When Unicredit Bank wanted to reach a younger clientele, appealing to their needs as their lives and families evolved, they were quickly told that Australian director Ken Karpel was someone to investigate. With awards too numerous to list, Karpel has had resounding success in his homeland with companies like Jeep, Adidas, Hyundai, Nestlé’s, and numerous others. While steering traditional approaches, he is also known for very forward thinking/spontaneous methods in obtaining authentic performances. Target Pictures brought Karpel to the table for this production.

Paulo Da Costa of Target Pictures relates, “The original commercial was an image re-branding campaign that set up Unicredit Bank as the choice for those that ‘want more out of life’. I knew Ken was the right man for the job. The creative agency was using Ken’s Adidas commercial as a reference for the visual style they wanted for their commercial. I reached out to Kenl and we decided to pitch on the project together, ultimately winning the job. This was the largest campaign that Unicredit Bank had undertaken in 7 years. Ken worked closely with the creative team to create something truly unique for the brand, and he wanted a youthful approach to the story and visual style. The campaign was a huge success for Unicredit Bank, and they have flown Ken back to Prague three times to direct further commercials for them. Each of the commercials are instantly recognizable and successfully re-branded the company in the market.

Creating the type of excitement that is more often applied to a vacation advertisement than a bank, the image spot entitled “Be Restless” depicts the excitement and opportunities afforded a family if they will simply seize them. Karpel communicated with this spot that we all have the ability to live exciting and interesting lives.

This image spot created enthusiasm because it allowed a “normal” family to appear as artists, daredevils, even rockstars while still maintaining the security that a traditional home allows. Shot in numerous locations around Prague and Portugal, the ad is fast paced and heartwarming. Revealing his fondness for authenticity, Karpel states, “The most interesting part of the shoot was a five second sequence where we see the progression of a young couple from their early days after getting married, to having their first, second, third and finally fourth child. I wanted to do this in one dolly move with four seamless cuts. The camera moves towards the couple and as we match cut a new child pops on the couch next to them while their apartment changes behind them to reflect the chaos each child brings into their life (i.e. gets messier and full of more ‘children’s items’). I wanted a sense of realism, so I didn’t want to shoot it on a green screen and then add a background plate of the apartment. We shot this sequence on a dolly four times, starting from all four children back to when they had just gotten married. On each pass the art department would re-dress the whole apartment. I was adamant that I wanted every single prop to change on every cut. In video village (where the clients often watch the shoot on monitors) we laid each pervious shot over the new one to make sure every prop aside from the couch had moved. The sequence took 4 hours to shoot and was difficult for all departments. However, once the whole crew saw the final result and agreed it was worth the effort. The sequence looked so good that the client wanted to create a cut-down commercial out of it.”

Undoubtedly, one of the traits Karpel is known for is casting non-actors in productions and getting remarkable performances from them. For the third Unicredit commercial, he augmented this by taking an extra and making her the lead. The young woman had never acted before and was not auditioning for a speaking role. After seeing 150 actresses, Ken was so convinced that she was the lead that he set about persuading the client of this; not an easy sell for a major production. Karpel agrees, “It took me a week to convince the agency and client to go with my instincts and she was finally cast (after numerous callbacks) a day before we started shooting. After the first day of shooting, the client loved her and agreed that she was a star. She now has billboards of her face all around Prague and has been cast as the lead in several other productions. I definitely didn’t intend to start a new career for someone on this commercial, but when you you see over 500 actors in a couple of days, you can recognize a natural talent the moment they walk into a room. Even if they don’t know it yet.”

The fourth commercial in this series that Ken shot would prove the old adage “never work with kids or animals” to be true. Karpel explains. “The spot required three child actors between the age of 2 and 5, as well as a dog that needed to sit in a bath tub while being washed by one of these kids. There were 7 scenes in total and we had a day. The first set up was the 5 year-old painting the 2 year-old blue. Despite being re-assured by the 2 year-old’s Mother that he would be fine with this, he started crying immediately. I reversed the action and he painted the 5-year old. The next scene was relatively simple, or so I thought. The three year-old was meant to drop a glass of milk on a table, but he refused to stand still or drop the milk. I later found out he had gotten into a couple of bags of candy before he came on set. Luckily we had a backup for each actor.”

Utilizing a look-alike for different angles, Ken was able to get the shots, move quickly through the next 5 scenes and even finish the day an hour early. The experience was a reminder that there is always an unexpected factor that makes you dig deep when you’re leading a production. Confessing that there were more positive experiences than difficult ones, the director states, “I’ve been to Prague four times in the past year to direct commercials. It’s an incredibly beautiful city that looks like a movie set. The architecture, the pastel colors, the light, the history…it’s amazing. I love walking aimlessly around the streets with my camera taking photos until I have to be somewhere, or get tired. It’s the best way to see a city.”

Not surprisingly, the “eye” of this director is always at work, and this month Karpel will have more opportunities to walk those streets as he returns to Prague to direct a new campaign for E.ON, an energy company serving much of Europe. E.ON is entering the Czech market and Karpel will direct their launch campaign.