Michael Weinzettl talks to Antonio Bechtle of the Bechtle & Milzarājs agency about their latest work.
Just 24 hours ago, I came upon a new commercial created by the Bechtle & Milzarājs partnership, Vilnius, for the „Eurobasket“ service by Viaplay Lietuva. They're the Lithuanian branch of Viaplay, one of Sweden's MTG-owned online services, they offer movies, sports and TV shows via video on demand at a fixed monthly cost in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finnland and the Baltic States. I was immediately hooked and thought for a moment that this might be the latest effort by the likes of Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry, who sometimes do this charmingly low-tech kind of stuff. In fact the director is Spanish film-maker and photographer Luis Velasco who had been hired by the Bechtle & Milzarājs agency. Since Antonio Bechtle is an old friend of ours and his work is regularly featured in the pages of Lürzer’s Archive, I decided to have him tell us a bit about the production of this quite amazing little spot – for me a wonderful antidote to the overblown hi-tech extravaganzas that are stock-in-trade in this field.
Client: Viaplay. Agency: Bechtle & Milzarajs, Vilnius. Creative Director: Antonio Bechtle. Art Director: Janis Milzarājs. Copywriter: Antonio Bechtle. Director: Luis Velasco. Production Company: Dansu
Hi Antonio, first of all: It seems to me that Bechtle & Milzarājs are more of an itinerant creative task force for the Baltic countries than a „proper“ ad agency that is stuck in one place. Am I all wrong?
You're very close to the reality. We are actually not an advertising agency in the traditional way. We are technically a creative team that collaborates directly with clients or with other agencies in the region. When production is needed, we team up with production houses and/or other freelancers, depending on the kind of project that needs to be done.
The good thing about this is mobility. We can easily move around. And when we can't, we use all the advantages that technology gives us and we sometimes we manage to do ads from the beginning to the end without ever having seen the client in person.
How did you come across Viaplay Lietuva? And what was the brief?
Viaplay Lietuva was brought to us by another client of ours, Viasat, for whom we did the "Follow me" campaign that is going to be featured in Archive Vol. 4-17 (to be published next Friday! Ed.). The two brands are part of the same conglomerate, so one recommended us to the other.
The brief was quite simple: Viaplay has, as a main feature, one that works in every device you might have. It lets you watch its content wherever you go. But now, with the Eurobasket tournament approaching, they wanted to communicate this specific feature linked with it. In other words, the message to communicate was "Watch Eurobasket wherever you go."
Can you tell us a bit about the personnel you got together for the Front Row commercial? Where did you find these people?
Well, I can start talking about Janis Milzarājs, my creative partner. It's difficult for me to realise that he was my student at The Atomic Garden Vilnius once, just a couple of years ago. Two of his student ads were among the top five contenders in last year's Lürzer's Archive Student of the Year Award. After that he worked with me for a year at the Milk agency, and later we got together to pursue our own projects. I must say that his student times are long gone – at least that's the way it feels. He is a very strong eye for detail, and has become a demanding and creative art director. I am no longer his teacher anymore, and I don't feel like that either. I find in him great support and he provides excellent creative input, whatever project we're working on.
Luis Velasco, the director, is a very particular kind of talented person, I find. He had never done advertising before this as he tends to specialise more in music videos. And that, for me, is a big plus. I don't want my ads to look like ads. He is an immigrant to Lithuania, just as I am, and we're also working together on a project of video-poetry with the real and hidden Lithuania as its main topic (a personal project that has nothing to do with advertising). He has a great documentary eye, and a great talent for finding beauty in the real world, with no production values enhancing it. And this was exactly what I needed – apart from his strong connection with music (which is something that we also share).
As soon as we came up with the idea of the row of seats, I knew he'd be the perfect choice for directing this spot. I think he managed to perfectly show the "real" Lithuania. Not the touristic one, but the one that local directors would have kept hidden, trying to show what to their mind was the pretty side of the country. I think that the immigrant eye can detect what Lithuania is all about better than someone who was born here. The rest of the team was gathered by Dansu, to me the best production house in this region.
Can you talk about the budget for this spot? And what were the consequences of that?
For reasons of confidentiality I can't tell you the exact budget of this ad, but I can say that it was really tight. We knew from the very beginning that it was going to be like that, which is why we came up with an idea that not only could be done with small money, but that NEEDED to be done in a guerrilla way.
Dansu did a great job gathering a very small but effective crew, and distributing the small budget properly.
Please tell us about the wonderful soundtrack of the Front Row spot. How did you get hold of this, how did you find the singer (songwriter?) Who is she?
The song is called "Journey to the Moon", and the singer, songwriter and (as far as I know) even the producer of it is an amazing and very talented Lithuanian artist called Monika Liu. I am lucky enough to be a personal friend of hers, and from all her songs, this one has always been my favourite. When this idea came to our minds, I immediately visualised it with this song as an integral part of it. For me, there was no other option. This song, in my head, was exactly what this ad needed. It's warm, cosy and shouts summer like nothing else. So, as soon as the idea was born, I called her and convinced her to let us use her song.
And, finally, where did you find this row of chairs? Over the course of the commercial, to me they seemed to acquire a personality of their own when you watch them in the quickly changing surroundings, almost like characters in a film.… Did you have to transport them to all the different locations yourself? Or did you just take a ride in a car with them and stopped wherever you found a nice location?
The chairs were custom made. They're replicas of the chairs that the basketball arenas have in the front row. Having worked for several years in a market such as Lithuania, where the budgets are most of the times quite small, I learned how to develop a process to find safety in the chaos that a guerrilla-style process can present for a client (an example of this is an ad I did with the Milk agency called "Reasons" for IKI, featured in the magazine a couple of years ago). So, first, we choose a bunch of locations that we call "safe" ones. Those are approved by the client. We tell the client that, worst case scenario, those are the locations that they will have for sure. Then production and the director put down a route, in order to touch the locations at the time of the day that they are needed to be shown (this wasn't random. We wanted to be in specific locations at a specific time of the day, to get the best light for each location.) Once this route was decided, we checked what other interesting backgrounds we could find on the way, and we selected a few more possible ones, as second-priority locations. And we were always open to get unplanned locations while driving around. After this kind of planning, the way to do it was exactly as you describe: we carried the crew and the chairs in a van, and drove from location to location, stopping every time we came upon something interesting. At the end, I must say that around 40% of the locations that appear in the commercial were planned, and the rest were totally improvised.
How long did production of the commercial take?
The shooting was done in a day. We started at 2 am and wrapped at 3:30 pm. The total production time was of around a week and a half.
Thank you, Antonio.
Done: Antonio Bechtle.
Luis Velasco, the spot's director
Singer/songwriter Monika Liu
Print campaign for Viasat, a satellite TV service, launching a promotion with a trip to visit the location your favourite movie as the top prize. Agency: Bechtle & Milzarāj, Vilnius, Lithuania, CD: Antonio Bechtle AD: Janis Milzarajs CW: Antonio Bechtle Photographer: Jurate Ivanauskaite, Digital Artists:Jurate Ivanauskaite, Gintarė Mačiulienė. The campaign is featuring in Vol. 4-2017 of Lürzer's Archive (out next Friday).