Many photography and film students fail to dream big enough during their undergraduate studies. The work they produce seems more like an exercise than a passionate project for their own portfolios. For German film students Daniel Titz & Dorian Lebherz this was definitely not the case. In what might be the most moving commercial of 2015, Daniel and Dorian crafted a touching mock ad for Johnnie Walker that shows just how effective you can make your personal projects if you take them seriously.
The concept for "Dear Brother" is simple on the surface but pretty complex by the ending. Daniel and Dorian, students at the Film Academy of Baden-Württemberg in Ludwigsburg, Germany, loved the original Johnnie Walker advertising message "keep walking" and wanted to give it a new adaptation. By combining a touching poem with absolutely stunning video footage, they were able to produce something both clever and emotionally engaging.
Without giving away the ending, the story follows two friends as they run through the moody hills of Scotland's Isle of Skye. The tone of the narrated poem is both melancholy yet inspiring, and the epic landscape visuals will hold your attention until the very end. What's amazing is this whole thing was produced with a minimal budget yet it looks as good as or better than some of Hollywood's biggest trailers. There is no doubt that these two young directors have just made a big splash for themselves in the commercial advertising world.
What I find so interesting about this video is not necessarily the storytelling and cinematography itself though. Instead, I find this entire "working for spec" success story an incredibly inspiring lesson for other film makers and art students. Many people online are claiming that this video actually did have a huge budget but I can watch this entire commercial imagine myself making it for very little money at all. When you pitch creative ideas in the commercial world, budgets can get inflated to ridiculous levels simply because clients and artists believe everything needs to be done at the highest level. When you produce something for yourself, you can easily cut out unnecessary line items and spend your personal money only on the absolute necessities. Let's take a look at what this production could have actually cost if you did it on a tight budget.
Below I have made a simple budget for what this commercial might have actually cost. Of course I'm speculating but I would feel pretty confident in producing something similar myself if I believed in my own camera and editing work.
- Talent - $1000 total. Models and actors can be priced out from free to $1000 a day depending on if they are your friends or if they are an agency's in-demand talent. After looking at the show reels from the two stars of this commercial, it appears this is the highest end production they been featured in (not trying to be mean here) so I'm assuming they weren't all that expensive. They also didn't have any speaking parts.
- Flights - $1500 total. Considering you could probably film this with 3 people (Daniel and Dorian along with their DoP), you wouldn't spend that much on airfare. The flights to Glasgow, Scotland from Stuttgart, Germany are about $350 round trip and you would need 3 of those. The actor's flights from London to Glasgow are about $150 round trip each. The amazing location is a huge part of this video but it is relatively close to everyone involved. For such an epic location, you could do all the heavy traveling for a lot less than you would think.
- Additional Travel - $1500 max. Of course you are going to need a rental car or van to get the 5 of you from Glasgow airport and drive to the epic landscapes found at the Isle of Skye. The drive is about 5 hours each way so you would spend a little on gas but nothing too crazy.
- Meals - $2500 total. Meals are one area where you could save a ton of money depending on how you produce the project. On a "real" project, you would definitely cover all the meals of all 5 people traveling with you. But, if everyone involved are students and have banned together to produce something awesome on a tight budget, the meals themselves could come out of pocket for each person. It's not unreasonable to say everyone would be spending money on food even if they were back home not working on this commercial. At the very least, you would cover the two actors and expense out the 3 person crew. I however have given everyone a $50 meal budget for 10 days so that's fairly conservative.
- Lodging - $1000 total. The biggest place to save production money is on lodging. You could get everyone a private room at a $200 a night hotel or like any good budget minded student, you could all pile into a hostel with a few bunk beds for $200 each night. I'm going to go the cheap route and get a 5 bed dorm with private bathroom.
- Production - $1000 total. I'm calling the production the actual filming, editing, and props/wardrobe needed for what you actually see on the screen. I know there are some additional people listed on the credits for editing this short commercial but there really isn't any reason the two directors Daniel and Dorian couldn't easily edit this commercial on their own. I also do not think the cinematography is that over the top either. Most of it looks like it was shot with natural light, maybe a few scrims here and there, or a small LED panel for a kicker light at times. Most of the heavy lifting is done by the landscape itself with some unbelievable weather (which I read wasn't the original idea for this video). They do have a drone shot at the beginning and end but I think a film student could get access to a $500 DJI Phantom II with Gopro pretty easily.
- Voice Actor - $200. This could have been wrapped up in the production line above but because the voice actor was so important to this entire short video, I thought it was fair to include a set budget for his reading.
- Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch - $40. This actually could be an empty bottle filled with dyed water to look like aged Scotch but I'm going to guess they treated themselves to the real deal.
Total Budget - Less than $9,000
Now I know a lot of students are going to say that $9,000 is a ton of money for a self produced portfolio project, and you are right, it is a lot of money. But when you step back and consider that this could easily be funded with the help of friends, loans, family members, your school, and other fund raising opportunities, this budget is very very reasonable. Yes you will not be living like kings during this trip, and some of the people involved in this production would be working for free or very little money (which happens when you self produce), but I think in the end it is totally worth it. The amount of exposure this video is going to give these two young producers could never be bought for $9,000 alone. They now have created one of the best commercials ever produced for Johnnie Walker and I'm sure in the end they will wind up making their production budget back many times over. In fact, much of that budget could be made back immediately from Youtube monetization (roughly $1000 per 1 million views, this video will get many millions of views in all likelihood). At the moment of writing this, Dear Brother has less than a million views so we shall see where it stands by the end of the year.
Watching well produced videos like this from young creative students who have yet to even stake out their own professional careers is one of the things that makes this industry so exciting. Camera technology has become so good and so cheap that literally anyone with an idea can produce that concept, self publish it on youtube, and gain the attention of major brands and a world wide audience. While the talent of everyone involved in this commercial is worthy of being praised, I truly believe what sets them apart from everyone else who is trying to start a visual career is that they take their personal projects very seriously. Instead of just turning in a project for a good grade or making something better than their peers, Daniel and Dorian pushed themselves to make something that was truly spectacular and worthy of all the acclaim they are about to receive.
I would love to challenge the entire Fstoppers community to watch this video a few times and use it as motivation to create bigger and better personal projects of your own. There is no doubt that pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is totally worth it even if you have to spend a little money out of your own pocket to create something you are really passionate about.