AICP Base Camp Sets Up Shop At Intersection Between Advertising & TV
"Life in the Intersection Between Advertising and Television" panelists (l-r): Jennifer Sofio Hall of the Rock Paper Scissors Group; "Free Solo" filmmaker Chai Vasarhelyi; discussion moderator Roberta Griefer of SHOOT; Hannes Ciatti of JohnXHannes; Violaine Etienne of Serial Pictures; and Brian O'Rourke of TBWA/Chiat/Day and TBWA/Media Arts Lab
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Among the seminars held at AICP Base Camp during the just wrapped AICP Week in New York--also highlighted by the AICP Next Awards and AICP Show--was a session exploring “Life in the Intersection Between Advertising and Television.” Panelists from the agency, production company, post and indie documentary worlds shed light on stellar projects including Montefiore hospital’s feature-length film Corazon, a Cannes Grand Prix winner and Entertainment Gold Lion winner last year, as well as the lauded Free Solo, which earlier this year won the Best Feature Documentary Oscar. 

Presented by AICP and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Commercials Peer Group, this Base Camp discussion was moderated by SHOOT publisher and editorial director Roberta Griefer. The lineup of panelists consisted of; Hannes Ciatti, founder/chief creative officer of agency JohnXHannes; Violaine Etienne, founding partner/executive producer of Serial Pictures; Jennifer Sofio Hall, managing director of the Rock Paper Scissors family of companies; Brian O’Rourke, executive director of production, TBWA\Chiat\Day and TBWA\Media Arts Lab; and filmmaker Chai Vasarhelyi, who co-directed Free Solo with her husband, Jimmy Chin. 

JohnXHannes and Serial Pictures teamed on Corazon which earlier this week won its latest accolades, a pair of AICP Next honors. Directed by feature filmmaker John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition) who is handled in the ad arena by Serial Pictures, Corazon tells the real-life story of Elena Ramirez (portrayed by Ana de Armas), a young Dominican sex worker living in Santo Domingo who is selling her body to provide for her family--only Ramirez’s body is failing her. She has a bad heart and has been given months to live unless she gets a new heart. After fainting, Elena meets a U.S.-based cardiologist from Montefiore, Dr. Mario Garcia (portrayed by Demian Bichir), who is volunteering in his native hometown of Santo Domingo. Ramirez is past the point of help from conventional medicine, but Dr. Garcia gives her a fighting chance to live via a mechanical heart surgery that he and his colleagues can only perform at Montefiore. Ramirez sets out on a journey from Santo Domingo to New York City, facing challenges along the way, but always motivated by her conviction to live. 

JohnXHannes’ Ciatti said that the agency researched patient stories at Montefiore, ultimately deciding on the one about Ramirez. The agency originally considered producing a documentary but ultimately decided that wasn’t the route to go as patients talking, somewhat standard fare in hospital/healthcare-related content, might not be the most engaging means to connect with an audience. A narrative feature bringing Ramirez and Dr. Garcia’s relationship to life then became the focus. JohnXHannes sought out directors, eventually gravitating towards Hillcoat, bringing him and Serial Pictures into the process early on. Ciatti said he was drawn to Hillcoat’s belief and dedication to the story and the project’s sense of purpose. Serial’s Etienne brought in a screenwriter, Kelley Sane, and Hilton’s reputation drew in world-class talent including Oscar-nominated (Arrival) DP Bradford Young, Academy Award-winning (The Social Network) composer Atticus Ross, and a cast headlined by Bichir, an Oscar nominee for A Better Life, and de Armas (Blade Runner 2049, Hands of Stone, and the newly named James Bond girl). 

Etienne said the process was creatively inspiring, including a chance for Hillcoat and Sane to meet the real people, Ramirez and Dr. Garcia. Etienne noted that there were “things Elena told us that Dr. Garcia didn’t know about.” Personal insights and reflections were shared in this initial conversation between the filmmakers and the story protagonists upon whom the feature was based. Etienne added, “We weren’t put in a position to bend the narrative around a product.” The focus was the story, which conveyed what the brand stands for. Corazon, she said, was “not about trying to sell something...It was about being truthful.”

Making an emotionally moving film was just part of Corazon’s marketplace impact. The feature, which rolled out at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, carried a meaningful call to action. Audiences leaving theaters were prompted to become organ donors by pressing their phones to their hearts, bringing Ramirez to life in Corazón movie posters and Times Square billboards. Interactive technology helped viewers register with Donate Life America in just 15 seconds. Some 4,000 people signed up to be organ donors. With each donor able to give as many as eight vital organs, this potentially means some 32,000 lives can be positively impacted.

Corazon continues to help build awareness for the importance of organ donations, generating millions of views online. Ciatti noted that negotiations are underway to make Corazon available via more platforms, including Amazon, HBO and iTunes.

Free Solo
Vasarhelyi said that we’re in a great time for documentary filmmaking as theatrical, TV and streaming options have become more readily available to connect with audiences. Documentary funding is also on the rise, far more significant than it was some 10 or so years ago. Vasarhelyi likes to call this an “iron age” for documentaries which are fast moving towards a golden era. Free Solo itself reflects the different outlets for exposure in that after having won the Oscar, it is now considered a leading contender via its play on National Geographic for Emmy consideration.

