Playtime With Sam Coleman

Behind the scenes of our second TVC and a conversation with director Sam Coleman

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photograph: Jamie Ramsay

Sam Coleman is late for our first meeting at the P&G. He has a good excuse, though. His wife, photographer Sarah Nankin, is about to have a baby.

Still, Sam apologises when he arrives, orders a double Talisker on the rocks that he pays for himself despite my telling him that I have a tab, and then immediately phones his wife.

“Se, you alright? I’m doing the interview now. You okay? Are you alright there?  You sure? We don’t have to go to the hospital? You okay? You alright? Okay I’m going to finish and then will head back up there. Love you. Love you. Bye.”

The first thing I notice is that Sam isn’t your average alpha male ad man, and he’s got a softness and a humility to him that, given his impressive CV, is a bit of an anomaly. Thing is, Sam has always done things a bit differently.

Having started up his own digital agency, Generator Communications, while still at design school, Sam went on to become creative director of The Young Designer’s Emporium, which was the leading retailer and the most progressive youth brand at the time. After three years of putting out the type of work that is still relevant today, Sam caught a big break when a famous ad agency called 180 Amsterdam saw some adidas Superstar sneakers he had custom designed at an art exhibition in Cape Town and relocated him and Sarah to live in Amsterdam and work on the Originals global account. Sam went from dressing windows in malls around South Africa to working with Missy Elliot, French graffitti star Fafi and one Mr David Beckham, amongst others.

Four years later he joined Mother New York where he worked across all divisions from art direction to experiential to film production. Seven years in global advertising resulted in Sam winning a bunch of awards, having his work published by Creative Review, D&AD, The Guardian and The Independent and a reputation as The Guy. But it wasn’t for him…

“All I really ever wanted to do was get into film and direct,” Sam tells me in the very considered way he has of speaking. “I had been exposed to great directors, working with great production companies and I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. So joining Giant Films as a director was the catalyst for me to get out of advertising and move back home.”

Which meant that we didn’t have to look very far when it came to finding a director for our first ever TV ads, and Sam was brought in to treat on the scripts that feature a group of kids who go skinny dipping and then, in the second ad, join their friends at a house party.

“I think the ads have a good feel. They're simple scripts but I wanted them to feel kind of epic and have scale. I think people will like them…” Sam says this ever so careful as to not toot his own horn. “I wanted to try and push the second one a lot harder. What's a party, you know? The best parties for me always get a bit unhinged and strange things happen, so I tried my best with that."

A week after our drinks Sam’s now father to a baby boy, and is very busy working on our new baby, the second Superbalist ad. Whereas the first ad, skinny dip, was stark on a grand scale, where in a nice twist for a clothing ad people are stripping down and literally throwing the clothes on sale away, today’s set is being filmed at a throwback 70s funhouse with a cast of over 50 up for it kids, all carefully cast for their unique personal style and personalities, bringing their best party tricks.

It’s worth mentioning that our location isn’t a set but a slightly deteriorating old mansion in Bishopscourt where you expect Dirk Diggler and Rollergirl to come cruising through the door at any second. There's a wonderful backstory that Sam’s friend, Ben Johnson, a man he describes as “an artist masquerading as a designer”, fills us in on.

Ben actually used to live in this house and is happy to give us his understanding of the history of the place. It was owned by his girlfriend Bella’s family, her grandmother was a test driver and her grandfather an ex-prisoner of war who escaped a Russian internment camp. They both worked for BMW in the Middle East and that’s why the home has so many photographs of Sheikhs in it. After they brought BMW to South Africa they settled in this house where they kind of semi-retired and the lady of the house dressed it up in a lot of wallpaper, plush carpeting and oriental nicknacks. After her husband died she dressed in all black and lived in the house by herself until about a year ago when Ben and Bella moved in. They put a lot of stuff in storage and were very careful with who they invited to their parties. Those who were privvy would dress up in the lady of the house’s clothes, jump on the round beds and then run from bedroom to bar to jacuzzi to sauna to wine celler... The day after the night before, they’d nurse their hangovers playing tennis and swimming, building up their strength until they could do it all over again.

Anyway, Bella’s now doing an artist residency in Scotland and Ben has tears in his eyes when he tells me how he’s moved out and Bella’s younger brother, Alexander, and his two friends have moved in. It’s a case of art imitating life when Sam ropes the kids into the party shoot.

I ask if it’s difficult to shoot a party when it’s actually a controlled environment.

“Not really,” shrugs Sam. “You always find that people are so up for it, which always surprises me because I’m more the ­behind-the-camera type of person.”

He really is, and even when he’s not behind a camera Sam's got his phone or laptop or some other sort of screen as a buffer.

“But all the kids that you cast and stuff are just so ready for it. So when you do, like, a dance floor scene, it’s amazing how they turn it on. So no, it’s not really hard to shoot a party.”

The shoot continues until much later that night where the lines blur so much that it’s difficult to tell who’s cast and who’s crew, what’s being shot for the ad and what’s simply a bunch of young people enjoying themselves while waiting for the next scene.

Flitting from dayglo dancers to a dance off in a smoke filled basement, glitter girls on the tennis court to pool party kids, Sam carefully orchestrates everything and turns the madness around him into our second television commercial. Working feverishly so that we can Come Play.