Behind Woolworth’s ‘Sunburnt Country’ television campaign with M&C Saatchi and Resolution – by Vanessa Abbott

From the ‘Sunburnt Country’ campaign commercial – IMAGE Courtesy of Woolworths

Using Dorothea Mackellar’s poem ‘My Country’ as the visual inspiration for a new Australian first fresh sourcing policy campaign for Woolworths, marketing agency Greenhouse tasked production company Resolution with crafting a television campaign that was a visual homage to Australia from ‘farmland to field’. “This was a commercial that had to be made in the middle of the pandemic in 2020,” says Oliver Critchley at creative agency M&C Saatchi. “We had no way to film it across Australia at that time.

This was designed to connect the amazing support that Woolworths offer to Australian Growers. “As it was set to one of Australia’s most loved poems the visuals had to be a mix of epic and intimate lensing,” says Critchley. “The diverse locations and characters we ‘captured’ had to feel authentic and most importantly deliver the emotion of a grower in this land of extremes.

Because of filming restrictions imposed by Covid-19, creative director at Resolution production company Tim Dyroff, along with editor Etienne Ancelet, brought this story to life using existing footage from Woolworths. They used an experienced film researcher and spent a lot of time in the edit exploring the possibilities. “In a sense we became curators of cinematic archives,” says Dyroff. The pair crafted a visual journey using spectacular drone footage and landscape cinematography mixed with more intimate hand-held shots, such as a farmer looking skyward as a storm front approaches and mud-stained hands brushing off a freshly picked potato.

“ In a sense we became curators of cinematic archives. ”

Dyroff brought a directorial eye and intention to the storytelling. The creative director worked both as a compositor on commercials such as Qantas’ iconic I Still Call Australia Home campaign for director Iain Mackenzie, various Tourism New Zealand commercials and was a much sought-after Matte painter and skilled compositor often taking location photographs and rushes, and building scenes from raw layers in post-production. It was this unique background that helped Dryoff in bringing this story to life.

The team chose to select shots which kept the sun as a central figure in the film. “Sometimes this was pushed further in grading, or subtle addition of refractive lens flares,” says Critchley. “Though we trod lightly here with visual effects and really worked on finding material that was already the right time of day.” Storm scenes were built in post-production from layers. 

The VFX are subtle and seamless, incorporating matte painting techniques as well as careful grading and Flame integration, each vignette was purposefully treated to provide a visually cohesive look and mood to the varied landscapes and what was captured on film.

The lightning bolt shot against the silos was found and graded. Critchley loves one of the other lightning shots in the film where the grower who looks up at a coming storm. “The lighting and performance get me every time,” he says.

Many of the filmmakers’ chosen shots and sequences worked on during the edit ended up being thrown out. The filmmakers had to be true to the fresh produce that Woolworths source, meaning they had some content which while they loved, had to go because Woolworths simply didn’t sell a certain variety.

The filmmakers have little regrets in producing what is a beautiful piece of filmmaking. However, “I would have just loved to have shot this spot for real,” concludes Critchley.

Oliver Critchley works for creative agency M&C Saatchi.

Tim Dyroff is creative director at production company Resolution.

Vanessa Abbot is a writer based in Sydney.

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