Behind the Work: The Guardian's 'Three Little Pigs'

Cinematic Spot Explores a Classic Fairytale to Highlight U.K. Newspaper and Today's Rapid News Cycle

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Who knew an ad to celebrate not just a newspaper, but possibly the entire journalism industry, could be so good?

Earlier this month, the U.K.'s The Guardian unveiled a two-minute spot that explored how a modern paper might cover "Three Little Pigs." Out of BBH, London and directed by Rattling Stick's Ringan Ledwidge, it reimagines the classic fairytale as a much grittier drama, where the pigs are either the victims or conniving fraudsters -- or both.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, wanted to communicate the paper's "open journalism" approach, which emphasizes the exchange of ideas from reader to reporter to reader, with the goal of bringing about change.

It was clear that BBH needed to tell a story to demonstrate the news cycle. But which one? "We couldn't pick a current-affairs story for fear of it dating," said David Kolbusz, creative director. "And writing a revisionist history of a historical event seemed insensitive." So they went with fairytales. BBH also created scripts for "Humpty Dumpty," "Hansel & Gretel" and "Cinderella." But Mr. Rusbridger is a big Orwell fan, so the "Animal Farm" parallel won out.

Creatives studied trailers that gave the most plot away -- "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," for example. Mr. Ledwidge also wanted the spot to feel like a trailer to a big movie, something like "The Dark Knight ," for example. "I liked that the film inhabited its own parallel universe that was familiar but also allowed the viewer to embrace elements of fantasy," he said. "A mashup of old-fashioned nursery rhymes with a slightly futuristic contemporary world." Mr. Ledwidge looked at nursery-rhyme illustrations from the 1920s to the 1950s and based the costumes around those. The pig heads were cast from original molds from the Royal Ballet Co.'s production of "Beatrix Potter." The spot was filmed over two days, in two 20-hour shoots.

It took four weeks to add effects, according to Gemma Humphries, producer at production company The Mill. While the lenses used gave a cinematic sheen to the film, they also created distortion that had to be removed before the shot was composited, then added back in.

"The debate we wanted to provoke was about the role of journalism in the modern world," said Jason Gonsalves, head of strategy at BBH. "It's been great to see the debate play out."

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