In praise of the BBC’s ‘The Supporting Act’

BBC One’s short film for Christmas 2017 stands head and shoulders above the ad pack by creating an emotional connection without needing to say a word.

To cut through the noise amid the festive ad onslaught can prove a near insurmountable task for any brand. How do you stand out amongst the fluffy blue monsters, talking carrots and Willy Wonka-inspired Christmas emporiums?

Many try – and fail – to tread the fine line between channelling the festive spirit and creating outrageously cheesy portrayals of perfectly “quirky” families who love nothing more than wearing Christmas jumpers, arguing over how to cook the turkey and watching the Queen’s Speech.

Just when you thought all hope was lost for a genuinely touching Christmas advert in 2017, along comes BBC One’s festive short film. Running at two minutes long, The Supporting Act focuses on a 10-year-old girl excitedly practising her dance routine for the Christmas talent show to a specially rearranged version of Symphony by Clean Bandit x Zara Larsson.

She practises her moves everywhere: on the escalator in the shopping centre, in the living room as the Christmas tree is being decorated and even in the supermarket while doing the big festive shop. At the heart of all the practice is a palpable desire for her dad, who is a single parent, to stop working all the time and take an interest.

Then comes the day of the big performance. Heart in mouth, the girl steps out onto the stage only to be struck by paralysing stage fright. All those moves she knew like the back of her hand have disappeared. That is until her dad steps out from the audience, catches her eye and guides her through the entire routine, intricate step by intricate step. You see, he’d been watching the whole time.

As the dance begins to take shape the pair are transported from the school hall to a magical world of lights and colour, united by the pure joy of dance.

Since its release on December 2, The Supporting Act has captured the British public’s imagination. The BBC One Twitter post introducing the film has already generated 95,700 likes, 38,000 retweets and 4.7 million views. Interesting isn’t it that one of the most popular and relevant Christmas campaigns of 2017 should have been created by a public service broadcaster with no outlet for traditional commercial advertising.

Significantly perhaps, this is the first BBC One Christmas campaign developed by BBC Creative, the BBC’s in-house creative agency. BBC Creative amassed a formidable team of animators, set designers and puppet makers to work on the project who collectively have experience of working on Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox and Isle of Dogs, Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.

BBC Creative also enlisted the help of award-winning director Elliot Dear at film, TV and video production company Blinkink. Dear explained the team’s ambition to create a film that mixed the “charming, handmade qualities of stop-motion animation”, with CGI’s ability to capture the nuances of human facial expressions. The characters were animated using the traditional stop-motion technique, while facial expressions were mapped onto the puppets using CGI.

Fresh, modern and heartwarming, The Support Art never strays into schmaltzy. It feels like a refreshing change of direction for Christmas, conveying the concept of togetherness in a one-parent family which is rarely seen, particularly in festive ads. The advert also breaks down the traditional gender stereotypes by showing a dad picking up his daughter from school, washing up and sorting out the Christmas supermarket dash.

The film also manages to perfectly reflect the two elements of Christmas, by showing a parent’s toil through the supermarket and battle to get the tinsel-adorned tree to stand up straight, while simultaneously capturing the childlike joy of the festive period.

The Supporting Act appreciates that families come in all shapes and sizes, and sends a hopeful message that even in our time-poor age there is still space to make a connection.

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