at sun-rise to enjoy a unique city view.

In Puvirnituq, Northern Canada he was to ride huskies and then build an igloo to sleep in in the wilderness.

In Ushguli, Georgia could he complete a bareback horse race deep in to the Caucasus Mountains?

And in New Mexico, USA he was given the honour of playing drums with Native Americans at the worlds largest Pow-Wow (the Gathering of Nations)

Whatever your personal holiday preferences you have to agree that’s a pretty strong itinerary. The only challenge now was to film it.

The shooting process was incredibly fast paced and intense. With only a couple of days in each location and so much to see our teams just hit the streets and filmed everything. Robert met fascinating people, ate unusual food and engaged in interesting customs, and every bit of it was caught beautifully on camera. Once the challenge was completed they would pack their bags and head for another flight to another city – tens of thousands of miles were covered in a matter of days, and the concept of rest was just a distant memory. It was, by broad agreement of all involved, the most exhausting, exciting and fulfilling project they had ever worked on. And you could tell.

The footage they brought back was incredible. Not just in quality, but in quantity – well over a hundred hours came back to the office, and a lot of it was gold.

Obviously that’s great. Obviously the more great footage you’ve got the better. Obviously if you’re the editor this is brilliant. And of course a nightmare. Step forward Alex Kirby. His job was to whittle down roughly 30 hours of footage per story into just a few compelling minutes. That’s a lot of gold left on the floor, and it was quickly agreed that the floor was no place for it. While each of these adventures could have easily filled a half hour TV slot that’s certainly too long for the online platform, so the target was reset to a much more reasonable 8 minutes.

Alex took to the task with his trademark gusto, and over the course of many weeks of early mornings, late nights and far too much coffee and sugar he shaped five quite brilliant films. The stories were told, the gold was where it belongs – on screen – and absolutely everyone involved was delighted with the results.

In many ways our films are a lot like our children, we’re proud of all of them and of course we don’t have favourites – that just wouldn’t be right, at all. So these 5 exceptional films, films that we made with The Wall Street Journal and National Geographic, films that took us around the world, challenged every aspect of our skills and talents and saw us excel are not our favourites. Honestly. We just might talk about them more than any of the others.


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