Net#work BBDO and Bioscope Films grab attention with Corona ‘Free Surfers’ [INTERVIEW]

‘Free Surfers’ is a two-part documentary series honouring two South African surfers who overcame adversity and found their freedom in the ocean. This is a significant piece of South African storytelling, in fact, without it an important part of history might have been lost forever. We go behind the scenes with CCO of Net#work BBDO Roanna Williams and Bioscope Films’ director Kyla Philander.

It’s not easy sharing a name with a pandemic, but in collaborating with the giants at Net#work and Bioscope Films, Corona has once again proven that authenticity and freedom of expression in advertising works. ‘Free Surfers’ honours Big Wave World champion and three-time Western Province surfing champion, Cass Collier and Khanyisa Mqqncibisa, the first female international lifeguard and surfing coach in South Africa.



The last time Corona created such impactful work locally was for ‘Street Surfers’, we know, talk about a tough act to follow, especially for new account holders Net#work BBDO. Led by CCO Roanna Williams, it was a challenge that would pay off. And it has already – ‘Free Surfers’ has been awarded a 2nd in Film by the Creative Circle, and was awarded the IDIDTHAT Best in Craft for direction.

On set for Corona ‘Free Surfers’, L to R, CCO of Net#work BBDO Roanna Williams and Kyla Philander, director at Bioscope Films.

Q: Working on Corona ‘Free Surfers’ and then seeing how positively people have reacted to it must be incredibly rewarding, what meaning do these stories hold for you?

Roanna: As a creative agency, we are in the game of telling compelling stories, and we are constantly creating new narratives, but the fact that these are true South African stories, is powerful. Sharing these means that we are preserving a part of our history. For us, at Net#work BBDO, we embrace and have gratitude for the South Africans in this world, the people in the trenches, who are working hard to get somewhere in life against all odds and pushing their boundaries. We want to tell their stories. As an agency, we know that it takes a team to raise beautiful ideas. This is reflected in these stories. There is an ecosystem to everything. Cass wouldn’t be Cass if it wasn’t for his dad. Khanyisa wouldn’t be Khanyisa if it wasn’t for her community. It’s not about the individual, but about what shapes them. That’s what is so beautiful about this piece, it’s about what was happening around them, the people that influenced them and the challenges they had to face. It’s about what pushed them and how they came out the other side stronger.

Kyla: On an interpersonal level, spending that time with Cass and telling his story, I really connected and aligned with him and it was life-changing for me. With Khanyisa, that narrative and those visuals in the work bring so much excitement to me. There is this quiet confidence about her. I feel she reflects so much of a black femme experience in South Africa and I see her reflected in so many of my own friends. I resonated so much with Cass’s story and I felt a special type of privilege to tell Khanyisa’s story. It’s important to say that for me both pieces hold a very similar significance. This work changed me as a filmmaker, I am so much more excited to tell stories now and so much more aware of my abilities to do so.

Q: What do you think is a key factor to unlocking authentic storytelling like ‘Free Surfers’?

Roanna: The most beautiful part of this for us is that Corona gave us the platform and opportunity to tell these stories. To be given the opportunity to honour two such icons as Cass and Khanyisa and to be able to have the freedom to do it in a compelling way was a true privilege.

Kyla: When brands are paying to tell a story, often there is a lot of censoring, but here everyone wanted to make something honest, something that authentically pays homage to these people. The space Corona gave us, for me, led to this being standout work.

Q: What parts of the shoot were integral to getting their stories told in the right way?

Kyla: First of all, you couldn’t ask for a better group of people to come together and develop work like this. The creatives were tantamount to the story and there was such symbiosis between all of us. We all had the same goal in mind, to tell these beautiful stories with care. Tommy Lawrence and Melanie Nicholson and their team from Corona also really pushed to create the work in a respectful way.

Roanna:  Kyla’s director’s treatment delivered three things: authenticity, authenticity and authenticity. And we needed this to tell these stories successfully. We just knew that Kyla was the perfect director to collaborate with us. They instantly connected with this work and resonated with both Cass and Khanyi’s stories. Kyla added so much value and insights and very quickly understood the Corona film world. Our initial gut instinct was right. Kyla did a beautiful job.

Q: How did you manage to get Cass and Khanyisa to share so much of themselves?  

Roana: We had to work in a very considered way because we only had a day with each of them to film their stories. There was a separate day that they filmed in the water surfing. Kyla added massive value because they have this ability to make their subjects, in this case, Cass and Khanyisa, feel so safe, unguarded and comfortable. This ability means we could get to the truth and the heart, of the story. We really wanted to do their stories justice in the best possible way and do it with care and respect, and I think we did.

Kyla: Even more than subject or character, it’s ultimately Cass and Khanyisa’s story and they are just helping me to facilitate it. It’s a collaboration. Right from the beginning, it’s important to share with them the reason why I ask the questions I do and why it’s important. I also try to be very mindful in the entire process, because they’re entrusting you with their stories and you can’t exploit that.

Wanna (s)talk some more? Net#work BBDO on IDIDTHAT and Company Website. Bioscope Films on IDIDTHAT and Company Website.

Contact Net#work BBDO

+27 11 912 0000

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View Website

Contact Bioscope

Executive Producer | Daniel Kaplan

View I DID THAT Profile
View Bioscope Films Website

Produced by the IDIDTHAT Content Studio – Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

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This Editorial is paid for by Net#work BBDO and Bioscope Films. Want our studio to create content that puts your agency/company/kickass ad you made in bright lights for the whole industry to see? View or editorial packages or contact and we’ll make it happen! #Boom