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Director’s Cut: Meet the Filmmaker Behind Coke’s Valentine’s Day Ad

By:  Jay Moye Feb 13, 2013
Valentine's Day video director

Hugh Mitton has been making movies since he was 10, but only recently parlayed his passion into a full-time profession – which, he admits, makes him a pretty lucky guy.

The 23-year-old New Zealander’s talents are showcased in Coca-Cola’s new Valentine’s Day ad, which will debut during tomorrow’s American Idol telecast before reaching other countries around the world. The 60-second spot took the grand prize at a Cannes Lions 2012 competition sponsored by MOFILM, a community that connects brands with independent filmmakers through crowd-sourcing contests and projects.

Bouquets of red balloons drift down to a busy cityscape below on Valentine’s Day 2012, bringing with them cans of Coca-Cola for unsuspecting couples to share. It’s an artful, tastefully romantic piece that would make Cupid proud.

Hugh took a break from a recent trip to Tokyo to talk about the Coca-Cola ad and his approach to the filmmaking craft. Take a look:

Tell us a bit about the concept of the ad and how it all came together.
I was familiar with Coke’s “Where Will Happiness Strike Next” work and had just begun to explore ways we could deliver that concept in a fun way in my local city at the time – Wellington, New Zealand – a good-looking harbor city surrounded by hills with a couple of nice lookouts very close to the center. The thought went something like, “If we can see the whole city from here, we could get a Coke to anyone in it.” That was literally the starting point.

Why did you decide on Valentine’s Day?
I actually had the concept plotted out in my head first, then went pondering special times throughout the year to meld it with. Valentine’s just fit perfectly; I didn’t think twice. Yes, the couples are sharing a Coke, but what they’re really sharing is a moment together, tinged with surprise. It was terribly romantic.

How did you land on balloons as a creative device?
Once I had the hill, it was a relatively easy conclusion to make. They’re also so simple and universal that you don’t need to waste time explaining extra stuff to the audience. I’m sure almost everyone can relate to them, just like almost everyone can relate to Coca-Cola. So having established that right away, you’ve still got most of those 60 seconds to tell the story, which as a director is a luxury. Oh, and they look pretty.

Describe how and when the film was shot. Any fun memories?
You may find this hard to believe from watching the spot, but Wellington is the most notoriously windy city in New Zealand. Filmed in southern autumn last year, my producer, Lee, and I went up the hill to painstakingly set up the opening shot at 4 a.m. in total darkness three days in a row before striking it lucky on the fourth attempt. And we managed to stay awake at our day jobs that week!

The balloons were quite amusing to use. For the hill, we had them on invisible threads so they wouldn’t drift away to the nearby airport, but down in the city they were actually floating solo. Some times they did so, perfectly, landing almost exactly where we wanted. Other times they might go aloft, resulting in Lee and our assistant, Scott, sprinting around the buildings in the central city… eyes upwards, cellphones to ears, trying to figure out where they would land. After this experience, I think I’ll put on my resume: “can direct balloons.”

You’ve created a few other ads for Coca-Cola. Tell me a bit about them.
In my head, I’ve created a lot of ads for Coke! It feels like very accessible material to me. In reality, I’ve made two others besides this. One was aimed at teens, with the old themes of school detention and music. It was nice, but more of a learning curve for me. The second one was for Coke Asia. I like the Asian markets, as they have different interpretations of Western products – and I admire many of their cultures – so I managed to deliver what I think was an entertaining piece of film and well aligned with the brief. It was good fun.

How would you describe your filmmaking style?
It’s something that’s evolving, but so far I seem to approach most work with a humanistic style. I like to understand people. I think that translates to a liking for things with a big scope, which is hard when your resources are limited, so I’ve worked with what I’ve had. But now I’m getting more of them, which is all I can ask for really. Hopefully I can film something with an explosion soon!

Speaking of resources, what value does MOFILM offer independent filmmakers?
Getting noticed is what any independent filmmaker wants, and here you’ve got reasonable public exposure as well as the eyes of important people. Making ads is normally a highly collaborative and sometimes challenging process, but with MOFILM you can just hurl your idea at the brand, and they will see it exactly as you saw it, which is a nice change.

What do you hope viewers get out of watching “Happiness is in the Air”?
A little bit of a warm heart – I mean, it’s Valentine’s after all – and a renewed appreciation for the simple gestures we can make for each other, anywhere, anytime.

See more of Hugh’s work at www.hughmitton.com, and visit Coca-Cola Journey to learn more about the Valentine’s Day ad.

Jay Moye is Senior Writer in the Global Digital Communications and Social Media Team at The Coca-Cola Company.