- Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2012
- 0 Comments
- LOS ANGELES
As chronicled in SHOOT, branded content and/or ad agency-originated fare has made a splash on the film festival circuit this year, prime examples being the documentaries Re:Generation Music Project, Waiting For Lightning, and Escape Fire: The Fight To Rescue American Healthcare. Produced by Our Time Projects (documentarian Matthew Heineman's company) and Aisle C Productions, a unit of OgilvyEntertainment, Escape Fire debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, later played at the Dallas International Film Festival, and then won the Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Re:Generation Music Project, directed by Amir Bar-Lev of RSA Films for GreenLight Media & Marketing in association with the Grammys and sponsored by Hyundai Veloster, made its fest debut at the South By Southwest Film Festival (SXSW). And Waiting For Lightning, directed by Jacob Rosenberg of Bandito Brothers, had its world premiere at SXSW.
This run--now extending to short films--continued at the recently wrapped (June 14-24) Los Angeles Film Festival as reflected in work from directors Lucy Walker of Supply & Demand Integrated, Kat Coiro whose spot roost is Futuristic Films, and Dante Ariola of MJZ.
Debuting at a Los Angeles Film Festival screening/press event were a couple of Walker-directed shorts in the Responsibility Project series for Liberty Mutual out of agency Hill Holliday, Boston. Walker--whose Waste Land was nominated for a Best Feature Documentary Oscar in 2011, followed by The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom which earned an Oscar nom for Best Documentary Short this year--directed four Responsibility Project shorts featuring athletes from different countries who aspire to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The first short debuted online, painting an intimate portrait of equestrian Mary King who's won Silver (in Athens) and Bronze (in Beijing), and is now looking to score the elusive Gold Medal for the U.K., host country of this year's Summer Games. The two Walker-helmed shorts screened at the L.A. Festival were one featuring a male and a female Mongolian archer, which debuted the same day online, and another focusing on a Brazilian rower. The latter was screened in advance of its scheduled nationwide release in July on ResponsibilityProject.com. The fourth short from Walker is slated to debut on the same site in August, centering on Anjali Forbes-Pratt, an American wheelchair racer looking to compete in the 2012 Paralympics.
Jantsan Gantugs and Bishindee Urantugalag are the Mongolian archers featured in the short which also profiles the culture of Mongolia, one in which archery is in people's blood. A Mongolian voice (translated into English via subtitles) relates, "From 8 years young to 80 years old, we shoot," noting that Genghis Khan conquered half the world with the bow and arrow. Being in a culture where archery is an integral part of history and society only serves to amplify the pressures and responsibilities inherent in representing Mongolia at the Summer Games.
The "Responsibility" theme figures even more poignantly in Walker's deft portrayal of Brazilian rower Ailson Eraclito de Silva, generally regarded as the best in his country. However, an unexpected twist in his story comes when he exceeds the weight requirement and doesn't qualify for the Olympic team. In this case, de Silva takes the responsibility for failing to make the 2012 London Games, in turn strengthening his resolve to compete in the 2016 Olympics. Walker gives us insight into that resolve as we get a taste of de Silva's humble beginnings, his father abandoning the family early on, and his mother working hard to support him and his siblings. De Silva has since endeavored to pay his mom back, buying her a home, and starting a family of his own, vowing to give his child what he lacked, "the love of a father."
Similarly the mini-documentary on equestrian King is also moving, showing the perils of horse jumping, with footage of an accident earlier in her career and the anguish she still feels for having that horse mercy killed. You see the special bond and rapport she develops with the horses in her stable, all the while maintaining her responsibilities as a wife and mother. Now in her 50s, King remains a world-class athlete in that rare sport where men and women are on equal footing as competitors.
Immediately after the L.A. Film Festival screened two of her Responsibility Project shorts, SHOOT caught up with Walker who praised Hill Holliday for giving her the freedom to be a documentarian, to choose the athletes whom she regarded as the best subjects for the films. "They asked me who my favorites were from the field we researched and had it narrowed down to," she related. "The agency and the client supported my choices and we went out to do justice to their stories."
As for the unexpected twist in the Brazilian rower's story, Walker said, "You can't script something like that. It was a total surprise and gave the 'Responsibility' theme a whole new dimension we hadn't planned on. That's the beauty of documentary filmmaking."
Supply & Demand produced the shorts with the production house's Tim Case, Charles Salice, Dana Locatell and Kira Carstensen serving as executive producers. On hand for the L.A. Film Festival screening were such contributors as DP Nick Higgins, editor Steve Prestemon of The Whitehouse, and post producer Charleen Manca. (The Mary King short was cut by Gabriel Wrye.)
The Liberty Mutual shorts mark the second major U.S. ad agency assignment helmed by Walker, her first being an American Express project for Crispin Porter+Bogusky, centered on a shoot in Austin, Texas, during Small Business Saturday.
Also making its worldwide premiere at the L.A. Film Fest was Departure Date, a short film that's the centerpiece of a campaign out of San Francisco agency Eleven for Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Australia. Eleven and Virgin Produced (the entertainment arm of the Virgin Group) teamed to create the independent short, selecting Kat Coiro (Life Happens, While We Were Here) to write and direct from a field of finalists. (Her spotmaking roost, Futuristic, was not involved in this project, according to Eleven.)
