Director Tiny Bullet‘s latest spot for the BBC‘s 2018 Sport Relief campaign, “Any Sport Can Make A Difference,” shows both the beauty and the humor of every body pitching in to exercise together.
Featuring a gorgeous ballroom dancer owning the floor in a wheelchair, a blink-and-you’ll miss it cameo from Olympic diver Tom Daley, and an energetic dancing janitor, Tiny Bullet’s spot encourages us all to rise to the challenge thrown out by the piece’s narrator – get active!
Award-winning director Tiny Bullet (aka Tina Bull) was born and raised in Essex, England. Tina is the daughter of a sign writer who dreamt of following in her father’s footsteps. Her passion for filmmaking and her ability to combine her design skills with directing performance opened the door for her to work in the world of TV commercials and content. She has directed major campaigns for international clients as diverse as British Airways, P&G, eBay, Intel, 3mobile, LG, Kellogg’s and the BBC.
We got to speak with her about how Americans love her Cockney accent, getting signed in Australia based on a reel covered in sand after a backpacking trip, and opening up to include more of her natural sense of humor in her work.
Your spot for BBC Sport Relief manages to avoid a lot of the stereotypes of representing physical activity on-screen, and is refreshingly funny, too! Can you go into the bidding process for this job? What unique ideas did you bring to the initial brief?
I have recently changed my approach to treatment writing since returning back to the UK. In the past, most of my work has been for overseas markets and I would second guess what the client and agency would be looking for. Now that I am back home, I have decided to be completely myself. I have always seen light and subtle humour in the mundane and everyday, my humour is surreal and a bit weird…very British. So I just thought that I would go all out and inject as much of that into the pitch. And as it turned out, the CD Tim Jones and I had a very similar sense of humour and got on really well creatively. In terms of stereotypes, we just kept the casting as open as possible at first and picked the best performers regardless of their look – this was something the creatives at the BBC were completely on board with from the start.
Tell us about the shoot – where did it take place? How long were you shooting for?
It was a 3 day shoot in total. Logistically, it was a bit tricky to fit in with our sporting talents’ diaries, which meant that the first day was a mad dash up to Sheffield to film Jessica Ennis in her home town and then we rushed over to Leeds to where Jonnie Peacock was filming his Strictly Come Dancing show. The other 2 days were in London, where literally days before the shoot Sport Relief excitedly told us that they had managed to get Tom Daley to participate, but we had already booked all of our locations and the scenarios were all locked down, so without a pool for him I suggested that he become an aerobics instructor to a our lovely seniors class. He was immediately up for it and was brilliant! Such a lovely guy and was so in keeping with his fun personality.
The spot features a diverse array of bodies in motion, including a dancer in a wheelchair. How did you approach casting for this project? What kind of direction did you give the talent to capture the performances you were looking for?
This was actually the hardest role to cast. We were extremely lucky to find Samantha, who was absolutely amazing – she charmed the entire crew with her sparkly energy. I always wanted this scene to be the most powerful in the spot and a bit of a surprise, which is why I had the camera rigged onto the wheelchair so that we see her looking stunning in a head and shoulders shot with a 360 camera move and not revealing the chair until we cut to the wide. In terms of her performance, I made sure that we cast a dance partner who she would feel comfortable with, and obviously choreographed a funky style of dance that involved lots of spinning!
What visual aspects of the film are you most excited about?
It was really refreshing to make the cinematography feel real and embrace the gritty nature of the locations. After filming for years in Australia and the U.S, where everything has to have blue skys and white aspirational kitchens, I decided that I wanted this spot to be more atmospheric and less art directed, which is a real departure from most of the work on my reel and something the cinematographer Dan Bronks embraced wholeheartedly.
What were some of the unique challenges posed by this shoot? Did working on this project teach you anything that you’ll take to your next commercial job?
