Dream team Scarlett Johansson, Matthew McConaughey and Martin Scorsese were gearing up for a blockbuster – but not quite the kind you had in mind. In fact, the Hollywood heavyweights united for a three-minute video, packed with witty conversations and flirty glances, for Dolce & Gabbana’s latest fragrance campaign.
Shot in artistic black-and-white, the short video follows the couple who, after years of separation, share a car ride in New York’s cool West Village. Until the closing credits start rolling, you could hardly have guessed what the commercial is trying to sell.
The term “microfilm” was coined to describe such short videos.
Luxury brands from fashion to watches and jewellery have been jumping on the bandwagon. The hype has also contributed to the evolution of microfilms.
Luxury brands have splurged on promotional microfilms with whopping budgets. Chanel has cast Brad Pitt, Keira Knightley and Anna Mouglalis, while brands including Salvatore Ferragamo, Cartier and Prada have collaborated with top filmmakers, such as Luca Guadagnino and Roman Polanski of The Pianist fame.
With these all-star cast and crew on board, microfilms are moving away from the clichéd slowpaced, montage shots of products or stick-thin models showcasing them.
Commercial microfilms are set to adopt humaninterest themes and intriguing plots. Fashion and film have intertwined to a state that has exceeded the anticipations of many.
“At first, it was like propelling a very embryonic movement forward. But what I could never have anticipated was how quickly the cross-over between fashion and film would evolve from wild experimentation into something so sophisticated and mature,” says Diane Pernet, who picked up the trend in early 2006 and founded A Shaded View on Fashion Film (ASVOFF), which is dedicated to promoting fashion films.
The organisation’s latest film festival showcased a programme, which included contributors such as Manish Arora, Tilda Swinton and Hussein Chalayan, at the prestigious Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
As seen in ASVOFF’s programme, different genres are being tapped by brands to expand the microfilm trend – think romantic comedy, espionage thriller, documentary, animation and more.
Chanel’s The Return, which premiered on December 10, captured the brand’s legendary founder Coco Chanel reopening her couture house in 1954, while Gucci channels James Bond’s spirit in Bamboo Confidential as the heroine in the microfilm dodges paparazzi.
For animation, Fendi debuted its Bag Bugs fall/ winter campaign with an interactive cartoon, so did Cartier with its latest Winter Tale campaign created by Bibo Bergeron – the animator and director of A Monster in Paris.
Others such as design wunderkind Alexander Wang wowed fans with a surprising collaboration with comedian Bon Qui Qui that went viral on social media platforms. Apart from experimenting with various genres, luxury brands are going a step further to create longer episodes and microfilm series.
Salvatore Ferragamo’s latest Walking Stories, for example, consists of eight episodes. Each of the three-minute long episodes is released once every two weeks on its website. The episodes follow a protagonist on a globetrotting journey.
“It’s a cute love story that doesn’t talk a lot about the brand,” says James Ferragamo, who overlooks Ferragamo’s women’s leather products.
“It is a wonderful way to present the collection. It doesn’t include much analysis – it’s a cute video people would enjoy.”
Early microfilm makers, such as Cartier and Chanel and, more recently, Louis Vuitton, have all released similar campaigns, featuring linked episodes. Luxury brands believe that presenting products in a subtle way can strike a chord with the audience.
“Films allow the creator to tell the brand’s story or the collection’s story [more vividly],” Pernet says.
“Films capture the clothes in motion with a 360- degree perspective, which is crucial in fashion. You also get a subtle sense of how a garment [looks] or the light and shade it produces.”
Ferragamo’s Andrea Tremolada, worldwide communication director of Salvatore Ferragamo, agrees. He says the Walking Stories campaign is aimed at engaging the audience.
“With Walking Stories, we are not trying to sell a product as we do in advertising,” he says. “Viewers identify themselves more easily with a woman wearing a pair of shoes [than with a pair of shoes on display in a photography studio].”
French jeweller Cartier’s artistic, image and strategy director Pierre Rainero says microfilms need to be genuine to affect the audience.
“Authenticity is important,” Rainero says, adding that feelings can only be stirred by real things.
To translate emotion from jewellery to images, Cartier produced a series of microfilms under the marriage proposal theme which was well received by audiences. The luxury house also cast local stars for its region-specific campaigns – Taiwanese actress Michelle Chen and Canto-pop star Andy Lau starred in its jewellery and fine watch campaigns.
Unlike earlier commercial videos made almost exclusively for TV, microfilms now target audiences on the internet through brands’ official websites and social media platforms. The growing social media speeds up the development of fashion microfilms. “[Social media] has changed the way we define a campaign’s popularity,” Tremolada says.
He explains that before the internet came into existence, popularity had a different meaning and was measured based on different criteria.
Social media platforms have led to the possibility of interactive campaigns, which has encouraged luxury brands to push the boundaries even further. “The format [of fashion films] is more spontaneous and less scripted,” Pernet says.
“The spirit of fashion [microfilms] is typically one where consumers expect brands to push the boundaries a bit more.”
Scotch whisky distiller Chivas launched a campaign in collaboration with local filmmaker Heiward Mak. It engaged audiences on a different level. Fans got the chance to make the microfilm together with the professional crew in the Dream City video campaign.
The brand is hosting a soiree tonight at Ritz-Carlton’s Ozone for an exclusive preview of the short film. “I’m looking forward to working with people passionate about film,” Mak says.
However, Pernet says social media, although important, should not become the driving force.
“Making a 10-second YouTube hit about a talking dog or a dancing baby is not the same thing as making a 30-second fashion film, which captures the depths of the imagination and soul of a designer like Gareth Pugh,” she says.
Like Chivas’ collaboration with Mak, talents in the fashion and film industries are coming together and taking microfilms to a whole new level.
Despite its commercial nature, filmmakers are also taking on fashion microfilms as a creative endeavour.
Zhang Jingchu, the famous Chinese actress of Silver Bear-winning Peacock fame, presented her directorial debut with a microfilm she made for jeweller De Beers, released two weeks ago.
Zhang shot the microfilm with long-time collaborators filmmaker Wang Chih-po and cinematographer Kwan Pun-leung in Israel. The trio managed to capture the ethereal play of light and shadow with their microfilm. “We wanted the microfilm to look dreamy,” Zhang says. “We worked with a sparkling bottle floating in the water to reflect light onto the camera.”
Also adopting an artistic approach in her microfilms is famous filmmaker Carmen Chaplin, granddaughter of the iconic Charlie Chaplin, a comic actor, filmmaker and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent movies.
The short film, entitled A Time for Everything for watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre, was written and directed by Chaplin. The microfilm stars her mother Patricia and her baby daughter Uma – to illustrate legacy passed through three generations.
“I wanted to make something artistic and beautiful,” Chaplin says.
“Although the film is presented like a series of black and white stills, I wanted an emotional connection running through it.”
Such collaborations might have unleashed the potential of multitalented individuals, but Pernet believes it’s a format that needs proceeding with caution.
“The problem now is that fashion films are becoming so prolific so fast that every fashion photographer’s agent is trying to force their photographers to become filmmakers,” Pernet says.
“Those who can’t make the instant transition from one to the other are, in my view, precisely what [may undermine] the artistic merit or even the commercial validity of a fashion film.”