Director, Marcus Söderlund’s new Volvo film, The Swell, will leave you gasping for air and wanting to see more. You barely get a peek at the car. The exterior of the car is up for ten seconds – then you never see it again.
The Swell opens inside of a parked Volvo XC60 on an empty beach. The outside temperature is 18 degrees celsius (which is roughly 64 degrees fahrenheit). You can’t help but wonder what happened to the owner of the vehicle. The camera slowly drifts out of the car and plunges into the frigid ocean. You hear the radio announcer slowly fade into the crashing waves. If you look closely, you can see the edit points as the camera moves over the sand. We finally meet up with a woman on a surfboard patiently waiting for the perfect wave.
Before we get into the making of the The Swell, let’s talk about the most common ways agencies sell car spots. First, queue the sunset, then fire up the helicopter following a hot young couple driving through the mountains. I almost fell asleep describing this. We’ve seen it a million times. Hollie Newton, Global Creative Director at Grey London, says, “The last thing the world needs is another overly-retouched car, hooning down a mountain road to a soft rock soundtrack.”
Some may argue that people forget commercials that have nothing to do with the product. This may be true. But aren’t cliche ads also forgettable? Director Marcus Söderlund says, “We’ve seen the car in so many places. We all know what that looks like.”
Pay attention, because this spot is the future of advertising. In the golden age, ad men told you why you need a product. More recently, they showed you why you need a product. Today, they make you feel the product. In this spot, the voiceover reminds us, “To feel…. to really feel, is a rare thing these days.”
Director Marcus Söderlund and creative agency, Grey London, weren’t interested in creating a typical car ad. Instead, they dragged you out of the car and threw you in the water. You’ll never forget it, because you felt it. This spot captures the fury of the ocean and the Volvo owner who tames it. “We are showing you images that you are not used to seeing. You are not used to seeing people surfing in the middle of the night.” says Marcus.
The most surprising thing about this spot is it’s simplicity. Marcus describes the set as a relatively small production. There are no lights, no green screen, no day-to-night color grading. “The idea is really simple. If we complicated it, it wouldn’t work.” They used a combination of the Freefly MōVI with a Super Techno Crane and a RED EPIC DRAGON with an underwater housing. Marcus says that having tools like the MōVI gives us a perspective that we don’t typically see. “Normally, you would have to cut the car into halves and use a lot of CGI. We were able to do it in one move.”
This is the second project together for Marcus and Grey London. When Marcus got the script, he said it read like a movie. “What we did was to be as truthful to the simplicity that was inherent to the idea. We really tried to focus on not adding layers and layers. We had to believe in what was there and just trust the creative. The only thing I added was simplicity and a bit of mystery.”
Ideas always sound great on paper. A storm approaches as a woman drives her Volvo on the beach. She says, “Fuck it, I’m going surfing.” Now, how do you pull that off? Marcus says, “We totally planned on getting that weather. We totally went for the waves.” They flew to the one place on Earth that offered white knuckle surfing — Durban, South Africa.
Marcus directed all the water scenes on a Jet ski. “Once you’re in the water, you don’t have a lot of options. It’s really unpredictable. It was really stormy the second day. You just have to trust in the people that you’re working with. There’s no way you have playback or anything like that.” At one point, the underwater DP, Allan “Willy” Wilson, says he spotted a shark in the water. Oh boy.
Working in harsh conditions is kind of Marcus Söderlund’s thing. He’s a Swedish music video, commercial and documentary director. He has directed music videos for several Swedish artists in some of the harshest conditions. He’s filmed everything from raging waters to burning cars. “These elements are powerful. You just can’t compete with it.” I asked him if there’s anything he hasn’t shot. He says, “I’ve always wanted to shoot wild horses. There aren’t a lot of wild horses left. But that would be amazing.”
Vice President, Brand Marketing: Tomás Caetano
Marketing Communication Director: Ingela D’Angelo
Marketing Content Director: Magnus Brodd
Project Leader: Anna Wirsen
Spot: The Swell
Agency: Grey, London
Executive Creative Director: Nils Leonard
Global Creative Director: Hollie Newton
Creative Team: Hollie Newton, Jamie Starbuck, Howard Green
Managing Partner: Nick Dutton
Business Director: Camilla Ashenhurst
Account Manager: Mel Caplan
Agency Producer: Harriette Larder