Brown signals McD's is serious about savvy

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With a versatile body of music video and commercial work that displays a real-world edge, director James Brown quickly leapt onto the radar of talent watchers on the commercial-production scene. Still his name would not have been first to spring to mind as most likely to spearhead a crucial multimillion-dollar global campaign for one of the world's best known brands.

The choice of Mr. Brown is a clear signal, though, that beleaguered fast-food giant McDonald's Corp. and its German agency, Heye & Partners, are serious about serving up a youth-flavored, culturally savvy ad look.

Mr. Brown, an up and coming talent signed to production company Stink in London and Smuggler in the U.S., is leading nine other directors in a mammoth production that will see countless high-energy scenes shot in South Africa, Prague, Brazil, London and Singapore and edited into five themed spots.

apt pupil

While Mr. Brown may not have been an obvious choice, he is an apt one, given his eclectic and international credentials. Educated in the U.K.-where he's now based-the Malaysian-born, Welsh-raised director has lived in Thailand, Japan and Singapore. He worked as a photojournalist, novelist, screenwriter and film editor before being signed as a director.

Mr. Brown's music video experience includes clips for Faithless, Apollo 440, Finley Quaye and Tori Amos. They earned him recognition in the ad world, where he's built a body of work with great range and a filmic sensibility. Among his commercial highlights are the stunning "Trafalgar Square" for Playstation2, which recreates graphic chase scenes in a chillingly verite style, and "Match" for DNA, in which an ostensible clash between a group of hooligans and a riot squad turns out to be a spontaneous game of soccer.

Other recent projects include Deutsch's "Hard Days Night"-inspired "Epic" for Sheraton (using the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together") and spots for MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign and Coca-Cola Europe. The music video chops and an eye for real moments stood Mr. Brown in good stead for the musically driven McDonald's job.

old-school vibe

"James has a pretty complete reel," said Brian Carmody, executive producer at Smuggler. "He's got kind of an old-school London film vibe, rather than a commercial vibe. His work is grounded in people, their scene, where they hang out. It's very natural." Stink Executive Producer Daniel Bergmann said Mr. Brown worked closely with the agency to develop the core visual ideas that will accompany the campaign's musical theme and fleshed out specific scenes with the other directors. "He's a very collaborative guy," Mr. Bergmann said.

Heye & Partners reportedly approached several production companies during the Cannes Advertising Festival seeking solutions for a multi-national shoot and a deal that would allow for several directors, with varying levels of experience, to collaborate on several brand spots. The mandate was to deliver a series of hip, energetic commercials that have cross-cultural and youth resonance. Mr. Brown will work with a contingent of Swedish, American, Icelandic, English and Asian directors from Stink and Smuggler, all of whom could be considered "edgier" talents rather than established stars.

The spots will reportedly be composed of multiple "real-feeling" scenes, shot guerrilla style on several different formats from 35mm to digital video and Super 8, with a combination of real people and actors.

Ms. Iezzi is editor of Creativity. A profile of Mr. Brown will appear in Creativity's September issue.

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