Shooting the message #7: Wilder Films

England’s bid film for the 2018 World Cup sits high in the portfolio of Wilder Films, a London-based production company specialising in brand films and corporate video. Curator Patrick Russell explores the playful work of an agency that’s unafraid  to ‘go the extra mile to get a laugh’.

Patrick Russell

England 2018: ‘Football United’ (2008)

England 2018: ‘Football United’ (2008)

We put entertainment into everything we do…

So say Wilder Films. If you’re wondering… yes, the name pays tribute to Hollywood writer-director Billy Wilder, whose visage adorns their website. Paul Gowers, creative director, cites The Apartment (1960) as his favourite movie. He and managing director Richard Batty recollect seeking a fresh-feeling brand for the corporate sector. Do clients get the reference? Some do, they say… the rest, they educate.

From backgrounds straddling advertising, corporate and TV programme-making, Batty and Gowers ‘soft-launched’ Wilder in 2004, attracting notice with the London 2012 Technical Film. Necessarily a more televisual ‘nuts-and-bolts’ piece than New Moon Television’s iconic Sport at Heart, it played a significant behind-scenes role in the 2012 Olympic bid: deployed during sustained ‘laptop-lobbying’ across the Olympic movement, ahead of the Singapore gathering where the IOC plumped for London.

New Moon and Wilder both emerged as recognised experts in ‘bid films’ and sporting subjects. Equally, both have branched out. Wilder’s since worked for the Football League, the English Cricket Board, even Dartford F.C., not to mention Doha’s bid for the Olympics and England’s for the World Cup, marshalling a stellar line-up of VIP cameos. But they’ve also become specialists with fashion and car launches (film subjects demanding, and getting, a certain flashy fetishisation), brand films (like Waiting for Conkers, for the William Joseph Agency), and internal comms (my favourite: It Must Be Love, one of several Wilder films screened at Tesco staff conferences).

Doha Olympic Bid Film 2016 (2007)

Doha Olympic Bid Film 2016 (2007)

They frequently work in the Middle East, as do New Moon and many others: a telling fiscal fact meriting a blog of its own someday… For instance, Wilder’s animated Expo installation for the United Arab Emirates well illustrates the use of film in brand positioning, ‘brand’ here meaning an entire country. 

All told, Wilder have around 125 productions in the can. Staffing and slate are kept ‘intentionally small’: five full-timers (plus freelancers and ‘permi-lancers’) handling around 15 projects for about seven clients per annum. Like similarly sized companies Straker Films and Pukka Films, they seem to favour bespoke productions over rolling programmes.

Where Straker and Pukka excel at piercing drama, Wilder’s metier is bite-sized comedy. Taking a historical view, they’re better placed in line of descent from Richard Massingham than John Grierson. Taking a contemporary one, they typify today’s blurring between commercials (growing longer, online) and corporate films (getting shorter) under the increasingly important heading of ‘branded content’.

“I love a bit of quality cheese,” Gowers cheerfully declares. That neither length nor sobriety necessarily correlates with effectiveness is a point proved by Wilder’s Enjoy the Match (2008) winning the IVCA Grand Prix for best corporate film of its year:

Remember, if watching the above online: you’re not its target viewer. It was projected, on ginormous screens, to rowdy football fans shortly before kick-off. Football League metrics reportedly demonstrate sharp subsequent reductions in bad behaviour and correspondingly increased family-stand ticket sales. Hence, claims Batty, Enjoy the Match cost the League £17,000 but has made their members millions.

There’s since been a sequel (complete with ‘making-of’). Wilder’s fondness for the comic ‘reveal’ reappears in their cycle of online recruitment ads for Poolia and, as recurring gag-with-variation, in Thomas Cook staff film Proud.

If all this implies that Wilder’s output has a quirky, sometimes slightly laddish, flavour, then I expect they’ll concur. Their website boasts: “Our films have featured a dead dog, a dead hamster, a dead chicken, a naked rambler and a foul-mouthed dad. Sometimes we’ll go the extra mile to get a laugh.” But they do have a sober side: a clutch of Department of Education documentary shorts, a stately record of the Kings Cross restoration and an interesting Central Office of Information (COI) film challenging exaggerated public fears of crime. 30 Seconds, cajoling GPs into helping patients quit smoking, proves that Wilder’s trademark ‘reveal’ can jerk tears as well as tickle funny bones…

Crossing the boundaries between corporate and other fields, Wilder have also done a few ads, pop videos, TV links and, notably, several indie shorts, some of which have won prizes. These include Ripple and Sexy Tuesdays, the latter starring Jim North, director Gowers’ regular co-writer on commissioned and independent productions alike. While Wilder presumably hope to make space for more self-initiated work, Gowers claims that corporate films allow greater personal intervention than many other types: “you can make your mark on it.” He also confesses that his Ford Cars collaboration with Kyle Minogue is “the only thing I’ve done that has any credibility with my niece and nephew.” So check out his director’s cut below:

STOP PRESS: Since writing the above, Gowers and Batty have amicably parted ways, Gowers to set up a new company, Buddy Films, while Wilder continues under Batty’s leadership. We’re living through a transitional phase in corporate filmmaking: creatively and financially a promising but unpredictable one. The onward progress of both companies will be well worth watching.

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