The good folk at Intu gave the Spark Media Team an interesting brief to create a film that would replace the live Intu Merry Hill Christmas light switch-on which couldn’t happen this year for obvious reasons. The lights switch-on is a staple event that’s enjoyed by tens of thousands of physical visitors every year. We knew it would be tough to replace a much-loved event, but thought it was possible to create a film that gave you that same Chirstmassy feeling. Come on, you know the one!!!

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The team at Spark got together virtually as we do every week to brainstorm ideas and so we came up with some top line concepts for the virtual light switch on. Our ideas included a family of stressed Ogres, a cartwheeling super kid (don’t ask!) and a giant orange mammoth decorating the tree for it’s nephew. However the biggest challenge we had was to create an idea that was lockdown proof, not just physically and logistically but also visually. We couldn’t have a film full of shoppers enjoying festive gift buying if the centre was forced to close. This challenge gave us the ‘spark’ of an idea using a drone carrying a star into the centre and ‘The Star in the Sky’ concept was conceived.

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Our idea was to fly a drone, carrying a Star across key locations in the region, through the shopping center and carefully placing it on the tree, which in turn would activate all the Christmas lights. The Star represented Christmas and wherever it went it brought festive cheer, lifting spirits. The film needed a narrative so we introduced a child who doubted Christmas would happen, something which was topical at the time. We also brought in Santa Claus who was controlling the drone from his home in the North Pole, he not surprising had a fair bit of availability this year.

The intu marketing team loved the idea and really worked with us to make it happen, using their community links and locations to full effect.

Whilst the centre team had been carefully monitoring government guidelines all year they needed to find the right time to press the button on this opportunity, so the window to shoot was tight.

Filming was a challenge, we were flying a drone carrying a star after all and most of the filming was at night. Spark Media is a CAA authorised video production company and both Max & Sununu are outstanding drone pilots with lots of experience. However flight paths, weather conditions and even the construction of the star and its weight all had to be considered, planned and thorough risk assessments carried out.

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Working during a pandemic had its challenges too, however we followed our Covid-19 filming policy, most of the scenes were purposely filmed outdoors, we reduced the team to a skeleton filming crew and when indoors we worked with actors that lived in the same household.

As anticipated Lockdown 2.0 was enforced the day after filming and so some small adjustments to the script were made to align with the new restrictions.

The film was turned around in just 2 and a bit weeks, from idea creation to delivery. The team at Intu were brilliant in accommodating our needs to make this happen.

Working with the centre’s digital marketing co-ordinator we created a teaser video from the footage which was used to pre-promote the virtual lights switch-on and on the 15th November the film went live on Facebook Premiere. A 60 second version for Instagram was also produced as well as vertical imagery supplied from the rushes.

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The response to the film has been tremendous with 80,000 views and over 700 shares on the intu Merry Hill Facebook page alone. BBC Radio have used it as an example of businesses spreading festive cheer and press coverage and media social sharing has been widespread in the region.

Marketing Manager Duncan Burns from intu said “We knew this year was going to be different and families around the region needed a little extra Christmas spirit. Spark Media really helped us deliver and adapt to the constantly changing COVID landscape. The response to the video has been brilliant, just lovely, positive messages.

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