They landed on distant shores, a mixed group of refugees fleeing religious persecution and profit-minded ‘adventurers’ seeking fortune in the New World. The dramatic twists and turns of their fate provide the setting for National Geographic Channel’s world premiere movie event Saints & Strangers, which premieres Sunday, November 22 and tells the story of the Pilgrims who landed in New Plymouth in 1620 after a long trip across the Atlantic on the Mayflower
Starting this month, promo spots produced and edited at Variable and directed by Salomon Ligthelm have begun running on NatGeo and its related networks. The spots “Prayer” and “Tales,” capture the common challenges both groups of new arrivals shared – dealing with potentially hostile native peoples while trying to carve out a life in a forbidding new environment – as seen from the perspective of those seeking religious freedom, thankful for their arrival, and those seeking wealth and fortune, suspicious of possible threats. Both spots use dramatic close-ups intercut with foreboding action scenes, edited to an authentic Native American chant originally composed for the campaign, to create a sense of urgency and tension.
Saints & Strangers was shot on location in South Africa, and to accommodate its accelerated production schedule the Variable team shot the promo spots over a three-day period during actual production of the series itself. “Some of the biggest obstacles we faced were navigating around the schedule and the momentum that was established by the first unit production crew,” says Ligthelm. “We had to find gaps in the schedule that would allow us to work with the resources that the first unit was using, without becoming a burden or getting in the way of what they were doing.”
On the concept that supports both spots, Andy Baker, SVP/Group Creative Director at National Geographic Channels, says the Variable team brought an added nuance to its execution. “The idea that these two groups seemed so different but actually shared a similar experience was something that felt like a rich playground to work with. Salomon had come up with the idea of prayers as an anchoring idea – something to build the spot around as a backbone that laddered up to that bigger concept.” One result of this inspiration was the addition of a chant as the underscore for the action, he adds: “Weaving a Pilgrim prayer with a Native American chant – each one building on the other, forming a track that was half English, half Native – created something that was wholly exciting and dramatic.”
Once back in New York, Ligthelm says he was pleased with how the editorial process flowed while working with Variable editor Joel Douris. “Usually there’s a period of experimentation and ‘discovery’ that happens when you first start putting the edit together,” he explains. “But we had a very clear idea of the musical undertone and having this structural format, which served as the foundation for ‘Prayer’ and ‘Tales,’ made it easy to build from scene to scene.