Time Takes a Star Turn in Industry's Short Films
New York Times, March 8, 2012
GENEVA — The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, the high-end watch fair held every January in Geneva, is not, strictly speaking, an entertainment fest like, say, the Cannes film festival. It’s more of a club event, a plush, invitation-only sales forum ruled by a coterie of 18 brands that manufacture exclusive timepieces for the world’s wealthy elites.
Yet at this year’s salon, journalists in attendance had a chance to play cinema critic as a short narrative film — just three and a half minutes long — illuminated the screen in a presentation room reserved for the Geneva watchmaker Roger Dubuis.
The film’s opening focuses on a well-appointed study, where a man reclines in an armchair. Then the camera cuts to a rain-slicked night and a car chase, with two police cars in hot pursuit of a speeding vintage Jaguar.
The handsome man at the wheel of the Jaguar glances into the rear-view mirror before looking down to shift gears. As he does so, the camera lingers on his right forearm for a beat longer than necessary — allowing the audience to admire a skeleton flying tourbillon watch, part of the new Roger Dubuis Pulsion collection, strapped to the driver’s wrist.
The cinema noir ambience of the film, shot on location in Prague in late November, is enhanced by Roger Dubuis’s casting of the French comedian and actor Tomer Sisley, star of the Largo Winch film series, as a cat burglar who breaks into a museum to steal its fine watch collection until — spoiler alert! — it is revealed that he is dreaming.
Swiss watchmakers are prolific creators of video shorts designed to entice and educate potential buyers, but until now these have largely been visual essays on craftsmanship and core values or glamorous shots of timepieces, designed to make watch geeks drool.
Recently, however, a few brands have begun to produce videos with a distinctly more artistic bent. These narrative shorts have featured the work of well-known actors and directors, highlighting the growing use of film as a platform to promote high-end timepieces and the elegant lifestyles that luxury brands hope to associate with their products.
“It’s about storytelling,” Roland Ott, communications director for Roger Dubuis, said. “To integrate the products into a story, saga or fantasy world — that’s highly important.”
Mr. Ott declined to say how much the watchmaker spent on the “Pulsion” production, beyond indicating that it was “not that dramatic — a six-digit number.” He did, however, seem confident that Roger Dubuis would get its money’s worth from screenings at events, in boutiques, on its Web site, and on social media platforms.
IWC Schaffhausen, a Swiss-German brand beloved for its clean, Bauhaus design, was the first Swiss watch company to create a narrative film in 2006, when it produced a seven-minute short, “Pilots,” to coincide with the relaunching of its Big Pilot’s Watch collection.
Starring John Malkovich, the film featured airborne sequences of Spitfire planes choreographed by the Hollywood cinematographer David B. Nowell.
Since then, IWC has worked with the Oscar-winning actors Kevin Spacey and Cate Blanchett, as well as the French actor Jean Reno, on similar films, all of which now appear on the brand’s five-month-old YouTube channel.
“The videos help us to bring our print content to life,” said Karoline Huber, director of marketing and communications for IWC.
Naturally, the celebrity endorsements don’t hurt, either. More than a splashy way for brands to name-drop their ties to Hollywood, the ubiquitous celebrity ambassador increasingly fulfills needs on both sides of the fame equation.
Because of changes in film distribution and technology — declining DVD sales, for example — there are fewer films being made and fewer roles for actors to appear in, said Seth Berman, a Los Angeles-based liaison to the television and film industry for the luxury holding company Financière Richemont. As a result, more actors “are taking advantage of opportunities to place themselves in the public eye,” he said.
Celebrities are hot properties, to be sure, but Montblanc, the maker of pens and watches, departed from convention on its latest film project, a short video contest involving real people. Begun last fall, the “Beauty of a Second” competition required entrants to capture a scene of beauty in a one-second-long video and upload it to the competition’s Web site. The brand asked the German filmmaker Wim Wenders to preside over the judging.
By the time the three-month contest closed to submissions in late January, Montblanc had received 5,000 clips spanning a dizzying array of subjects. In a parallel contest, the company invited users to create the most beautiful compilation video by making playlist montages of the clips posted on the competition’s Web site.
Two finalists from each of the categories will attend a Montblanc event in Berlin on March 20, where Mr. Wenders will select two grand-prize winners.
What, you may ask, does all this have to do with watchmaking?
“The second is the smallest way to split time, and the chronograph is the first instrument to be able to measure the second,” said Alexander Schmiedt, director of watches for Montblanc, which has dedicated its 2012 marketing campaign to chronographs like the Nicolas Rieussec Chronograph Open Hometime, a $36,400 tribute to Rieussec, the watchmaker who is generally credited with inventing the complication in 1821. “We found a way to link the two, focusing on the beauty of a second.”
In a clip introducing the competition, Mr. Wenders waxes poetic about the copacetic relationship between watchmakers and their counterparts in the world of film: “One of the great things about cinema is how it makes us aware of time,” he says.
For a chance to understand why one of the great things about time is how it makes people aware of cinema, see the mix-master Christian Marclay’s 2011 video installation “The Clock,” a 24-hour paean to time in which thousands of film and television clips of watches and clocks are brilliantly spliced together to mark, in real time, the passing of an entire day.
A love letter to the 100-year history of the moving image, “The Clock,” which won Mr. Marclay the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Biennale last year, may well be required viewing for the watch set.