John West Salmon Bear Fight

Behind the camera: Cameraman, Stephen Blackman
Where: Invercauld Estate, near Balmoral, on Deeside
Photo Summary: The actor playing John West and an actor in a bear suit who was duplicated three more times to create the other bears. Neil Morrissey (the voice of Postman Pat) does the voice over
Picture Taken: Released on November 20, 2000

On November 20, 2000, John West canned salmon a Heinz product (H.J. Heinz acquired John West from Unilever in 1997) that caters to the British market released a funny little commercial. It was created by the Leo Burnett agency in London, directed by Danny Kleinman of Spectre. The ad was written and created by one Paul Silburn who had actually left Leo Burnett but came back epically to do this commercial. Since the commercial Paul has become the executive creative director at Fallon Worldwide in Minneapolis. In Nov 2006 the Viral marketing company, The Viral Factory, collated page impression figures from websites such as YouTube and Google Videos. They determined that this video as of Nov 2006 had been viewed 300 million times. There was also an alternate ending shot for the video.

Video Break Down

Voice Over: At the river mouth the bears catch only the tastiest most tender salmon, which is exactly what we at John West want.
Camera zooms into one of the bears that has just caught a fish. Out of the corner of the screen a fisherman with orange pants runs up to the bear and engages in kung fu fighting. The bear delivers a kick or two then the man calls out, “Oh look – an eagle!” With a kick to the bear’s groin. The bear falls and the man takes off with the fish.
Voice Over:John West endure the worst to bring you the best.

Man in a Suit

Paul Silburn did an interview where he talked about filming the spot:

The spot was facilitated by the existence of an animatronic bear suit from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. A stunt man from Henson’s, who incidentally specializes in playing animals, wore the seven-foot-tall suit and operated the animatronic head. Choreography between the bear and the fisherman was perfected in London to minimize the time spent inside the extremely heavy and hot costume.

Compositing was involved to achieve the final look of the commercial, though no real bears were used. In addition to playing the role of the lead bear, “Dave bear” (the fisherman was also named Dave) stood in for the other feeding grizzlies. “It’s all Dave in the bear suit,” remarks Silburn.

The commercial was shot on the Invercauld Estate, near Balmoral, on the river Dee in the Scottish Highlands.

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1 thought on “John West Salmon Bear Fight

  1. I remember when this commercial was first shown on Facebook, I’d never seen one quite like this, it was hilarious.
    Does anyone know who played the bear and the fisherman?

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