P. Ramlee-era of moviemaking


  • Business
  • Saturday, 18 Jan 2003

By M. HAFIDZ MAHPAR

NOSTALGIA sells, and the entertainment industry knows this. A few weeks ago, classic Malay films were released in the VCD format, trailed closely by the VCD/DVD launch of classic Chinese flicks from Shaw Brothers. 

As if taking its cue from the retro trend, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide Sdn Bhd has developed a TV commercial that pays tribute to Tan Sri P. Ramlee-directed comedy, Ali Baba Bujang Lapuk

This unique project may well put Saatchi & Saatchi back in the limelight. Just a few months ago, the agency made the news by winning the local advertising industry’s most coveted award, the Golden Kancil, for a TV spot for Toyota Unser multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). 

That commercial featured fast action, quick cuts and stylish camera angles – basically, slick MTV-type visuals. Saatchi & Saatchi tapped the same production house (Carrot Films) and director (Barney Chua) for its latest Unser ad. And this time the production team had to face a new – or “old”, depending on how you look at it – ballgame: to create a commercial that recaptured the P. Ramlee era of moviemaking. 

“Barney and his team basically had to unlearn what they had learnt in their filmmaking career to-date,” Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive officer Matthew Seddon tells BizWeek.  

“Filmmaking is all about the latest technology and the latest development, and Barney, in an attempt to get this authentic P. Ramlee movie stuff, had to push all that to one side and went back to what it would have been like 40 or 50 years ago.” 

The biggest challenge, Seddon says, was to direct in a raw, old-fashioned style. The black-and-white commercial has the less-sophisticated look of the old films, complete with bad lighting, static shots, amateurish editing, minor scratches, grainy pictures, hissing sound and shaky English subtitles. And there is a cameo by veteran actor Aziz Sattar, the “Ali Baba” in the 1960 movie. 

Seddon says the team also hired a scriptwriter and consultant from the P. Ramlee era, Aimi Jarr, who was at the shoot to tell what P. Ramlee would and wouldn’t do. 

The film set and the mood recalled so much those bygone days that Aziz became “very emotional”, says Saatchi & Saatchi executive creative director Edmund Choe. 

The Unser ad, which hit the airwaves on Thursday, is already a record-breaker. The three-minute spot is believed to be the longest TV commercial for a motor vehicle to-date. This “mini-movie” will have a one-week run, followed by 60-second and 40-second versions. 

Toyota Unser’s key proposition is spaciousness, and Saatchi & Saatchi aimed to convey this generic benefit associated with the MPV category in a unique and entertaining manner. In the previous Unser ad, spaciousness was communicated through the use of exaggeration. 

In the ad, a man being chased enters a parked Unser, and his pursuer goes in after him. But the latter comes out seconds later and tells his boss on his mobile phone: “Sir, I’ve lost him.” 

The latest Unser commercial also has a twist at the end, but the entire commercial is weird. An army of midgets (the good guys) are seen trying to enter a pirate fortress using a Trojan Goat (yes, you read right), but their plan is foiled. Along comes Ali Baba, driving his Toyota Unser with Aziz sitting next to him, and the duo manage to give the pirate sentries the right secret password. Once inside the fortress, an army of Malay warriors stream out of the Unser and end the tyranny of the bald-headed, eye-patched pirates. 

The twist at the end: the man from the first ad, last seen disappearing into an Unser, emerges from Ali Baba’s vehicle! And immediately the foot chase begins anew. 

Recalling how his creative team presented the idea to him, Seddon says that a biography of P. Ramlee and a VCD of Ali Baba Bujang Lapuk were left on his desk.  

“The creative people said, ‘Matt, before we show you any creative ideas, we want you to read this book and watch this film’. After I’ve watched the film, they said, ‘Our idea borrows from the P. Ramlee style’.” 

“I think it’s incredible that no other advertiser had tried to recreate the P. Ramlee era of filmmaking, because the more I understand about P. Ramlee, the more I realise what a huge emotional attachment people have to P. Ramlee and to that era of filmmaking,” the Englishman says, adding that he expects the new Unser ad to have a “very strong impact.” 

Given that the ad is very localised, the chances are slim that it would win international awards.  

To this comment, Seddon replies: “Awards is always the icing on the cake. If the ad won something, then fine. But that’s certainly not our motivation. We want to do ideas that are the best for our clients’ products.” 

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