Archive | November, 2015

Let us pray…

27 Nov

If I said I didn’t have a hand in this latest offering from the Church of England, I’d be lying:

I heard about the project via, the group I’ve been a member of for twenty years and which provides advertising ideas for the UK’s churches. Churchads weren’t formally commissioned to write the ad but we were asked to have a look at something that would appear in cinemas later in the year, before Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The opportunity was huge – the whole battle of good against the powers of darkness is an area clearly rich with appropriate Biblical comparisons. I duly sent over a bag full of ideas, all of them  with the volume set to eleven and shot in epic widescreen.

However, the Church of England was fixed with retelling the Lord’s Prayer before the movie, and so any ideas that didn’t involve ‘Our Father in Heaven’ were out. I’m still not certain why, without making any nod to Star Wars, nor a force of any kind, or light, or darkness, that this ad’s spiritual home should be in a cinema immediately before a showing of The Force Awakens.

Not only this, the ads that immediately precede an event movie like Star Wars  are cinematic in their own right. The thirty minutes of trailers and advertising that herald in the main feature are a feast of filmic excess and properly show off the film makers’ craft. Any ad that sits amongst this hallowed company needs to wear its best clothes.

My advice, initially, was for them not to advertise. I could foresee embarrassment – a low budget advert sitting amongst multi-million blockbusters could make the church a laughing stock. The prayer wasn’t being unpacked, or re-appropriated, or subverted. No new meaning was being given to it, it was simply being prayed.

Once I realised that they were pushing ahead with it, I could still imagine how it might look if it were shot beautifully; if the settings were somehow resonant of a Star Wars movie, or Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones; if each shot was art directed and photographed brilliantly, if it was given space to breathe. In its own way, I believed, it could be epic.

However, the Church of England was set on using a chap they’d worked with before and who shot corporate videos for a living. They had also only booked thirty second slots in cinemas, as that was all they could afford. Imagine if the Popes and kings of the renaissance had decided to use some painters and decorators on the Sistine Chapel, when the greatest artists in the world were queuing up to paint something spectacular. I know any number of directors who would have killed to shoot this ad for the same money, yet none were asked.

And then it happened, as often happens in things of a Christian nature. God stepped in. God took a potentially unremarkable piece of video which might otherwise have led a quiet life on Youtube, and did something spectacular with it. I don’t believe this ad would ever have gone on air. There is no way the Church of England would have had the budget to run a minute-long commercial before Star Wars. My belief is that the ad was banned before the film was completed, and the story of the ‘ban’ leaked by clever press secretaries. There was never a thirty second commercial of the Lord’s Prayer – time it yourself – it’s so fast as to be irreverent. Once it was clear that the ad wouldn’t run, time length ceased to be an issue and the prayer could be as long as it liked.

I first saw the finished advert in church a week ago. The minister played it and announced that it was causing a storm for being banned. My first reaction to it was surprise – it was actually pretty good. It still looked more documentary than film, but it was nicely paced and had impact. The least surprising news was the ban – the Church of England knew that cinemas don’t accept religious advertising so it was always a punt. But it is by spinning this story to the press that has made it fly.

The online chatter has been phenomenal. Everyone, for once, seems to be taking the side of the church. This is currently the most famous cinema ad in history. People in the Guardian are discussing the revolutionary challenge to world order contained in the prayer’s words. People are assessing the Lord’s Prayer properly for the first time since they mumbled it in a school assembly or the wedding of a Christian friend. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways!

Can I take credit for any of this? Not at all, I was against it from the start. Will I take credit for it if anyone asks? Of course I will – I’m in advertising!