Vision Q & A: Weapon of Choice

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The "Kill the Gun" PSA for British urban radio station Choice FM, from AMV BBDO, London, has a dual personality. While effectively, and poetically, showing just what a bullet is capable of, it also sparks an undeniable urge to try pulling the trigger one's self. That said, there's a big difference between shooting a melon and being the perpetrator or victim of gun violence. We spoke with director Malcolm Venville about the process behind the spot.

Was using the vision research phantom hd high-speed camera for this spot the idea from the start?
I had a really good experience with the Phantom on the Tiger Woods spot I did. But they couldn't give me 10,000 frames per second a year ago, and now they can, at standard definition. And that's just enough to be able to slow the bullet down. So it was really all about the Phantom. I think the agency just called me up because they felt I could handle this style of filmmaking. And I just said, "We'll have to use the Phantom."

It must have been reassuring to have Hollywood stunt coordinator Mark Stefanich doing the shooting.

He's a bit of a big deal in the movie business and apparently a crack shot. He's an ex-Navy SEAL who came highly recommended. He really came in and ran everything. He shot all the objects in just a few takes, it was bizarre how good his aim was. We had a meeting well before shooting and he said he would play around a bit with bullet charges and calibers, so really, many thanks to him because he was a huge help. At full velocity, even with 10,000 frames, we wouldn't have even seen the bullet. He slowed the bullet by taking half the charge out of it—it would travel a bit slower but still fast enough to do some damage to a melon. We used a 40-caliber Czech gun. The bigger guns, like a .45, would just obliterate things, but this one gave us that lyrical explosion we were looking for.

Did you shoot any objects that didn't make it into the final cut?
Well, we shot a can of Coke and it was disgusting. We were planning on trying a lot of other objects, like cellphones, but I think in order to fully realize the vision and add some poetry to it, there has to be some lyricism there. And the melon worked perfectly. The harder objects, like glass, plastic and cans of soda, just didn't have any lyrical, poetic quality. But the glass of milk worked great because there's something wholesome about a glass of milk.

It must have been one messy set.
Yeah, at the end of the day the entire lighting crew was covered in a film of tomato ketchup, baked beans, eggs, melons, oranges and apples. It was really a lot of fun putting it together.

How many firing ranges did you visit until you found one that would allow an anti-gun spot to be filmed?
The only range that would let us in was in Burbank. We'd approached a lot of firing ranges, but they didn't want any of the publicity; but this place didn't care at all. Mark had a good relationship with this Burbank range, so he set it all up. If you look at the film, on either side of the camera is just desert, dust and rattlesnakes.

What were the biggest challenges in putting this spot together?
The biggest challenge was to keep it simple—to keep the backgrounds pure and make the idea as lucid and effortless as possible. I've got to say, the idea on paper was beautiful. It was also just fun to investigate firearms and see the damage they can do. Hopefully, it'll help someone somewhere.

Do you think it was an effective way to get the message across?
I think so. Negative communication is always miserable, but adding the poetry to it gave the message a two-fold quality. On one hand it's devastating, and on the other it's beautiful. (JB)

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