An Inside Look at How the BBC Created the Work for Its iPlayer

'Creativity' Reveals How Brit Broadcaster, BBH Got in Ricky Gervais' Face

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For a global campaign to promote the BBC iPlayer, an iPad app to access the broadcaster's content, BBH, New York, eschewed the typical snazzy interactive video and made a body part -- the index finger -- the star of the show.

A series of TV spots and short films features U.K. celebrities such as "Top Gear" host Richard Hammond, "The Office" star Ricky Gervais and "Tribe" presenter Bruce Parry speaking earnestly about personal topics -- all while getting poked in the face. Along with the films, the campaign includes interactive banners and Facebook and iPad games that let users get in on the poking action. In response, the personalities grimace, cringe or try and blow the errant digit away.

Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais

While the BBC may have a stodgy, old-school image, there are a surprising number of fun, lighthearted shows on the network. The creative concept needed to underline the ease with which users could reach out, touch and control the shows they watch on the new player.

"The joy of it is that all that content is at your fingertips,"said BBH Chief Creative Officer John Patroulis. "So we made that literal." To direct the films, BBH approached O Positive director David Shane. "We just needed a great comedy director," said Mr. Patroulis. "We need someone to understand the silliness of that finger." The ads were done without using postproduction magic to digitally insert the finger into the shot. "We thought it would be more fun to have a real hand interacting with the face and then see what happens," said Mr. Shane.

But what would the hand do? At the beginning, he experimented with having the hand swiping at the faces -- like you would on an iPad. But that didn't feel right, so instead, "we incrementally started abusing them," he said. As the celebrities spoke, someone on set would reach out and prod their noses, play with their lips or touch their eyes.

"The sweet spot is for them to not acknowledge the finger fully, but still react to it," said Mr. Shane.

All the films were shot off-script and completely improvised. Captured in clear, bright light with the faces close up and no camera movement, the films were shot only as masters and were never cut. That was one of the challenges for Mr. Shane: keeping his subjects' rants under 26 seconds.

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