Splat’s entertainment

As I mentioned last week, I’d been invited to see Sony blow up stuff as part of a new ad campaign – and because of the need for secrecy I wasn’t allowed to write about it. Which was annoying, as the Evening Times clearly benefitted from a leak and ran all the details on Friday. Oh well.

Anyway, now the cover’s well and truly blown I’m able to blether about it.

As everyone in Scotland now knows, Sony’s been filming an advert in Glasgow involving lots of paint. It’s an ad for Bravia high-def televisions, and the Glasgow one is going to be the sequel to the famous bouncing-balls-in-San-Francisco ad. I was invited along in my capacity as a blogger, in the hope that I’d write about it afterwards. Which, obviously, I’m doing now.

The concept behind the Bravia ads is that Sony’s tellies (they say) offer amazing colour, and as a result the colours on-screen have to be real – no post-production to tart up the colour, or turn cloudy skies blue, or anything like that [although post-production will be used to fill in any gaps, for example if a single charge didn’t go off]. Given the importance of good light, sunshine and predictable weather, Sony naturally decided to film it in Glasgow.

The council and housing associations helped Sony find a suitable site – a condemned tower block in Toryglen, on Glasgow’s South side – and director Jonathan Glazer got a team of around 200 people to wire it up with explosives. Here’s the stats, according to Sony’s PR team:

70,000 litres of paint
358 single bottle bombs
33 sextuple air cluster bombs
22 Triple hung cluster bombs
268 mortars
33 Triple Mortars
22 Double mortars
358 meters of weld
330 meters of steel pipe
57 km of copper wire

Sony didn’t blow the tower up – although if you’ve seen the old tower blocks in Toryglen, you might think such an explosion would be an improvement – but instead, covered it in hundreds of barrels of paint, each one containing an explosive charge. They did the same with the neighbouring low-rise. When activated, the explosive charges create a kind of daytime fireworks show, with huge jets of coloured paint shooting all over the place.

It sound simple, but it isn’t. For example, to take the shots of the low-rise the explosives along the bottom of the block were detonated as a tracked camera zoomed along from right to left; then, more explosives were added and the camera shot again but this time from left to right. After that, the explosives on top of the block were set off, and after that… you get the idea. For continuity reasons the light needs to be identical in each pass, so the camera crew and techs spent an awful lot of time hanging around waiting for the light to change. I was there on the Saturday and in the previous three days the crew had only managed to nail two shots.

As I’ve mentioned, realism is important – but real life can be too realistic, so the ad crew spent a huge amount of time and effort getting rid of offensive graffiti, reglazing shattered windows and hanging curtains to make the buildings look lived-in. They also covered neighbouring houses – where people still live – with netting to protect them from paint, and they sent the locals off on all-expenses paid day trips to the seaside.

So was it worth it? Like most supposedly glamorous things I’ve attended (big gigs, TV studios, magazine offices and so on) the reality is much less exciting than the idea you might have in your head. Filming such an ad, it seems, is a bit like sex: you spend hours hanging around in a hard hat and a hi-vis vest while 200-odd people give you funny looks, then someone fires a klaxon and you create an enormous mess in a fraction of a second.


I didn’t see the tower block go up – that was being filmed later in the week – but I did see the explosives go off along the low-rise block next to it, and it was impressive stuff. I’ve been taken through the plan for the other explosive displays, and I think that when it’s all done and edited together it’s going to be pretty spectacular. Funny, too: the estate was rather keen on Celtic Football Club, and Sony’s first batch of explosives cheerfully painted the block in red, white and blue.

A couple of random thoughts:

* Due to the top-secret nature of the shoot, I wasn’t allowed to bring my digicam – and when the explosives went off, I was so far away from the action that getting a decent pic with the supplied Cybershot (3x zoom – bollocks) was damn near impossible. It’s particularly frustrating because if I had stood outside the locked-down set, I’d have got some cracking pictures. Naturally the Evening Times coverage meant that other people didn’t have to worry about secrecy and got some superb shots, which are all over Flickr.

* I met Sony’s European PR manager, which I was a bit apprehensive about after months of slagging various Sony divisions in print. However, rather than have me killed she offered me an ice cream (incidentally, I went purely because I was invited. I didn’t get cash, beer or kit, and I didn’t fancy ice cream either. Maybe I should have asked for a Bravia, or an Alpha DSLR).

* Whenever you have a security firm keeping an eye on things, at least one of them will be a shades-wearing arsehole who looks like Dom Joly but thinks he’s The Terminator.

* If I ever direct a video that needs sunshine, I won’t do it in Glasgow.

* One Glasgow newspaper received tip-offs about the shoot from people offering to disclose the location in exchange for £1,000. Unfortunately said newspaper’s writers were visiting the shoot at the time.

* I met some interesting people: Tim Sandys, who has a blog about art, and Carol Walker, who has a video/photo blog. Both sites are in the links list on the right, and both sites are well worth your time.

* Toryglen really is a dump.