The trick behind great treats! Making The Co-operative’s Halloween TV advert.

October 25, 2012 by The Co-op Observer Behind the scenes

When we see the stars of Hollywood in their glittering finery, walking the red carpet to yet another amazing event it would be easy to think their lives are like that all the time.

Recently we went behind the scenes to see the making of The Co-operative’s latest TV advert for Halloween.

While it’s not exactly Hollywood, we certainly gained a greater understanding of film, and what goes on behind the camera, and we were surprised at just how much hard work goes into making a 20 second TV advert.

Here’s the story of how we brought Halloween to life, without too many scary bits.

What would our Halloween story be?

The preparation started way back in August, and if that sounds a bit early, just think, we are working on Christmas now!

In August we worked out what the scenario would be, basically what story we’d look to tell. Television advertising is expensive and we knew we would only have a 20 second advert – it can take that long to remember what you’re doing sometimes, but we had to get the whole story over in that time.

This year we wanted to focus on the great treats you can get from The Co-operative for just £1, and the wide selection of frozen party food that’s available, so mums don’t have to worry if their house suddenly fills with hungry little ghosts and witches.

The writers had to imagine the scene and write their script, considering what time of day it would be in the ad, and who would be there. Would it be mum and dad? How many children might there be? And how would we show the food that we were advertising? How would they show treats like Haribo Horror Mix, and lovely chocolate Ă©clairs in the same ad?

Well, fortunately the writers are good at things like that and once they had their ideas we then needed to get the script approved by the senior people at The Co-operative, and then by something called Clearcast. Clearcast is the organisation that approves all advertising shown on British TV ensuring that it is decent, legal and that any claims made are true.

Meeting the director

Suddenly it’s September already, the scripts have been approved and it’s time to get the team together to discuss all the details of making the advert.

There’s a big meeting called pre-production, and it’s literally that – working everything out before starting the production.

The most important person at this session is the director. He sets out his vision, just like Steven Spielberg I guess, and all the experts work through the best way to make the little film. Surprisingly films are rarely made in the sequence that they end up being shown in. For us we decided to film everything that would be static, we call these pack shots, on the first day, and then everything with actors on the second.

Every little detail is considered. We use big boards with all sorts of ideas stuck to them in the form of drawings and pictures, we call them mood boards. The wardrobe mistress (there are many strange job titles in film) works out what everyone will wear, and the props master has to know what he’ll need to ensure everything is shown at its best.

For The Co-operative the main prop is the food, and it’s important to know how much we’ll need and whether it needs to be chilled or frozen. The home economist will need to know how many items she may need to cook and how many ovens that might take.

Phew! I never knew there was so much preparation!

Finally the production manager creates a really detailed schedule for every person and every item that’s required. They need to consider when things will arrive, how they will be stored, how people, especially children, will be looked after and of course all the kit that’s required for the actual filming.


  • Preparing the range shot.
  • Big screens around the set let us see how the shot is looking.
  • The kitchen on set is ready to be filled with excited children.
  • The director checks the camera is at the best angle.
  • Members of the crew step behind the camera while we adjust lighting and zoom.
  • The pumpkin is ready for its close up.
  • Making sure we have got the best side of the pumpkin.
  • Smile for the camera!
  • Do you like our fake garden?
  • Just some of the costumes we choose from for the characters to wear.
  • Close up of the children grabbing the treats.
  • We use stands to prop the products upright.
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The shoot. Day One: Scary Treats and Party Favourites

The film crew start to arrive very early. Everything needs to be prepared in order and the first guys on site are the lighting and camera men, setting up the huge lights that will create the effect of the right time of day and even time of year.

We were going to shoot the food and pack shots, that’s all the products, on the first day. I thought that would be easy. How wrong I was!

The prop master builds his own little set to show off each product and to make sure each box or packet looks perfect, and that the product name and brand can be clearly seen. He’ll use an anti-glare spray to help avoid light reflecting off shiny packets, and he’ll have a range of stands to prop up items, but these mustn’t be seen.

There is a lot of practising with dummies before the actual food is brought out, but then the team have to work quickly – the lights create a lot of heat and you can imagine what that does to those lovely éclairs.

Food looks fantastic just when it comes out of the oven, but doesn’t look so great fifteen minutes later. To avoid any waste there’s always a huge push to get the ideal shot as quickly as possible, yet without rushing. The hand artist (that’s the person who places the food on the table such as the tray of chicken samosas and breaded torpedo prawns in our Halloween ad) may have to make the same small movement time and time again until the director is confident that he has the best possible shot.

And I thought this would be the easy day? It was after seven in the evening when we finished, and there was still the clearing up to do, that’s more than a thirteen hour day. I was tired out, but the big day with the actors was next.

The shoot. Day Two. Witches, Ghouls and Ghosts

Another early start. Do these people ever sleep? On day two we had the people to film and this time the preparation was all about getting the wardrobe sorted out, then being sure the lighting was right for the time of day.

Rather than use the artists too much, members of the crew stand in where the actors will be so that the lighting can be adjusted, and in the meantime the actors are having their make up done, which included some brilliant face painting for the children – you can imagine how much they loved that!

There were many many rehearsals, and then lots of takes of each scene, perhaps changing the emphasis on the words spoken, or where the mum stood, then trying it all over again with the lighting slightly different.

The best fun though was working with the children.

Imagine a group of six and seven year olds in a party scenario, but one where they had to re-enact the same scene, over and over. It was especially difficult for them as they had to take their treats out of the bowl time and time again, but without tucking in. They were brilliant though and the fact that Sarah, our mum in the ads, is a seasoned professional helped it go smoothly.

One of our little girls, Evie, had a wobbly tooth when she arrived, and part way through the filming it came out! The little sweetheart was quite upset, but the tears soon dried when she saw the assistant director with his face painted just like hers. Evie didn’t have to wait for the tooth fairy that time, she had her treat straight away for being a little star.

Take one, take two… take eighteen! Each little scene is filmed again and again in the director’s quest to achieve the perfect shot, and all the good ones are marked to make them easier to find when we start editing.

It must be quite hard, especially for the children, to create the feeling of excitement that the ad conveys when they do the same thing so many times. Nonetheless they were great right through to the point when the director shouted “It’s a wrap!” and the whole team clapped and cheered.

Getting it all in order

After two days work we had hours of film and we needed to take all the very best bits to create the final ad. This bit is called editing and it’s done by a specialist company.

First up they take all the shots we have marked as favourites using them to create a rough version of the ad. Then they work through many versions, improving it all the time, until they are confident they have the best cut they are going to get.

The voice over is recorded. That’s the guy’s voice in the background who says things like “The Co-operative, Good With Food”. Then everything has to be approved again by the senior team at The Co-operative, and Clearcast. All this happens just in time for the advert to go on air for Halloween. Then when we think that we should be able to breathe a sigh of relief it’s time to get on with Christmas!

That’s eight or more weeks work, at least thirty people involved, and a lot of late nights. No wonder a full length film takes a long time to make, perhaps the stars don’t have it so easy after all.

But what about the monster? Ah yes! There’s the scary friend of Frankenstein a couple of seconds into the film. We found him in a park in Didsbury, South Manchester, and he didn’t mind being filmed for Halloween. He was a bit frightening even though he was nice to us.

The end result

So was all the months of hard work worth it? You tell us!

Watch the ads and let us know your thoughts below.


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