I guess I am learning to loosen up and think on my feet! We had some last minute challenges in terms of who and where we were filming this project which were a bit tricky, but it was all about embracing the situation. In the aerobics scene, I only wanted my hero lady to be moving in the wrong direction with everyone in the background perfectly synchronized, but on the first take it was chaos, with everyone moving in different directions. I found this charming, and Gordon (the main guy) looked so confused and endearing that he became the natural star of the scene and the idea evolved into something better than I had first imagined.
Is humor an integral part of your work? How would you describe your own sense of humor – what’s funniest to you?
Humour has only recently become part of my work. I think I am becoming a bit more confident to reveal my personality within the work and not be afraid…“funny” is such a personal thing to direct and you are exposing yourself. I definitely see the world through a slightly surreal and quirky viewfinder, and this has subconsciously found its way into the work recently. Being a visual narrative director and coming from a design and post background, I have always striven for pretty pictures but I have found this a little hollow sometimes and my work needed an edge and a little bit of heart to engage with the viewer. I find the absurdities of life and people’s behaviour funny. If I had a style, it would be subtle visual comedy, a moment or a look that you may miss if you blink, just like real life.
Let’s talk about your career trajectory! What initially sparked your interest in directing? What were some notable early film interests?
I was about 16 when I suddenly thought I would try and make my illustrations and designs move. So I created a little animation with some of my Grandad’s football cards for Match of the Day and sent it off to the BBC in Manchester, they rang up and said they wanted to put it on-air and invited me up to have a look around the design studio – that was when I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. In terms of the move into directing, I started out as a broadcast motion designer and had just finished a branding film for British Airways when I decided to go traveling. After a year of backpacking, I ended up in Sydney and was recommended to go and show my work to a production company who were known for taking on young directors. The EP had seen the British Airways job the day before and wondered who had done it when I walked in as a scruffy backpacker with my reel covered in sand from the bottom of my rucksack. He signed me on the spot and a company in NYC got in touch soon after to ask if I wanted to be repped in the states.
You’ve had the chance to work internationally – do you find any differences in working across various global markets?
Yes! So many differences on all levels, from how you write the treatment to how you present at a PPM to how you manage and talk to the local crew. I find it exciting to suddenly land somewhere so alien and find yourself in a completely different culture and having to manage this on set. I’ve had some pretty crazy experiences shooting in India and other parts of Asia, where things can get completely out of your control, but I’ve learned to embrace the madness, which is an approach I now bring to shooting in Europe or in the States. It’s all good experience, and sometimes when things just don’t go to plan, you just have to roll with it. I have an insanely positive attitude, which can annoy my producers, who obviously have to plan for the worst. I just believe that it will all work out, and it usually does, as long as you think on your feet, keep an open mind and bring your team along with you.
In art school, you studied typography and animation – how do you find that these skillsets relate to your directorial work? Are there any qualities from these disciplines that inform your work across the others?
I love pack-shots! And a good old fashioned product demo. I know that’s a bit uncool and I shouldn’t say that out loud but it’s true…in fact, this is probably how I managed to win some of my early treatments, as I would go into enormous detail of how the clients product would look amazing and make it an integral part of the whole film, rather than something just bolted on. I also design and individually tailor all of my treatments myself, and I think agency creatives notice this when they have 4 on their desk – you have to do anything you can to stand out. With my dad being a traditional sign writer, I can be a bit of a stickler for kerning and typefaces. Visually, I am an anal designer and can get hung up on composition and making sure everything is perfect and symmetrical. I’m learning to live a little now days and making the scenes more emotional, more alive and less hung up on the image alone.
Who are some of the women in film that inspire you most? Are there any amazing women you’ve had the opportunity to work with on crews over the course of your career?
I watched LadyBird the other day – what an amazing film by Greta Gerwig! It was a completely honest and fresh portrayal of female relationships on screen. It completely hits the right tone and definitely struck a nerve for me. I hope that this will inspire more girls to tell their story; it has certainly made me think about the feature that I want to write some day.
