Shooting the message #21: Armoury London

Meet Armoury London, a startup production company with a vast roster of brand films and commercials for clients including Reebok, Grey Goose vodka and Battersea Dogs Home.

Patrick Russell

Watch the Armoury showreel

One of the fascinations of 21st century filmmaking is its echoes of the distant past: the moviemaking of the early 20th century, and the late 19th, back when ‘new media’ meant celluloid. Consider the work of Armoury London, a resolutely contemporary production company co-owned by writer-director Jack Laurance and exec Clare Gibson. Like those pioneer producers, theirs is a blend of the creative and the entrepreneurial, a startup that’s small, nimble and very prolific. They’ve notched up more than 150 films in about four years.

What’s also interesting is that, unlike many of the companies profiled in our Shooting the message features, their films are not limited to any one sector or content type. Alongside the brand films and other corporate commissions that earn them a place in this series, Armoury has produced TV programmes and idents, commercials and music videos, as well as a handful of indie shorts. The skills involved in any one of these areas are more transferable to the others than they might have been a generation ago. And they aren’t a million miles away from the pioneer days when film companies were busy across the whole field of burgeoning film forms – ‘industrials’ included – before firmer specialisations set in during Edwardian times.

Indeed, New Zealander Gibson and native Londoner Laurance themselves both have backgrounds spanning TV documentary, corporate comms and advertising. They met at agency Moving Brands while working on a series of product launch films for what they coyly refer to as “a well-known US technology firm”. The pair clicked and decided to form their own joint company. Armoury was launched in December 2011.

Their debut was a self-financed Christmas-themed seasonal short, referencing the London riots of the preceding summer. It proved a successful calling card thanks to its upbeat personality and high-gloss-production-values-delivered-on-low-budget approach – both recurring features of subsequent work. It was a viral success. Featuring on Vimeo’s homepage that Christmas, and various blogs worldwide, it clocked up 150,000 hits in a few days, leading directly to invitations to Armoury to pitch for commissions. They won five in a row, leading to a stream of contracts that hasn’t stopped since. 

Among Armoury’s corporate projects, many straddle the increasingly blurry boundaries between the short-form commercial and the slightly longer ‘brand film’, often taking the form of a ‘visual mood piece’ – particularly suitable for crossing linguistic borders to wherever a product is being marketed.

See for instance their recent global brand film for long-standing client De Beers. Shot in several African countries, it accentuates the cosmopolitan glamour of the product – and of a traditional genre today enjoying a new lease of life. (Citing De Beers as a client that gets the need for high technical standards, Laurance and Gibson proudly note that this was shot using the same set of anamorphic lenses as Terrence Malick’s 1998 war film The Thin Red Line).

De Beers brand film

Or check out their Grey Goose vodka promo with its sweeping camera movements (by way of contrast, though, their film for Hamilton & Hare boxer shorts takes a more ‘documentary’ approach). Just as, say, Casual Films have developed a reputation for their recruitment films, and Radley Yeldar for corporate-reporting video, Armoury seem to have carved a niche in the growing field of product launch films. Subjects covered in the launch films range from a UEFA Youth League competition, to a National Maritime Museum exhibition (fronted by David Starkey)

Other clients include Sony, Skype, Adidas and Reebok, much of this work filtered through agencies (a development Armoury say they embrace).

It’s not all gloss and glamour either. Armoury’s filmmaking for Chevrolet’s What Do You #PlayFor campaign has taken them into the corporate social responsibility arena. See below their study of the social benefits of a new football pitch in Indonesia:

Power of Play

For the voluntary sector, they’ve produced conscience-pricking shorts for Battersea Dogs Home and for the Action Aid campaign Enough Food For Everyone. Recently they’ve been developing ideas with Richard Curtis for videos related to a new charity initiative he’s involved in.

As for films outside the ‘comms’ field, Armoury’s music videos include promos for Deacon Blue, Crystal Fighters, Echo Lake, Blonde and Walking on Cars. One of their largest projects has been production of a large package of broadcast idents for Nickelodeon’s Teen Nick channel, shot in LA (they’ve also done idents for MTV).

Meanwhile Armoury’s biggest piece of standalone broadcast content so far is Channel 4 documentary short The Worst Football Team in Britain. Lastly, they’ve even dabbled in edgy fictional shorts (like this and this).

Musing on the sheer variety, the producers observe: “Music videos can be a chance to explore narrative techniques. Documentary is a great opportunity to hone in on strong characters. Commercial work must always be clear, compelling and visually striking…”

It’s a very 21st century mix of restlessness and pragmatism but one in which the earliest filmmakers might have recognised themselves: “The demand for moving image is unprecedented and still booming,” say Armoury, “but the flipside is that you need to be sensible about what you agree to do, if you want to keep growing. Looking forward, we’re keen to explore new immersive technologies… And there’s always the theatre – still one of the ‘platforms’ from which we can learn the most.”

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