Departure Date is a romantic comedy with a twist, ultimately bringing together a couple via glimpses of the future as to what their lives would be like had they not connected. Departure Date was shot in 20 hours, across three continents and on three commercial Virgin flights while at 35,000 feet, which was billed as a first for a short film. The cast included Ben Feldman (Mad Men), Nicky Whelan (Hall Pass), Phillip Baker hall, Luis Guzman, Janeane Garofalo and Max Brown. The "aerial" scenes were lensed in Virgin America's first class and main cabin, Virgin Atlantic's upper class and economy cabins and onboard bar, and Virgin Australia's international business cabin.
Mike McKay, chief creative officer at Eleven, recalled the genesis of the film. "How do we announce to the world that Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and Virgin America are all now connected at LAX in Los Angeles? That was the question we had to consider. We had to create something for the specific L.A. audience in a big stylish way. We worked on a lot of ideas but the one that resonated was branded content, a film which is the medium of choice in Los Angeles, the home to filmmaking. But rather than put the product in the film, we decided to put the whole film inside the product, the Virgin planes full of passengers. To make it buzzworthy, we went with the angle of shooting it all at 35,000 feet, setting a precedent for a short film and drumming up press coverage in the process."
After selling the idea to Virgin, Eleven then teamed with Virgin Produced to line up the right director. "We came up with close to 100 different directors as possible options," related Eleven's Anastacia Maggioncalda, a co-producer on Departure Date. "With schedule, availability and other factors, we narrowed the field down to five contenders whom we told the concept and strategy and then asked to write a script. We reviewed the story outlines of the five directors and narrowed it down to three directors. Kat Coiro's story dovetailed with what we were trying to achieve. making the airline a positive place to be through the charm of a romantic comedy."
Virgin America was a sponsor of the Los Angeles Film Festival long before a short was considered. But when the project emerged, a tie-in to this high-profile L.A. event seemed a natural, said McKay, noting that "the entertainment industry, the film and music communities, are prime targets of the client for their travel worldwide." While teasers and a trailer appeared online (latimes.com, YouTube, nytimes.com, Hulu, guardiannews.com, blip.tv, the experiential website www.flyvirgin.com) to pique interest in Departure Date and its showing at the L.A. Festival, future distribution plans were still being developed and decided upon at press time. Among the rollout possibilities is initial exclusive exposure on a media outlet, perhaps a broadcast or cable station/network, followed by the film going wide online. Whatever form it takes, the mainstream media exposure should unfold in the next month or so.
The logistical maze that Eleven and Virgin Produced had to navigate to realize Departure Date included FAA requirements and the like differing in the separate jurisdictions being traversed by the planes. Australia wouldn't approve what had gotten the green light in U.S. skies so the varied regulations had to be reconciled. Plus the shoots were on fully booked flights, meaning that the production crew had to be effective without unduly disturbing Virgin customers. Pre-pro took place on an L.A.-to-London flight, with shooting done on the return trip. Then there was round-trip lensing on Virgin America between L.A. and Dallas, followed by in-flight production on a Virgin Australia aircraft from L.A. to Sydney.
The DP was Doug Chamberlain who shot several of Coiro's films such as Life Happens and While We Were Here. Maggioncalda noted that Eleven had also worked with Chamberlain on a couple of spots several years back for Coinstar. She credited Chamberlain with not only a great job of lensing but also developing and building light-weight lighting that was velcroed onto strategic places on board the planes, helping to properly and naturally illuminate in an unobtrusive manner assorted scenes for Departure Date. Chamberlain shot with the Canon Cinema EOS C300.
Speaking of the Canon C300, it was also deployed in when you find me, a short film produced by two-time Academy Award (Best Picture and Best Director for A Beautiful Mind) winner Ron Howard and directed by his daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard. The short was an outgrowth of Canon's Project Imagin8ion initiative which solicited submissions of still photos from the public at large. From those entries, eight images were selected which served as inspiration for and appeared in when you find me.
A panel session and screening were held at the L.A. Film Festival to delve into when you find me. Moderated by Tim Smith, Canon advisor, Film & TV division, the discussion included the short's producer Kevin Chinoy of Freestyle Picture Company, cinematographer Andrew Lascaris and chief lighting technician Evan Pesses.
A worthwhile short film in its own right, when you find me also had the utilitarian marketing purpose of serving as a branded piece showing the range and depth of what the C300 could deliver. A key to making it work was the editorial integrity afforded the endeavor. Smith noted that Canon honored its promise not to interfere creatively with the short, having no control over story or concept.
Akin to the intent and success of that piece, Canon commissioned another short deploying its new 4K cinema EOS C500. The L.A. Film Festival panel discussion wrapped with a screening of that short, Man and Beast, directed by Dante Ariola of MJZ and shot by cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, who for two straight years has earned ASC Award and Best Cinematography Oscar nominations on the strength of a David Fincher-directed feature. Last year, it was The Social Network; this year, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
The special screening of Man and Beast--which took place well in advance of the film's formal launch scheduled further down the road--was a fitting capper to the festival proceedings on the shorts front, underscoring how branded content of high caliber can be worthy of the film fest circuit. Man and Beast tells the story of Dr. Alan Rabinowitz who as a child had a severe stutter, back when those with his malady were placed in classes with the learning impaired. His one outlet were animals whom he could speak to at home without a stutter (a gerbil, a snake, small pets that could live in a small NYC apartment setting). As a youngster, he realized that these animals were like him--without a voice. And he made a pledge to himself that if one day he could control his stuttering and realize his voice, that he would be a voice for animals. Today, Dr. Rabinowitz is regarded as one of the world's leading big cat experts and was described by Time Magazine as being "The Indiana Jones of Wildlife Conservation."