Last month we saw the trailer for Philips latest action sports film Darklight, in which the brand traded in its skis for mountain bikes, but kept the technicolor glow-in-the-dark approach that made 2014’s Afterglow such a stand-out as both a ski film and a piece of branded content.
Now that we can enjoy the full six-minute version of Darklight online, it’s just as epic as the trailer promised. Sweetgrass Productions director Mike Brown made it look like Tron bikers riding through the forests of Middle Earth on their way to the desolate and deadly surface of Mars. Make any sense? Maybe not, but the combination of stunning bike skills and surreal scenery makes it so.
I talked to Brown about trading snow for dirt in the dark, lessons learned along the way, and working with a brand partner like Philips.
Co.Create: How did the production of Darklight differ most from Afterglow?
Mike Brown: “For Darklight we traded snow for dirt–this gave us some advantages but also a new set of challenges. Snow is incredibly hard and physically demanding to work in, to the point where each step can be a cold struggle, but you also have amazing reflectivity that boosts the power and reach of our lighting. Working on dry land gave us the ability to cover larger distances and move relatively easily, but the soil absorbs light like crazy so we wound up bringing in four times the gear just to hit the same exposure. We also wanted to push the lighting beyond what we’d done on Afterglow to allow real-time changes in the effects. On our big setups we had upwards of 100 units in play, all of this in areas with rough 4×4 access or requiring our crew to hike the gear into place.”
What were the biggest lessons you learned from Afterglow that you applied this time around?
“One of the big lessons is that things are guaranteed to go wrong on a project like this that delves into new territory and pushes boundaries. You’re going to spend months planning and setting thousands of things in place, but once the shoot starts and the real world conditions come into play, you’ve got to ride the bronco and react in stride as the shoot unfolds. This means fixing gear in the field, on the fly, adapting to new shoot locations, dealing with injuries and quickly changing weather patterns. You can’t control these things but you can work on being adaptable and responsive.”
What’s it like working with a brand like Philips on a project like this?
“These projects are a unique hybrid allowing us to pursue our cinematic dreams while also contributing to a creative, non-traditional marketing strategy. The process has a huge amount of freedom compared to most commercial work, giving us the ability to integrate our style and direction into the key visual effects that Philips is looking for while also striving to make a film that hits home with core audiences. It’s great to see such an open mindset from a large company, and also to find the collaboration with creative agency Ahlstrand Wallgren which fosters dynamic and innovative content, ultimately reverberating in a way that supports the goals of everyone involved.”