Spot Breakdown: “West Bank” for Sky TV

This is a slight deviation from the ongoing series of Feature Scene Breakdowns that I have neglected for the last six month or so. Being apart of the advertising industry now, I am finding myself much more attentive to the ad work that seems to assault me from every screen I own these days and I thought I should include it in this personal study. One huge upside of being within agency walls is a glorious room full of demo reels from over the years for Directors, Creative Editors, DP’s, FX Houses and even Catering companies (jokes). I have been trying to take advantage of that opportunity to study the work of the  advertising realm masters. It was in one of those reels that I discovered this little gem of a spot from New Zealand for the Sky TV news network.

“West Bank” was released in December of 2009. The agency was DDB, Auckland. The Director was Cole Webley, the Cinematographer was Travis Cline, and the Editor was Kim Bica out of Arcade Edit. For me, the beauty of the spot is in how much editorial had to play in its success, and how invisible that hand is. Invisibility has long been a description of the craft and of the editor’s role; which as of late has been changing with the new, MTV-influenced styles. In many programs, the editorial practice has become much more apparent to the viewer. Rather than seamless cuts that distract you from the fact that they are even happening, the jumpcut has certainly become a star player these days. “West Bank” is a very high energy spot that plays out entirely on a battlefield, and lends itself to a jumpcut style. The artistry is that most of the cuts, although jumpcuts by definition, are masterfully stitched together shots that appear to be continuous.

http://coldpost.tv/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Kim_Bica_Reel_SkyTV_Editors_Cut_webSM.mov

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1) I am a big fan of starting scenes focused on smaller details and then transitioning to wider shots that reveal the environment we’re in. I am seeing more and more of this approach these days in contrast to the old adage of always beginning with a wide shot and then moving into close shots. Here, we open on a close-up of running feet, with the sound effects cluing us into the battle going on around us. Initially, we don’t know how this character plays into the battle because all we see are civilian running shoes and jeans. It is not till he is fully exposed in the next couple shots that we understand he is a Palestinian guerilla. I love how they chose to start with the foot mid-stride and large in the frame. It instantly draws your eye and then pulls you into the shot as it moves into the run.


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2) Speaking of hidden cuts, I didn’t even catch this one until I started the writing process. I had already watched the spot numerous times and had even gone through it collecting stills, but didn’t snag this one until the actual breakdown began. The motion at the end of the first shot leads perfectly into this one. The feet are falling down in the frame as he jumps, revealing more of the body. When we cut to a shot of his torso in the same position and with the same relative size, even though things have changed a bit in the background, our brains fill in the gap that the camera kept tilting up to his torso. It helps that within 5 frames the talent runs out of frame and the camera has to catch back up to him. These types of cinematographic choices and the handheld style add quite a bit of energy to the entire spot, making it feel like an embedded photographer is capturing this battle. It’s possible that the editor used the same shot following this actor, but then cut out a second or two of the shot after the jump to condense the action. Right after the camera finishes panning back to the actor, we cut again.

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3) The cut point works so nicely because it happens 4 frames after the camera picks him back up and doesn’t allow us to settle in on the character. Just as we see his outfit it cuts to a slightly wider shot where we see him firing his rifle. The sound effects that correspond with him shooting were introduced at the end of the last shot. This overlap of audio is long standing trick to smooth out cuts and give the scene a genuine feel.

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4) We cut to a long shot of the ridge where the Palestinian was firing. We have lost the sound of the individual rifle fire and now hear men yelling and a machine gun off camera. We finally see the target, which is a soldier running across the ridge. The camera quickly starts zooming out and panning to the left, back towards where our Palestinian character was. As it zooms, there is another invisible cut I just picked up on as well. Part way through the whip pan, a cut is made to the next shot which is also mid whip. I never would have caught it if I wasn’t moving frame by frame and notice a shift.

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5) Continuing the whip pan from the last shot, the camera travels past a man with a molotov cocktail and stops on a crouching Palestinian, before reversing direction and returning to the man with the flaming bottle. It is a great example of using the documentary style camera, where the camera seems to search for subject matter rather than just hit preplanned marks. Within two frames of coming back to the molotov, we have another subtle cut.

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6) On frame by frame view this cut doesn’t work as well, there is is even a guy that pops up in the background of the new shot. But I have watched this over and over in realtime with no issues. It is just utter proof that continuity is not as important as we make it out to be most of the time. I can’t say at this stage of my career I would have had the confidence to make this choice as an editor, but I wish I was. The outgoing shot is still panning when the cut is made, the actor is standing in pretty much the same way, the framing is very very close, and as soon as the incoming shot starts the actor moves towards camera and starts his lines. All of these factors distract you from noticing that a cut has happened. Beautiful.

Glen Montgomery Avid Editor

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7) We get our first cutaway, of guerillas firing on the Israeli soldiers. It comes right on the talent’s line “Palestinians protested”.

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8) Returning to the shot on the Palestinian character’s face, he finishes his line then turns and throws the molotov cocktail. Just as he finishes his throw, the camera whips away from him as if the operator is covering himself from the explosion. The third photo below is the last frame before the cut point.



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9) This shot creates a wonderful bridge from the previous to the next; basically tying two different locations together and distracting us from the change. It starts out with a little camera move to the left and a dutch angle that seems to continue the camera movement at the end of the last shot. 4 frames in, an explosion comes from the lower left part of the frame and throws rubble in the opposite direction of the camera move. Just as the cloud of debris lessens, we cut away.

