Mike & Mandy: Behind the scenes

Have you ever wondered just how easy it really is to give 1%? Well we pitched a video brief to global boutique production company Sweetshop, they sent it out to their directors and the incredible Louis Sutherland came back with this gem of a script called ‘Mike & Mandy’. This pro-bono video campaign blew our minds! Here’s a wee sneaky look behind-the-scenes with director and fellow Wellingtonian, Louis Sutherland.

What did you first think when you read the brief from One Percent Collective?

I’ve spent the last few years making commercials in between my films, so I loved the opportunity to write and create some work for a caring cause with a pretty open brief. The whole process was refreshing. Having heard about the One Percent Collective team, I knew they would come into the project full of trust too, and if they liked the idea, they’d let me make it. I wanted to make something fun, that didn’t take itself too seriously, and was maybe a bit more irreverent than what you typically see.

How did you come up with the characters of Mike & Mandy and how did you cast?

The concept came about when I was overseas in the US visiting a group of friends. They’re a cool mishmash of people: a birth doula, graphic designer, and my US producer. Kicking around ideas, I asked them, ‘What’s interesting about this whole One Percent thing?’ After a few completely un-shootable ideas, the notion of, ‘Everyone is raised with the aim of putting 100% into everything they do. Imagine a story about someone who was happy giving just 1% in life.’ That idea floated to the top, and Mike & Mandy was born.

I then called another mate, Naz Nazli, a creative/copywriter based in London. We’d worked together in the past and had planned to write something a bit different, so this fit the bill. Naz was key as he really looked after putting everything into the key messaging. While we in the US bounced ideas around what a 1% life could look like, Naz worked across the campaign aims and structure with me as we passed the script back and forth over timelines. It worked out to be a nice balance of crazy vs. craft, and of course, like any collaboration, the lines blurred as to who did what while it all came together.

So Mike & Mandy grew into this nice, albeit little bit odd love story. It was a lot of fun not having loads of people looking over our shoulders, and the One Percent team and Pat Shepherd kept loving what we were offering up through the development process.

Casting was more of a challenge, even more so than usual, because actors are at a premium in New Zealand at the moment. For many, commercials are their bread and butter, so being asked to put their face on a campaign for love and very little money was a bit to ask. The Reel World team pulled out all the stops in getting people in the room, but ultimately I didn’t feel we had seen the right mix of heart and humour to carry our story. I suddenly found myself stalking my Facebook friends at the 11th hour. Ultimately, the lead role of Mike went to Guy Capper who ended up being perfect for the role, as was Natasha playing Mandy. It’s never easy going buck-naked on set, but they not only braved this but gave performances that filled the film with a tactile warmth.

What were the shoot days like for you?

Shoots are always different as there are shifting dynamics and demands that I’m constantly fielding. There’s something special about getting everybody on board for a good cause though. Everyone just pitches in which creates a lovely energy throughout the set. Whenever there was space that needed filling, someone leapt into it. Melissa from Sweetshop’s accounts department played our mother giving birth, Pat took on the role of a banana, and our 1st AD Shorty played an old fella having a heart attack in a gym. Everyone put their hand up to help, even moreso than usual.

From a production point of view, it was great having Pat on board.  He was fully trusting and I didn’t have to discuss things too much. This allowed us to charge forward. Instead of sweating about what we’ve just done, we could focus on what we were doing, and that freed up the creative flow and allowed us to move efficiently and quickly.

What did you want to make the audience feel with the video?

For me, just presenting the audience with the need for donations wasn’t enough, as we all become numb or desensitised to those types of campaigns. But my hope was that if people smiled while still pondering the bigger question, we could be effective in a humorous and oddly refreshing way. This film serves as not just a way of giving support, it’s also a great way of introducing One Percent Collective. Ideally this is a way to grow the brand and help it become an organisation that will be remembered fondly by the viewers. I hope instead of people feeling burdened by the ask, they’ll feel empowered that just by doing a little they can participate in a whole lot of good.

What were the trickiest components during the creation of this campaign and how did you overcome them?

Casting was the toughest. That’s not unusual for any production, but it felt more acute here. We all didn’t want to make a broad comedy spot. Mike couldn’t be too odd looking, and we agreed we didn’t want someone to feel one-note or a sad-sack loser. It can be a slippery slope to go this way and can take away the integrity of your character and therefore story. We wanted Mike to be more of a forgotten second cousin type.

But, we had bugger all auditions come in for the main role. That was hard given our expectations of the quality of actor we were looking for. As I said, I started sweating it and ended up hassling some mates on Facebook. Guy eventually came in as a favour, and he’d already heard about One Percent Collective so he was keen to help. A fresh face and not on anyone’s books he nailed the pitch of performance first take. Guy’s a full-on super intellectual artist and when I put him in scenes without initial direction, I ended up making a small tweak here and there to get what we needed. When matched up with the talented Natasha, the pair were just absolute gold together!

Check out the video here and see Sweetshop’s incredible work here.

Interview by Kate Neill. Images by Pat Shepherd.