Sophia Coppola is also an inspiration for me personally, as her film Lost in Translation had just come out when I was trying to make it as a director and traveling around Asia, where my attempts to build a reel were quite often lost in translation. It was hard to get those first few spots on the reel, but Asia was unexpectedly welcome to anyone with an “international” sensibility, so they were open to having a female director.
In terms of crews, most of my career has been in Australia, where there is a serious lack of females in any part of the industry apart from production, unfortunately. They are starting to catch on with the launch of Free The Bid, so I am hoping that things will improve, as there is a lot of female talent who are having to rely on getting repped overseas to get their hands on the top scripts. So I have only had the opportunity to work once with a female cinematographer, the Kiwi legend Ginnie Loane, who was an absolute inspiration, she had a wonderfully calm way of gaining the respect of the all male crew and was definitely in my top 3 all time fav DP’s. Other top girls I have been inspired by have been Dawn Shadforth, the music video director, and Melanie Bridge, who I loved when I first started out and who managed to take on the guys at highest level and founded Sweetshop.
What are some of your goals as a director? Are there any dream projects that you’d love to be hired to shoot?
I recently worked with the sound designer Sam Ashwell over at 750mph, who had just finished off the latest Nike spot by Megaforce. They have been my all-time favourite directors over the last few years and I was speechless when I first saw that clip on the big screen! I would have sold my cat (if I had one) to get my hands on a script like that, but it’s early days and who knows what’s around the corner. I am just starting out here in the U.K., building up new contacts and hoping to meet some cool creatives and attract some decent scripts. It’s a slow process and I have a long way to go yet, but I always try and grab any opportunity that comes my way. I love anything that has big visuals and a real unique vision – stylistically, I would love to be considered as a female Tom Kuntz, if that is at all possible.
Free The Bid is committed to advocating for diverse perspectives and points of view. What do you think are some of the benefits to diverse representation on both sides of the camera lens?
I have just teamed up with some fab female creatives over at The & Partnership and am currently working on a short film project for International Women’s Day that apologizes for inaccurately representing females in front of the screen in Advertising. It’s a fun and tongue in cheek dig at all the middle aged Mad Men out there that think we all like to skydive or rollerblade once a month. Slowly, things are changing for the good. It’s great that more female creatives are slowly moving up the ranks into positions of power and writing scripts that appeal to us personally. The tide is turning, especially in the UK, and with the success of spots like This Girl Can (Free The Bid note: directed by our UK ambassador Kim Gehrig!) and female-written series on Netflix we are being able to bring a more honest representation to the screen. I have just finished watching Derry Girls on Ch4 which completely cracked me up I thought it was a real breath of fresh air.
What’s the most important piece of advice for young directors to keep in mind?
It sounds cheesy, but I would say never give up, as it is a tough business. For us girls, we may have to try that little bit extra to be considered for a project, so be persistent and always believe in yourself, even if others don’t “get” you. I was told by my tutor at college that there was no way that I would become a director, as it was too competitive, my first boss told me that I should have elocution lessons to get on in the industry, and another said that I was too shy; I just didn’t listen to them. The yanks love a Cockney accent, and it became my calling card. I’m like a little terrier – I just put my head down and work hard. I guess you should always trust your instincts with people and production companies as well. I have been lucky enough to surround myself with lovely genuine people throughout my career, so starting out I would suggest getting a decent production company who believes in you, be loyal and do the right thing by them and just shoot anything to get experience. Write your own stuff and develop your own style – this industry is full of cliches and stereotypes, so to be successful you need to have your own voice and stand out from the boys. I am still working on that last one, but hopefully now that I am back home, my quirky ideas will strike a note here.
Creative Agency: BBC Creative
ECD: Aidan McClure
Creative Director: James Cross / Tim Jones
Creative: Andy Parkman
TV Producer: Harriet McHugh
Film Production: Thomas Thomas
Director: Tiny Bullet
Producer: Debbie Carmichael
Cinematography: Dan Bronks
Editing: The Quarry
Grade: The Mill
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell @ 750MPH
Thanks To: The Foundry