There are jobs, and then there are jobs. Take, for instance, when Scouts Honour Director Kevin Foley landed a pitch for the International Olympic Committee’s full film campaign. That’s a job. Not only did it involve global travel, capturing stories around the world, but it also involved navigating a pandemic and an IOC that’s redefining their identity in the modern era.
Regardless of the challenges that would arise, it was still the Olympics, and a job worth taking:
“We were incredibly proud to have won the bid. For the most part, it was five or six people, Canadian upstarts, who were able to do a massive global campaign. It was pretty intense,” Producer Simon Dragland told us. “We had lots of pride in the work. All of us grew up watching the Olympics and being astounded by it. We all love sports and were happy to engage on the biggest stage.”
Simon and Co-Director Kevin Foley are two of the minds behind the global campaign. They pulled off a series of incredibly compelling films that not only show the talent and skills of an Olympian, but also the places they come from and the challenges they overcome. In our conversation, we talked with Simon and Kevin about the unique challenge of producing this campaign.
Unsurprisingly, an Olympic-sized job presented some Olympic-sized challenges. Here’s how they overcame them.
Musicbed: How did you end up working on this campaign?
Simon Dragland: We have a company called Scouts Honour and [Co-Director] Mark Zibert had previously worked with Derek Kent on a Canadian Olympic Committee campaign. Generally, people in Toronto are pretty familiar with Mark’s work, so he was the recommended director for the project with the newly formed Hulse & Durrell agency. So we met with them, put together a pitch, including the mood film, and that was the start of it.
Kevin Foley: For a design agency like Hulse & Durrell to go up against the Drogas and the Wieden+Kennedys was a big deal. They brought us into the process when they were a finalist for the job. We whipped together a mood film in three or four days and it turned out to be viscerally emotional for the people in the meeting at the IOC.
Simon: The agency had applied for two elements—rebranding the IOC in general and the film campaign. Hulse & Durrell were really instrumental in the Vancouver Olympics for branding the Canadian Olympic Committee, and they had a long-standing relationship with the IOC. They didn’t have a film background, so they were looking for a lot of support on the visual side.
Was the concept already set at that point?
Simon: It was fairly early days, and very open-ended. They knew they wanted one main hero film and weren’t sure how many thematic films they wanted. Our pitch was to do storyboards, build a budget, and come back with some recommendations. Initially, we pitched five thematic films—one per ring was the loose structure.
Kevin: What connected and resonated with the IOC was just how “human” our concept was. It was very honest, very pure—how we see sports. Some of the IOC’s most recent work represents this perfect utopia of sport. Everything looks shiny and happy and everything’s great. We wanted to make the IOC a bit more relatable, and make the athletes the centerpiece. Film it not in a stadium, but more in the way they train. It was a little more honest, a little rawer.
That’s the approach we took with the mood film and having grown up with a lot of these memories and moments, we dug into the moments that weren’t necessarily about winning the race. For example, when Derek Redmond tore his hamstring and his father carried him to the finish line. Those are the beats that move you, right?
How did the pandemic affect production?
Kevin: Well, the reality is, this campaign had two phases. It started in October of 2019 when we began shooting. We shot right up till January 2020. We were in the edit when March hit, and the project was basically shut down. We just brought it back five months ago, essentially. We had to rewrite it, re-edit, and we had to finesse and alter everything. Beyond the hero film, which was always what it was, these films became athlete-centered. The IOC gave the mic to the athletes.
There seems to be a shift happening with the IOC, to draw back the curtain a bit.
Simon: In the initial round of the films and post-production, we were shielded pretty well by the agency. We had a lot of free reign. But then, when we got into post, we had a more direct connection and at times it was pretty challenging to find that consensus artistically because everyone had a vision of what they thought the edits should be.
Kevin: But that all changed, to be honest, once we’d been shut down and started up again. We had a new connection, Matt McKie, who stepped in as the IOC head of marketing. He used to run Nike Soccer in England. And he was a young, fresh voice.
We knew from the very beginning, pre-pandemic, that they wanted to appeal to the younger generation and be more relevant. They’re adding sports like skateboarding and break dancing, so there’s definitely that push. It’s no longer your parents’ or your grandparents’ Olympics. They have to adapt because sports are changing. We felt that and Matt was a supporter of the work, so there was more clarity when we got down the road.
Going back to production, how did you start tackling the logistics of all these shoots?
