Michael Maria Morgenbesser, creative director at Jung von Matt DONAU and director Björn Rühmann tell LBB’s Zoe Antonov how a belly searching for itself explored Vienna’s beauty and culture
Long gone are the days when we were encouraged to feel guilty for indulging in amazing food over the holidays, especially when travelling around the world. With most of us not having the chance to do it for a prolonged period of time, now is the perfect opportunity for travel junkies to tick places off their bucket lists and with that, try a plethora of new tastes and cuisines.
This is exactly what Zauberberg and Jung von Matt DONAU wanted to say to anybody planning a trip to Vienna - a message coming straight from the Vienna Tourist Board. After a series of unconventional campaigns by the above mentioned – that gave birth to iconic ad moments like ‘Vienna strips on OnlyFans’ in 2021– the Board teamed up with Jung von Matt DONAU and director Björn Rühmann to produce a ‘surrealist ode to indulgence and acceptance’. The film tells the story of a belly separating from its owner and going on its own self-discovery journey around Vienna, where it finds exactly what it needs - acceptance and indulgence in art, food, and culture. In a heartfelt message to Harry, the man who previously owned Belly, it tells him that it had to go and find itself, or rather find that special someone that will accept it for what it really is - no treadmills or obsessive workouts in sight. As the character dives into Vienna’s riches, Harry finally comes to his senses and reunites with his belly, all to the classical soundtrack by Wiener Symphoniker (Vienna Symphony Orchestra), moving swiftly into an electronic track by DJ Electric Indigo. Both tracks are a homage to Vienna’s musical history rooted in classical music, but also its rebirth in techno in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.
Michael Maria Morgenbesser, creative director at Jung von Matt DONAU, explained that the initial brief that led the team to this profound story was quite simple and the “most liberating one” he could’ve thought of. “Let’s create a film that draws viewers to visit Vienna,” the brief simply stated. “The ideation process thus began where it always begins - finding out what’s special about the product or service you’re trying to promote and where our target group’s minds are at. We took it from there,” explains Michael. That led the team to createa film that showed a lot of the best the city has to offer - culture, a vibrant nightlife, art, music, luxurious hotels and of course amazing food and cake.
“The underlying message beneath all this is quite simple,” says Michael, “Vienna is a city that accepts you just the way you are. If you travel there, you are invited to love yourself. The clearest expression of that, we figured, is a moment of real indulgence. No gorging of course, but also no holding back from the sweet things in life. The epitome of depriving yourself of real indulgence is the idea of getting rid of your belly - we hoped that turning the unwanted son into a lovable character who is just looking for a place where he can belong, will help us connect with our viewers.”
And so it did! But this hedonistic approach can’t really contain itself into a minute or less, so the spot runs for a whopping five minutes and 50 seconds, which according to Michael, came naturally with the writing process. “There was so much to the story we wanted to tell. At some point we didn’t even really aim for a time anymore, we just let the pictures speak for themselves and chose to find out the final length in the edit. Let’s just say, there was an eight minute version as well…”
When trying to show off all of Vienna’s beauty, one could easily end up with something even longer than eight minutes. This is why when choosing the spots for filming the team had to work with intent. “Vienna’s art scene has long focused on questioning body ideals,” says Michael. “And the important ‘Kaffeehauskultur’ has turned indulging into an art form. We wanted the locations to reflect the city’s constant questioning of stereotypes, hustle culture, and the ways in which it creates its own forms of indulgence.”
Michael also explains that the team decided humour was the best way to convey the lighthearted nature of the film while still keeping it on brand and delivering the message they aimed for. This is why the Vienna Tourist Board and the creative team tried to find the perfect balance and tone that is distinct for the city. “This is a place rich in diverse thinkers, favouring a strange kind of humour. Subtle, smart, multi-layered, off-beat. But always grounded in truth. It’s the base for all of the work we do,” he said.
The city’s humour wasn’t the only thing the campaign aimed to push forward, but also the sense of sincerity one gets when exploring Vienna. “We wanted to show the depth that Vienna has to offer, once you open its doors. The ‘Tractatus’ by the famous Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is quite a slim book as well, but once you dive in, it shows you a new world. If our film can be even remotely close to that, I think we did something right,” says Michael.
Björn Rühmann, the director behind ‘Belly’ – and as somebody who is self-described as ‘always rooting for the underdog’ – instantly felt a connection with the anti-hero at the face of the rejected belly. From the start, he and Michael decided to opt for a real life belly costume, rather than a CGI approach. “We then played around with the design, making various illustrations of the belly - our aim was to make it as likeable as possible, while still being recognisable as a belly.” Ultimately, Björn loved the idea of the belly looking a bit ‘like Humpty Dumpty without arms’, but to reach that they went through a few failed designs, such as the belly being completely naked which proved ‘a bit off-putting’.
After dressing him in his blue sweater, socks and hat, they decided they wanted it to be agile enough to walk, run, sit, jump, turn and dance, so they decided to use a costume with an actor inside of it (who had to act wearing the costume at more than 30 degree weather during the day). “As always, you only find out about the obstacles when you start making things,” says Björn. “So, the fittings were crucial for us to be able to adapt the costumes, make them as light as possible, and make sure that the actor could see through a small hole in the hat.”
When it came to conveying emotion, that proved a bit of a challenge, as the belly has no face to show any emotion with. “Even though we had limitations with that, I tried to convey as much feeling as possible through body language. A slightly more hunched posture in the beginning to signify unhappiness, and a blossoming as he arrives in Vienna and starts jumping, running and spinning,” explains Björn. Staying in the realm of subtlety, the team managed to capture the emotional state of a belly quite well. And even though shooting a belly walk around Vienna seems quite straightforward, personification always has its difficult sides. For example, on the day of the shoot, Björn was sure something was off and it took him hours to finally realise that it was the shoes that he had initially chosen, that made the belly look like ‘an old person’s belly’. “Once we changed to white trainers, our belly immediately started to look more youthful!”
Ultimately, Björn says that nothing made the team happier than seeing their belly strut around Vienna. “We all fell in love with the character. And we still feel for him now, when watching the film.”