Capturing Vilnius in 45 seconds

  • 2007-01-24
  • By Henri Bevier

SOUNDSCAPE: Thanks to the producers' (bottom left) creative talent, the Vilnius Board of Tourism's latest commercial is more like a music video than a promotional advertisement.

VILNIUS - What does a woman playing the cello on Pilies Street, a Segway gliding effortlessly across bumpy cobblestones, the deft hands of a DJ scratching the latest club grooves, and a pneumatic-concrete-saw-wielding construction worker have in common? Well, they are just a few of the sights and sounds used in a new BBC television commercial promoting Vilnius.
If you're a regular BBC or CNN viewer, you may have noticed the aforementioned commercial on TV last fall.

"Vilnius: Lithuania's capital… Unforgettable harmony and charm," are the only spoken words in the 45-second ad. Before this captivating tagline concludes the commercial, viewers are led through an odyssey of dynamic images 's all symbols of Vilnius - set to music and city sounds.

The commercial is the second production of a televised ad campaign to entice tourists to Vilnius. The Vilnius Board of Tourism began the project in 2005, a year after all three Baltic states joined the European Union and NATO.
"The idea was to make something that was exciting, vibrant, inviting and upbeat," says the commercial's director, Donatas Ulvydas. "The Vilnius Board of Tourism wanted to portray people - real people - and feature them in various parts of the capital in order to present Vilnius as a happening European city with exciting possibilities. They wanted to show a city with trendy hotels and modern conveniences, a city full of energy with shiny glass buildings, without forgetting the charming Vilnius Old Town that tourists know and love."

This was Ulvydas' second time as director of the TV campaign project. The first Vilnius commercial aired on CNN in late 2005.
Ulvydas has long been recognized as an innovative and creative force in Lithuania's young but quickly-growing TV advertising industry. But it was his experience as an accomplished music video director that helped inspire the concept behind his latest commercial endeavor.

"I built the idea for the commercial around sounds," he says. "Thankfully, I was given a great amount of freedom as an artist by the tourism board and the BBC to present Vilnius in the way that I wanted to. The idea for using sound and music cues to motivate the visual elements felt fresh and fun for me and the rest of the creative team I put together."
Early in the commercial's pre-production stage, Ulvydas invited Lithuanian composer Linas Rimsa to join the project. Together, the two artists were able to bring many of Ulvydas' ideas to life.

"The first step in creating this commercial was to build and record a scratch- soundtrack, which helped us draw up the storyboards and get everyone on the same page creatively," the director explains. "We tried to think of sounds that could be supported visually. Linas combined my ideas with his and we set out to create a soundtrack that could almost be described as a pop-soundscape."

Ulvydas then set up a visual team to create images of Vilnius that would portray the city and its people without being overtly romanticized or "too much like a series of postcard shots, as many commercials of this genre tend to come across as."
Toby Birney, who acted as director of photography when filming the commercial, was impressed at once by Ulvydas' work.
"Most of the shots that ended up in the commercial were well planned, and were presented to me as concepts in the original storyboards," he says. "Donatas wanted much of the commercial to have a documentary feeling, so it would look as if the camera was finding the action with unrehearsed movements."
In order to create a truthful image of Vilnius, Donatas and Birney spent hours wandering the capital's streets with their camera, searching for captivating images.

"Donatas and I like to call this type of filming 'shot-gunning,' For example, the couple [in the commercial] walking arm-in-arm down the sidewalk, the shot of kids break-dancing and even a shot or two of the construction scenes were captured in this freestyle way, with real people - not actors," Birney says.
"The whole shoot was quite refreshing and fun, and from the beginning we felt very free to do our jobs and be creative," the photographer adds. "I think that this freedom, and the great time we had filming come across in the final result."

The endeavors of everyone involved in the commercial have definitely paid off. After putting the shots together and polishing and recording a final musical soundtrack, the commercial looks and feels more like a music video than an advertisement. Its 45-seconds go by deceptively fast, thanks to snappy editing, upbeat music, colorful images and stylized camera work.
After airing on BBC in October 2006, and later on CNN, it didn't take long for the clip to make its way onto the Internet and into peoples' e-mail boxes.

"Lithuanians got excited about this commercial. Perhaps they even wanted to imagine that it had been produced by a foreign company - a glimpse of how outsiders see their city," Ulvydas explains. "My IT guy came into the office one day and saw the commercial playing on my computer desktop. He made a comment about how the clip had also been e-mailed to him that morning. He knows that my company makes commercials every day, but he didn't believe that we had produced this ad ourselves until I showed it to him on our editing computer."

The Vilnius commercial is scheduled to air on BBC and CNN again this March, and has been uploaded to the popular media Web site YouTube, which plays various video clips. This, the director says, is the ultimate compliment.
"We were very happy that our colleagues and peers thought so highly of [our commercial], even before they realized that we had made it, and even more happy that so many people outside Lithuania took note of it," Ulvydas says.