Spring 2019


Rupert Sanders' Flood of Color and Movement

Synchronized bodies, mostly captured in camera

By T. L. Stanley

A two-time DGA Award nominee for commercials, Sanders has directed spots for Verizon, Nike and Sony PlayStation. (Photo: Everett)

Rupert Sanders is no enemy of visual effects, but the film and commercial director would rather capture as much as he can in camera, even though it's more labor intensive.

In the case of Apple's "Color Flood" ad, that meant gathering some 600 extras to create a rainbow-hued river of humanity rushing through the streets of Prague.

With three parkour specialists and about 30 stunt performers handling the high-profile flips and dives, Sanders says the finished 60-second spot is about 90 percent practical.

"It's not that I don't trust visual effects," he says. "I just prefer to do it on set."

Aside from his personal taste, he thinks savvy audiences can pick out computer-enhanced shots, which make less-than-authentic impressions.

"People subconsciously suspect that something's not right," he says. "When they sense that it's real, they feel like it's actually happening and they're more excited by it."

There's plenty of adrenaline, by design, in "Color Flood," which Sanders shot last summer over three days in the Czech Republic. He collaborated with stunt coordinator Gary Powell and his 1st AD Simon Warnock to synchronize all those bodies into a vibrant, acrobatic palette.

The brief for the campaign was trademark clean-and-simple Apple, says Sanders, a two-time DGA Award nominee who has an ongoing relationship with the brand's dedicated advertising agency, TBWA\Media Arts Lab. The concept—free runners create bursts of color to represent the iPhone XR's new liquid retina display—would come to life in the execution.

"The goal was to make it feel like rushing water," says Sanders, who studied videos of flash floods, fountains and waterfalls as part of his two-week prep. "We wanted to mimic that kind of dynamic movement and undulation with people."

Since that was the heart of the spot, those maneuvers needed to be as close to perfection and as far from "a big, messy marathon" as possible, he says. He made photo storyboards showing where the red, yellow, blue, green, orange and purple runners would meet, overlap and meld.

"The goal was to make [the spot] feel like rushing water," says Sanders. "We wanted to mimic that kind of dynamic movement and undulation with people." (Screenpulls: Apple)

There was little time to rehearse (less than a day), but Sanders—whose commercial roster includes Verizon, Nike, Adidas and Sony PlayStation, among other brands—used smaller subsets of the runners for many of the shots, creating multiple plates. The final frame of the ad drew in the cast of hundreds.

For the backdrop, he went for what he calls the "brutalist architecture" of the city, and 16 locations that included residential and industrial buildings, the subway system and natural props like staircases, tunnels and overpasses.

Outfitting the cast, though, proved to be an unforeseen challenge. Sanders wanted everyone to wear a uniform, which meant scouring several countries for jumpsuits when local sources didn't have them in bulk. The 2,000 pairs of coveralls eventually came, mostly in white, from Romania, Poland, Germany and the U.K.

Once they arrived, the coveralls had to be dyed, which took until the day before the shoot to complete. "We had these massive tumble dryers going nonstop," Sanders says, "and a lot of people walking around in wet jumpsuits. We put the best-looking ones in the front."

Costumers added elastic to the sleeves and legs so the clothes would fit all sizes and look "more hip-hop and less painter," Sanders says. Hundreds of pairs of sneakers "of dubious origin" came from street vendors.

The job, with about two weeks of post-production, illustrated the nimbleness required for commercial work, which "trains you very well for filmmaking," says the veteran director of Ghost in the Shell and Snow White and the Huntsman. And the finished product, with its catchy Cosmo Sheldrake soundtrack, showed the iconic brand was willing to push its own boundaries.

I wanted it to break the mold a bit and do something with more guts and real, visceral energy," Sanders says. "This isn't as safe as some of their other commercials, and they went for it."


Feature stories about the craft and challenges of directors and their teams in episodic television, movies for television, daytime drama, reality, sports, news, variety, childrens, commercials and other television genres.

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