Picture Tree director, Wim Steytler, is once again stretching the boundaries of television commercial-making with his moving new ad for Metropolitan.
Inspired by Metropolitan's tagline of "No matter who you are or where you come from, we believe in you", the commercial sees Steytler employ his signature documentary approach to capture a real-life story of triumph over adversity, in the life of Nonhlanhla Msibi.
You may have noticed the young girl in the TV ad just before and after Clash of the Choirs
flights on Mzansi Magic (DSTV) every Sunday, singing a hauntingly beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace" before her schoolmates? The one whose story leaves a bit of a lump in your throat? That's Nonhlanhla.
The commercial follows a day-in-the-life of the Kliptown schoolgirl, who lives in a one-room shack with her family, waking at midnight to put in the studying she needs to complete matric in 2014.
Nonhlanhla finds strength in performances with the choir she belongs to - and her singing talent provides the uplifting moment in the commercial when she performs in front of her schoolmates who are taken aback at her beautiful voice.
Steytler found the commercial's star during a week of on-the-ground talent scouting in Hillbrow, Soweto and other areas of Johannesburg. "We went into orphanages, schools and even under bridges to speak to street children, to find potential real life stories for the commercial," explains Steytler. "I was just amazed at the incredible talent we discovered in such a short space of time."
Working with care to build up the confidence of the teenagers, Steytler filmed a short singing audition with each kid, and also undertook an interview to gain a basic understanding of their background.
A shortlist of 18 children was created from this intensive process and Steytler then returned to these children to gain more in-depth insight into their world. "We were looking for someone whose real-life world reflects the Metropolitan ethos of caring, no matter where you hail from," says the director.
This resulted in the creation of eight highly-crafted short casting tapes which were presented to Ogilvy, the agency on the commercial. In the end, Nomhlanhla was chosen because of her great voice and ability to tell a story through her daily life and environment.
"It was important that all the children felt highly valued in the process and so it was a challenge to build up trust, in the short timeframe allowed by the making of a commercial as opposed to a full-length documentary," says Steytler of the shoot.
But, this intense process has resulted in one of the most moving commercials of 2014 - and one that carries the strength of the Metropolitan brand. And as a result, Metropolitan is sponsoring an education bursary to Nonhlanhla on her successful completion of Matric in whatever field she chooses, as well as providing her with financial support for three years of tertiary studies. In addition, it has donated much needed new desks and chairs to Nonhlanhla's school and has arranged for life skills workshops and coaching for its 2014 matriculants.