Shane Meadows' Somers Town, after much praise at the Berlinale and awards at Tribeca and Edinburgh, has had an unusual path to screen. The genesis of the project was not with a seasoned writer or director, but from famed advertising agency Mother.
Ad legend Robert Saville, one of the founders of the agency known for its campaigns for Orange, Pimm's, Pot Noodle and Coca-Cola, says the company had considered a move into film and other types of content for several years. "(Rail company) Eurostar was seeking an agency but we lost that pitch, but instead we came up with this idea of a series of short episodes to make up a feature film," Saville says. "We had the basic idea for characters and script outline. Eurostar loved it and got excited about the idea and then we brought Shane on board."
The project's lead producer was Barnaby Spurrier at Tomboy Films, and when Meadows joined the team, his collaborator Paul Fraser wrote the script. Saville executive produced alongside Nick Mercer and Eurostar's Greg Nugent.
Eurostar footed the bill for the film but Meadows only agreed to do it because of the level of creative control he was allowed. The Eurostar brand is not mentioned by name in the project, and most viewers would be unaware it is a 'branded' film. The simple story follows two teenage boys - played by Meadows' This Is England star Thomas Turgoose and Piotr Jagiello - who become unlikely friends hanging out in the Somers Town area of London (where the company was building its new Eurostar International terminus at St Pancras station).
Saville notes the natural story of the film brings a positive emotional connection with Eurostar. "With Somers Town, we've tested people and there was a 50% increase in people thinking the Eurostar is the best way of travelling to Paris after seeing the film," he notes. Optimum is releasing the film theatrically in the UK on August 22.
Saville is quick to give credit for the finished product: "We came up with the concept and pulled the team together, but clearly the genius of it is Shane Meadows," he says. "If it had been down to us, we probably would have screwed the project up."
The company's new division Mother Vision will work on all kinds of entertainment properties. Mother veteran Al MacCuish will be creative head of the unit, which will work across films, books, TV and mobile content. "We just want to be a magnet for people who have stories to tell," says Saville.
"We don't call it branded content, we call it entertainment - branded or otherwise. Hands of brands can be so heavily laden in the work. But the more brands shout, the less people want to listen," he notes of traditional brand placement in films.
Models could vary at Mother Vision in terms of what companies pay for content - and whether or not the consumer is even aware of it.
Mother itself could back some projects. "Consumers don't care if a film is presented by Universal, they just care if it's entertaining," Saville says. "You have to allow a story to breathe and brands have to be understated."