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10) The cut to this shot works similarly to the one from #6, the incoming shot is very similar to the last in terms of angle and the buildings in the background. The camera quickly moves in on the new talent, a different Palestinian guerrilla, who starts talking as soon as the shot begins. The camera finishes moving in close to the man, almost over his shoulder, as if the cameraman is taking cover alongside him. A couple seconds into the line, the camera starts to pan to the right and another hidden cut is made. The third still photo, below, is the last frame in this shot before the cut and you can compare it with the first incoming frame of the next.



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11) About five frames into the pan we cut to a different take of the same camera move that is in about the same spot. The new shot is much less smokey but has more dirt on the lens. Even though the two still-frames look quite different, you don’t really notice it at real time. Makes me really think about all the times I have fretted over minor continuity issues; wasting precious time that could have gone into story development. It does help that there are new characters firing rifles and a zooming, shaky camera to distract us from the cut. After a couple seconds on the 3 Palestinians, the camera pans back into an over-the-shoulder shot of our speaker, hidden behind the wall. The third still below is of the next transition point, mid dissolve.



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2) The transition point here is at about the same stage of the whip pan as the last cut, but this time there is a 4 or 5 frame dissolve blending the two shots together. It is mainly around the gun itself and the luminance of the sky that you can notice the dissolve happening but, as in most of the cuts, you don’t notice it in real time.

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13) This is one of my favorite cuts of the commercial. In the last shot the Palestinian fires two shots and then it seems that a snap zoom occurs, pushing into a closer over the shoulder as he fires again. What actually happens is there’s a cut to a different shot that is in the process of zooming in on the rifle’s perspective and then past the rifle into the background. The fact that the second shot is zooming like that makes it feel more organic to me, as if it was done in camera than a cut to a closer shot. Another element it adds is a quick glimpse of a person scrambling in the background as he is fired upon. It is a small point but I think it adds a human element to a group of shots where the Guerillas are mostly firing off camera or into clouds of smoke and dust. We see again that they are firing at other people by actually seeing those other people, even if just for a second.

Colorado Editor Glen Montgomery

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14) A series of gunshot sound effects leads us into a different scene on the battlefield. They sound very different than the gunshots we heard from the last rifle and the first one overlaps the cut, bridging the two visuals with an audio cue. We see two Israeli soldiers being fired upon. As bullets hit around them, one begins running while the other fires back and the camera moves in on the one running. This movement initiates the cut.

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15) In a low-angle close-up, similar to the first shot of the commercial, we get a quick shot of the soldier’s boots as he is running. It is only about a second long, but adds a gritty quality and keeps with the breakneck pace of the spot.

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16) Jumping ahead a bit in time and space, the running soldier is now closing in on a fellow soldier against a wall as it explodes in front of them. This explosion is going to be the transitionary element to the next scene.

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17) In a new shot, the perspective shifts from third person to the running soldier’s POV. We see the explosion in front of us, debris covering the frame. The camera rocks to the right as it’s hit by the blast and then comes down on some burnt out rubble at the base of the explosion. The sound design helps push this POV with a dull ringing tone that stays over the next 4 shots; the result of the blast on the soldier’s ears.


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18) We get an ultra quick, 7 frame shot of a injured man on the ground being dragged by a fellow soldier. I don’t know if he is supposed to be the guy who was running or if he is just one of the casualties of the explosion, but my take is he’s the runner. This is not one of the more invisible edits but rather a jump in space so I don’t think it’s a continuation of the real time feel that has been established. Instead, I think we are picking up a little later in time, from a different perspective.

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19) Cut to a profile shot of of a running soldier silhouetted against a smoke cloud. In the previous shot the camera was moving in quickly, which cuts well into this one with a lot of motion, and leads well into the next shot, which is a continuation of #18.

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20) Now we have a speed ramp of shot #18, following the running solder to the injured one. I think #18 was a different take than this one in which the editor used a later section of the shot, where this running soldier had already passed the wounded Israeli. This shot starts with the runner further back and plays around 4 times speed (best guess, don’t hold me to this) until he passes the injured man and then the clip ramps down to normal speed. We land in a close up on the injured soldier, who is our next speaking talent. Complimenting the speed effect is a deep, windy sound effect. It is higher pitched during the fast run and then lowers to a rumble as the soldier begins to talk. Conferring with my suitemate, Wayde Samuel, about how to describe it, he theorized that it might be a bass drum hit that was sped up to get the initial wind sound then brought back down to regular speed and possible reversed. Either way it is more proof that sound designers are freaking badasses.


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21) After he says his line “A dozen Palestinians have…” we cut to another location where an Israeli soldier is firing his rifle in an over-the-shoulder shot. It is one of only a few departures from the style of the spot, where we see cutaways from different aspects of the battle. It does seem very fitting that this line of dialogue finishes on the cutaway with “been killed”.

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22) As a follow up to that line, we cut from the soldier to his POV and the Palestinians he is shooting at. We begin to hear another line of dialogue, “while two…”, as the guerillas return fire.

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23) The line is finished by a new speaker, the soldier dragging the injured one; revealed in a new close up. When he is done he leans down and lowers his head; the movement initiating the final cut.

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24) We jump to a medium shot behind the soldiers. It’s the most jarring cut in the program, but purposeful. After all the invisible edits and quick cutting so far, it seems very appropriate that we have a cut that calls a little bit more attention to itself and a long 6 second final shot. Right after the cut the camera quickly moves backwards, letting the soldiers fall off into the background as a series of supers type on and the SKY TV logo comes up.



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I have to say, after spending so much time with this spot I am really looking forward to working on something that lends itself to this type of hidden editing. Usually, shaky cam isn’t something I gravitate to, but it presents the kind of happy accidents that can make for some beautiful stitching. If you think of any other examples of this style, or anything else you think I should check out for that matter, please add to the comments below.

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