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Choreography Is Key

Cinematographer Jake Polonsky, BSC hits all the right moves for director Edgar Wright’s upbeat McDonald’s advert.

As the storied fast-food chain’s recent U.K. ad campaign makes clear, “Fancy a McDonald’s?” is a question best asked — and answered — with a raise of the eyebrows and a dance out of the office. The campaign’s "#RaiseYourArches" television spot was directed by Edgar Wright and features the skillful camerawork of cinematographer Jake Polonsky, BSC; the duo's previous collaborations include the 2021 music documentary The Sparks Brothers. In this Q&A, Polonsky shares how Wright’s affinity for anamorphic helped steer their decision to capture the spot with C Series optics supplied by Panavision London.

Panavision: How would you describe the look of this spot?

Jake Polonsky, BSC: The aim with the look was a kind of heightened reality, so I wanted some beautiful lenses, but without the feeling that we were in 'a movie.' The choreography was key, and once we had an idea from Jen White, our wonderful choreographer, of how the movement would work, then it was time to start to choreograph the camera. The camera is always moving, whether on a dolly, Steadicam, crane or drone — we needed to be as kinetic as the office workers, if not more.

One of the things that I really like about Edgar's work is his sense of humor with camera movement. Not many people have a feeling for this, but over the years that I've worked with him, I've come to know Edgar has a very specific sense of where he wants the camera to be when. With this kind of project, it's also about how to get the humor out of what you show the audience in specific moments. Whip pans, snap zooms and so on all help to make the language of the camera more engaging by adding punctuation and emphasis to specific pieces of action and looks.

Were there any particular visual references you looked at for inspiration?

Polonsky: We didn’t discuss a lot of references for this ad. I think we jointly had a clear sense of what we were aiming for, without needing to base it on someone else’s work. But in terms of Edgar’s previous films, it felt like this had the most in common with Baby Driver, in terms of how everything was being driven by the music track. From the very first agency script I read, the Yello song ‘Oh Yeah’ was an integral part of the film, and many parts of the action and camera were tied to specific moments in that song.

What brought you to Panavision for this project?

Polonsky: I know Edgar loves anamorphic lenses, and for me, the C Series still represents the gold standard of everything I look for in anamorphic glass — a perfect level of softness and gorgeous flares, all in compact, reasonably light housings. You really can’t go wrong with Cs in my opinion. Every time you put one on a finder or a camera, the world just looks more interesting.

The Cs softened off the edges of what could otherwise have been quite a sterile-looking location. We were filming in the old Diageo building in West London, which has a lot of straight lines and hard edges. Having a little curved 'funk' around the edges added some personality to the place.

How did this project compare to others in your career?

Polonsky: This was an opportunity to take a lot of my knowledge and experience and roll it into a short project with a very talented director. I’ve spent a lot of the last few years on longer TV shows, and it’s nice to have the chance to be back in a world that I started out in — commercials and music videos — where it can be a bit more of a ‘sprint’ rather than a ‘marathon.’ On a shorter project, you can bring a lot of energy to every shoot day.

Another big difference was the process that Edgar has, which involves as much rehearsal as possible. We mapped out every part of the spot before the actual shoot days, with the real cast in place, which allowed an awful lot of troubleshooting and creativity to happen in advance.

What inspired you to become a cinematographer — and what keeps you inspired today?

Polonsky: My dad sneaked me into the Renoir Cinema in London to see Peter Greenaway’s Drowning by Numbers when I was a kid. For some reason it hit me like a thunderbolt. Michael Nyman’s music, Sacha Vierny’s photography, and Greenaway’s unique approach to filmmaking. I’d never seen anything like it. My path was set.

As far as today, I believe inspiration can be anywhere — in a random light reflection in your living room, a beautiful meal, a conversation with an old friend, or at an exhibition of photos you’ve never seen before. I think as long as you keep looking and experiencing, you can keep finding inspiration around you. Right now, I’m really enjoying Rick Rubin’s book on creativity, The Creative Act. I’d love to film him at work.