Viral Spot for Samsung LED TVs Strikes All the Right Notes Online

All hail the Baaa-Studs! This YouTube video showcasing the animal-wrangling acumen of a group of Welsh shepherds had reached seven-and-a-half million views at last count. Wearing LED vests at night, and precisely herded to create animated shapes on a lush Welsh hillside, the sheep (with some help from their whimsically monickered handlers, the Baaa-Studs) created a video that feels like one of those homemade, can-you-believe-it clips that becomes an online sensation. This clip, however, was a soft sell conceived by The Viral Factory as a way to promote Samsung LED television sets. F&V talked to director James Rouse about the shoot, the shepherds, and keeping it real.

Watch the video, then read the Q&A below.

FILM & VIDEO: I’m a little ashamed that I have to ask the question – but is this real?

James Rouse: It’s real. We were using real shepherds and real sheepdogs, and a lot of it was achieved in camera. It was always our ambition to achieve most of it in camera. We even had the Welsh shepherding champion – in terms of shepherding, that’s one of the biggest claims you can make. What he was able to pull off for us, his control of his dogs, was phenomenal.

That said, we were helped enormously by our post company. But nothing that you see isn’t a sheep.

Nothing was created in a computer out of whole cloth?

It’s all elements that we shot that got helped together [in post] to form shapes. There is, categorically, no sheep in there that wasn’t filmed in camera. I can put my hand on my heart and tell you that. I’ll get my mother involved if necessary.

Where did the idea come from?

[Long pause.] Too many beers, probably. Where does an idea come from? It’s very difficult to say. I didn’t, personally, write the idea. I developed it a lot from a much vaguer concept. The Viral Factory were the ones who came up with the idea of putting these LED jackets on sheep and making them do crazy things. I worked a lot on the back story of the Baaa-studs, and why they were making a film.

It’s interesting because the branding message is kind of soft. You don’t realize it’s a Samsung promotion until the very end.

Absolutely. I particularly enjoyed the takeaway people had when they wrote comments on YouTube. The general consensus is that it’s a group of shepherds who got together and did this out of their own personal passions. Yeah, they might have been helped out by computers and, yeah, Samsung seems to have paid some money for it – but who cares? People may have felt warmer about it because it didn’t have the heavy hand of an advertising agency of a big corporation.

It’s been very successful on YouTube.

It’s obviously piqued people’s imaginations. I looked [at the statistics] yesterday, actually, because it was on our ITV News at 10. It’s been on BBC News two or three times. I was looking to see whether that had an immediate effect on the main thread on YouTube, and I noticed a comment from a guy in Australia who had just seen it on the news. Another had seen it on Hawaiian news. And I know for a fact it’s been on a couple of news channels in America. Heaven only knows how many outlets have picked it up. The shepherds who have been interviewed as a result of this have their own Hollywood kind of cult following down in Wales, which is very pleasing to them. They find that very amusing.

Where did you actually find the shepherds?

Well, we needed a location, and we knew we needed shepherds. We went to Wales, where there are a lot of nice hills and a lot of sheep and a lot of shepherds. We made inquiries to find the best shepherds around. They look great because they’re the real deal. We shot for two days. They were amazing – they gave everything they had to it.

Was it tough to wrangle all the shots you wanted during the two shooting days?

It’s always tough, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever been on a shoot where everything just comes together, and you can put your feet up.

So was it just like any other shoot?

I’m never going to put LED jackets on sheep and send them to play Pong on a hillside again. But on many shoots you’re doing extraordinary things, and this is another extraordinary thing that I’m fortunate to have been involved in.

In the greater scheme of things, it was a very different shoot. Strangely, I don’t think it was particularly difficult. I was pleasantly surprised at what was possible using real sheep. Of course, using animals you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.

Was there anything especially challenging during the shoot?

Sheep don’t like being separated from the pack, I know that much. Getting one sheep to stand alone is a bloody nightmare. They stick together like mercury. Getting one sheep to stand on its own while there’s another pack of sheep near it is virtually impossible.

They couldn’t have been used to being herded around at night, could they?

No. The shepherds genuinely had no idea whether that would work or not. They couldn’t tell us how freaked out the animals would be wearing these jackets. Strangely, they didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all. It was as if they had always had lights on their backs since they were born. The dogs wore lights as well, and they were also completely unfazed by it. It was as if they had always herded at night. With sheeps with lights on them. It was very, very strange. It could have gone either way. I don’t want to be cruel to an animal, and I would have felt extremely uncomfortable if the animals had seemed to be in discomfort. But none of the animals were in the slightest bit disturbed. It was just another day’s work.

Do you normally do TV spots, or do you do a lot of virals?

I’ve done a lot of both. I like to keep things as varied as possible. Hopefully my style is eclectic. I’m working, at the moment, on a film-ic number with 35mm, anamorphic lenses, massive crowd replication. It feels like a scene from Gladiator, or whatever epic movie you want to pick. It’s the storytelling that I’m motivated by ‘ the storytelling and the characters. And you can execute that in millions of ways.

There’s a Honda ad you’re probably aware of, “Let it Shine.” It’s one of those bizarre moments when there are two different executions of a very similar idea. The similarities are very interesting, although the style and execution are very different. The basic concept of lights on a hill making shapes, and even the framing of the lights on the hill and the type of hill they’ve chosen, is very similar. And then the execution of that idea is vastly different. They are parallel ideas.

But the Honda spot looks like a characteristically glossy television commercial This one feels more down-home.

I wanted to have the feeling that it had been self-generated by this group of farmers and shepherds. I didn’t want it to feel like the hand of a corporation, or a too-skilled filmmaker was making it. That’s probably why they came to me – they didn’t want a too-skilled filmmaker. [Chuckles.] The skill is in the sheep and the shepherding and not in the filmmaking.

Client: Samsung
Spot Title: “Extreme Shepherding”
Launch Date: March 16, 2009

Creative: The Viral Factory

Director: James Rouse (represented by Outsider in the US and UK)
Producer: Jon Stopp
DOP: Richard Stewart
Editor: Owen Oppenheimer
Post: Unit/MPC