And cut to All Black

There is a mystical quality to the New Zealand rugby team. Perhaps it’s the imposing all-black kit, the air of invincibility, or the unmistakable haka, a pre-match challenge issued to a nervous opposition. Or maybe it’s simply the carefree brilliance of their flowing rugby that captures the imagination of every Kiwi youth. As Sean Fitzpatrick, a 1987 World Cup winner, explains: “Children growing up aspire to be All Blacks. It’s the heart and soul of New Zealand.”

Their appeal is unrivalled, but the initial idea was not to make a film about the All Blacks. News UK’s partnership with Dove Men+Care began at the start of 2016 to harness the power of The Times and The Sunday Times, brands that pride themselves on rugby coverage, and the prime focus was the home nations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Against a backdrop of young footballers chastised for excesses of their private lives and increasingly distanced from a disaffected public, Dove’s core message of care making a man stronger was a timely reminder of the true values of rugby, sport and life.

We published a series of Times interviews with the likes of Danny Care of England and Dan Biggar of Wales to give a deeper insight into what makes successful sportsmen, and picked out moments from the RBS 6 Nations that showed care in testosterone-filled arenas. All the content can be found at scrumtogether.co.uk.

Come autumn, our creative brief was to release a short emotive Times’ movie to coincide with the Under Armour Internationals, where the southern hemisphere might of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand meets European stalwarts such as England, Ireland and France.

We proposed different themes including a film about a deaf professional rugby player and those performing at the top level while managing type 1 diabetes. At the heart of each was the message that strength derives from the right attitude and support.

When Dove informed us they had signed a year-long partnership with the All Blacks, the draw of the side named the best sports team in the world by sports charity Laureus was too good to ignore. The All Blacks had become the first team to retain the Rugby World Cup title in 2015 and had an insatiable appetite to improve. There was also the tantalising prospect of a British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand next summer.

Their culture aligned perfectly with Dove’s message of care. The All Blacks ethos of “Better Men Make Better All Blacks” was introduced by Brian Lochore, coach of the 1987 World Cup-winning side, and 26 years on, James Kerr’s seminal book, Legacy: 15 lessons in leadership, explored what the side could teach others about life.

For the Times audience, we decided on an emotive three-minute movie with three 45-second clips and a ten-second teaser.

The talent we used was key, and in Graham Henry, Sean Fitzpatrick and Conrad Smith, we found aspirational individuals that not only spanned the generations, from the first World Cup win in 1987 to success at Twickenham last year, but typified the All Blacks spirit.

Once the storyboards were approved and the talent agreed in principle, the toughest task was finding available dates. The shoot with Graham we squeezed in at sunrise on a stunning morning at Cardiff Arms Park. He had flown in from Dublin after consultancy work with Leinster and was heading home to New Zealand in the afternoon. For the first three hours, he wasn’t required to utter a word, which for a teacher, coach and motivational speaker was quite a departure. When it came to the one-on-one interview in a studio setting, we asked Graham to stare down the camera lens and his authenticity shone through – something that also comes across in the film.

The video shoot with Sean Fitzpatrick had to wait until the former All Black captain was back on his feet from major knee surgery, and, as chairman of Laureus, had given an audience to the Pope and Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, in the Vatican. It was tricky to negotiate against either of those.

Once we did find an agreeable date, we were grateful to the good folk of Ruislip rugby club for providing us with a venue, willing children and a continual supply of bacon butties. If the film underlined the humility shown by successful All Blacks, Sean encapsulated it, gracious for every minute between filming with a star-struck ensemble and being interviewed while having makeup applied and with his trousers around his ankles so that an electromagnetic pulse could be wired to his swollen right knee to help blood flow.

Conrad Smith proved the most difficult to pin down. Aged 35, the laidback outside centre wanted to retreat from the spotlight after 94 caps in a rambunctious All Black back line, and had signed for Pau in the southwest of France. The onset of the new season didn’t improve his availability but we eventually found a gap in his training schedule to fly Conrad in from Bordeaux to London.

The shoot involved Conrad making a reflective walk from the pitch to the changing room to hang up the All Black jersey for the final time. While rugby fans will be able to tell Graham was filmed at Cardiff Arms Park and Conrad at the Allianz Stadium, the video was painstakingly edited to remove all branding and produce a neutral setting. Of course, it’s a fair argument to say that Twickenham, or Auckland’s Eden Park, the venues where Conrad picked up his World Cup winner’s medals, would have been preferred, but budgets and timings didn’t stretch to flying the crew to New Zealand.

Once the talent shoots were concluded, it was time for the edit suite and cutting the hours of footage into a compelling three-minute segment. We were keen to use authentic action footage of the players so secured rights and opted to beam it on to retro television screens for a nostalgic treatment. A few days later we emerged from the darkened room, the soundtrack having infiltrated our minds like earworm, and put the video out to the world. Here it is, and we hope you agree, Better Men Make Better All Blacks videos…