Free Solo introduces us to Alex Honnold as he tries to become the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite’s 3,000-foot-high El Capitan Wall. With no ropes or safety gear, he completed a major feat in rock climbing history. But the documentary does far more than chronicle an achievement. Free Solo also gave viewers access to Honnold’s humanity, which made him all the more relatable to them. He has many fears in everyday life, finding it difficult at times to connect with others. He continually pushes himself to overcome those fears and improve who he is. His vulnerability comes through in Free Solo, as does the value of dedication, courage and hard work to achieve a goal.

This year, Free Solo garnered Vasarhelyi and Chin their second DGA Award nomination, the first coming in 2016 for their documentary Meru, a breathtaking story about two difficult ascents of a Himalayan peak.

While their focus continues on documentary filmmaking, Vasarhelyi said she and Chin are intrigued by select possibilities on the narrative feature front. “Nonfiction  is tied to the truth,” she said. But fiction opens up other opportunities, working with talented actors who can emote for you instead of waiting for emotion for months on end in the documentary process. “Our goal is to always be in nonfiction,” she affirmed while open to a bit of narrative if the right project emerges.

Vasarhelyi and Chin are also open to short-form fare. They are on the directorial roster of commercialmaking/branded content production house Nonfiction Unlimited.

Homepod, GT Academy
O’Rourke in his capacities at TBWA\Chiat\Day and TBWA\Media Arts Lab has been at the forefront of meshing the worlds of branding and entertainment. For Apple via TBWA/MAL, he was involved in director Spike Jonze’s “Welcome Home” introducing Apple’s Homepod.

The piece--which earlier this year won MJZ’s Jonze his first career DGA Award--stars musician and dancer FKA twigs who is situated in her rather modest, borderline drab apartment--but that all changes when her Homepod speaker blares out an Anderson.Paak track titled “‘Til It’s Over.” FKA twigs breaks out into an expansive dance--while her apartment in turn expands. Her roost is transformed as the music positively impacts where her head is at. We see both her and her abode entertainingly  grow and evolve before our eyes.

O’Rourke credited Apple for having an open mind and “pushing the craft,” realizing that in Jonze’s hands, “an idea can morph and grow.” One unexpected aspect was the construction of an ambitious set which wasn’t envisioned when the job was awarded. Jonze, related O’Rourke, decided to not go the visual effects route and to achieve what he wanted practically.” To be on such an artistic set, recalled O’Rourke, was inspiring and humbling.

“Welcome Home” continues O’Rourke’s track record of straddling advertising and entertainment, including the memorable Nissan and Sony GT Academy USA TV series in which players of a car racing video game translated their proficiency into professional auto racing. The highest scorers were sent to a driving academy and then competed for the chance to go on the real-world racing circuit. Directed by Jeff Zwart of RadicalMedia for TBWA\Chiat\Day, GT Academy was an honoree in the Next Product Integration category in 2012. Furthermore, GT Academy won the inaugural Most Next Award, which best exemplifies from among Next winners the most innovative and forward-thinking work of the year. GT Academy had a four-season run on Spike TV.

Game of Thrones
The Rock Paper Scissors family includes editorial house Rock Paper Scissors, TV/film marketing shop Jax, VFX studio a52, Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment, and motion design house Elastic. The latter, the original production company behind the Emmy-winning opening titles over the years for HBO’s Game of Thrones, was called upon to create a new version of the title sequence, this time consisting of nearly 3,000 Oreo cookies. The sweet treat sequence promoted the release of limited edition Oreos inspired by Game of Thrones.

Agency 360i approached Elastic on behalf of Mondelez International brand Oreo and HBO, the special cookies being introduced just prior to Game of Thrones’ final season.

The project exemplifies Rock Paper Scissors’ footholds in both the advertising and entertainment sectors. The company’s managing director Hall said she likes to tell entertainment clients that “we cut our teeth in advertising,” meaning that the Rock Paper Scissors companies are good at collaboration and creative problem solving. To the ad community, she noted that Rock Paper Scissors likes to tell agencies and brands about their storytelling expertise stemming from an entertainment pedigree.

Panel Video
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Academy governors
Rich Carter, founding partner in production house brother and AICP National Board Chairman, and producer Ann Leslie Uzdavinis made some opening remarks at the “Life in the Intersection Between Advertising and Television” panel. Carter and Uzdavinis spoke in their capacity as governors of the Television Academy’s Commercials Peer Group and presenters of the panel discussion.

Both touched upon the benefits of Academy membership which has become more important as advertising and entertainment worlds intersect. Uzdavinis noted that for the first time in its history, the TV Academy has a commercial producer as its chairman, RadicalMedia’s Frank Scherma. She noted that Scherma’s efforts some 20-plus years ago were integral to the Academy establishing a primetime commercial Emmy Award.

The "Life in the Intersection Between Advertising and Television" session was one of many Base Camp discussions covering production, post, business affairs and more that ran over a three-day stretch with 80-plus speakers.


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