Simon: It started out pretty broad. We were given some lists of athletes and we provided our own. And Kevin’s sort of a sports-centric guy to begin with. He knew a lot of the backstory on most of the athletes, and a little bit of research started to pull out some interesting stories.
There’s a number of other places we would have liked to have shot and a number of other athletes we would have liked to have captured, but we basically found our centers, and then we tried to triangulate who was available and who could be where, and where we needed to go in order to capture certain athletes.
What were you looking for in those stories?
Kevin: We were interested in athletes who don’t get the spotlight, like para-athletes. For example, the athlete we shot in Cape Town, Obed Lekhehle, I saw on LinkedIn one day.
Somebody sent me a link to this 14-year-old, one-legged high jumper. We knew we were going to Cape Town, and so we reached out. Simon found him somehow, some way, and he was the first guy we shot, and it just was a nice reminder of why we were doing what we were doing. Of course, you’re going to cross paths with people like Usain Bolt and Nyjah Huston, the superstars, right? But there were athletes whose backstories, especially the refugee athletes or athletes who’ve had to face more obstacles, who we were fascinated by and felt like deserved the focus for the IOC. They’re just compelling characters. It’s not about how fast you are. They’re athletes to admire, to inspire. They weren’t trust-fund babies. Nothing was given to them. As a storyteller, you’re definitely going to want to tell their story.
How did you split up work between two directors?
Kevin: When we got into Cape Town, we did divide and conquer a little bit from that standpoint. Mark’s also the co-DP. I got into the athlete-focused stuff, scene blocking and wardrobe, and all the little details. But from the beginning, Mark and I are close friends and I have complete admiration and respect for what he does, how he thinks, and how he works.
Simon: The shooting scenario was different than anything we’d engaged in. It was pretty fluid where Kevin would grab a camera, Mark would sit at the monitor. Eric was the AD and the co-DP, so you’d have two cameras running almost all the time, and somebody needed to follow the bouncing ball. So, Kev would be at the monitor for a chunk of it, and then you’d grab a camera once Mark had taken a couple of passes. It was really an unusual situation, a group of five of us traveling around the world, doing a little bit of everything helped it go pretty smoothly.
How did you prep for these shoots?
Simon: We would do some preliminary work, but we left it pretty open until we arrived to lock in locations and scenarios. It was unusual for us because in commercials we’re typically organizing 95 percent upfront and you may have some subtle differences or slight camera angle changes, but this process was really fluid.
Just thinking back to Obed Lekhehle, we didn’t know what direction we were going to shoot in or how it was going to be lit. We were embracing what we had in front of us, with a minimal sandbox, and building within it. As much as we could get caught dealing with the micro, we also needed to consider the macro. How’s it going to look? What are the locations? What athletes are we going to shoot in what manner? As things build together, you get a sense of everything else you’re going to capture and how it’s all going to work.
Kevin: In Cape Town, we were massively staffed up. In L.A., we were a bit smaller. In Portugal, we were big. From there on out, we got really small. We were shooting with Usain Bolt in Jamaica and the idea was to have 200 to 300 kids join Usain. We had Usain’s body double as well. We had some grand plans. Then, you get on the ground and you start to realize that it’s a bit chaotic. We just needed to get through the day, so we simplified our approach.
We basically picked a 400-yard path and shot that. Simon was ADing and it was like the hardest job in the world to AD. But you had like these natural moments with the kids and every reaction from Bolt was completely real, one-hundred percent authentic. We had little kids trying to beat him in the race, and it’s hard to script that. We were basically shooting two cameras out of the back of a pickup. It was a beautiful, beautiful day. We were so small and nimble, and it was the only way to pull that off because there was no way we could control that environment.
Did you treat this job differently, knowing it was for the Olympics?
Simon: Very certainly we did. We were incredibly proud to have won the bid. For the most part, it was basically five or six people, Canadian upstarts, who were able to do a massive global campaign. It was pretty intense. Absolutely, we had lots of pride in the work. All of us grew up watching the Olympics and being astounded by it. We all love sports and were happy to engage on the biggest stage.
Kevin: There were a couple of bucket list moments, of course. Moments with Usain, Tony [Hawk], and Nyjah. And it was just complete joy with some of your closest friends. I know it sounds cliché, but the experience was pretty amazing and it was more about the journey than the scenes we shot. We just went and showed what we thought the world would want to see.
Read how The North Face’s Global Creative Producer Kaki Orr finds the balance between impactful storytelling and accomplishing brand goals.