Five and a half lessons filmmaking in Dubai


BANDT.COM.AU 30 SEPT – LANDING IN MELBOURNE after seven years in Dubai I felt like Frodo returning to the Shire. Victorious, sure, but changed too. Scarred even. Let’s just say experiences were experienced and lessons were learned.

Creating branded content for brands like Bentley, GM, GE and Coca Cola, a few have lessons stuck with me.

Lesson 1 – Culture is local, but emotion is universal

I was once briefed to create a Ramadan film for a telco in Dubai. Although not a Muslim, I understood the desired take out: show the warmth and connection as families come together to celebrate. Without a true cultural understanding to fall back on, I decided to shoot it as if it were a Christmas spot, which is how I personally connected with those kinds of feelings. Somehow it all translated well and the film went on to gain millions of views among Muslims on social media.  

Lesson 2 – We’re back to silent movies

Much of my work is multi language. One version of a spot may be in Arabic for the Middle East and another in Malay for South East Asia. To make it easy on everyone, I just make pretty silent films and let supers do the message work. Like an old-school press ad would create a visual set up and then use the copy to reveal the idea. And it’s just my luck that most mobile viewers don’t have the volume up anyway. 

Lesson 3 – Take it easy, it’s just pixels

A few months after the campaign is done and the glow has faded, you realise that everyone has forgotten about your amazing work and moved on. It’s a gentle reminder that our work is inherently disposable. All that pain. All that hard work. All that angst you went through. It’s history. So don’t let it overwhelm your better sense of self in the heat of the production. 

Lesson 4 – Creativity is risky

By its nature, creativity is risky. Every genuinely new idea is a journey into the unknown. We creatives forget that marketers often take big risks with creative. I recall a highly awarded British CD sharing a story about a campaign he cracked for a chocolate brand in Dubai. The idea was fresh and captivating, but deep down was perhaps too ‘edgy’ for the brand. The marketer in charge of the campaign was fired for approving the spot. But then it went on to win major metal, which earned his replacement a promotion.  

Lesson 5 – You can have too much budget

To online viewers, there’s really no difference between a $2 million thematic brand film and a $50,000 online spot. They are both ads and both pass through the same filters in the viewer’s mind. If it’s too ‘addy’ it just gets filtered out; if it’s not addy enough there’s no real point to the spot. The budget can even work against you if the work has that overtly glossy ‘addy’ look. 

Lesson 5 1/2 – Shorter films for shrinking attention spans

We’re all easily distrac…

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