Monday, November 20, 2017
  • Monday, Mar. 27, 2017
Spring 2017 Director's Profile: Cole Webley
Cole Webley
Opening the door to the Super Bowl

The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history came with this year’s tale of two games within one—the first dominated at the outset by the Atlanta Falcons, the second taken over by the eventual winner, the New England Patriots.

In what shaped up as a parallel universe, the accompanying crop of Super Bowl commercials also featured two distinctly different games—those advertisers looking to entertain, often opting for the comedic, balanced by a number of sponsors who instead decided to address social issues, at times touching upon the politically charged topic of immigration.

The latter was perhaps most compellingly exemplified in 84 Lumber’s "The Journey Begins," a spot which shows a mother and daughter embarking on a long, arduous sojourn from Mexico to the U.S. for a better life.  The broadcast ad ends with a website address, Journey84.com, inviting viewers to continue the trek. The second part of the journey online depicted the mom and daughter encountering a large wall blocking their path but then they come upon a door through which appears a crack of light, showing it has the potential to open. A supered message reads, "The will to succeed is always welcome here." Brunner, Pittsburgh—with a creative team headed by CCO Rob Schapiro— served as agency on the job.

At first the entire journey was to have been captured in a broadcast :90 to be shown during the Big Game. But the FOX network objected to the appearance of a wall, reasoning that it was too controversial a sight during these divisive times. 84 Lumber, Brunner and director Cole Webley of production house Sanctuary then problem solved, deciding to use the TV spot to drive traffic to the web where the rest of the journey—wall, door and all—could be seen by viewers.

"There was never any thought of scrapping the spot when FOX said we couldn’t air it in its intended form," said Webley who added that the statement made by the entire "Journey" is less political than some have construed. "We weren’t advocating opening the borders to everyone. At the same time, we wanted to show that there was room in this country for those who aspire to a better life, decent people who legally enter the U.S., reflecting an empathy for them. That’s why the door had a crack of light. It’s a branding message for 84 Lumber, associating it with a belief in and a commitment to opening up opportunities for people."

In SHOOT’s annual Super Bowl survey of creatives, Chuck McBride, founder/chief creative officer of Cutwater, expressed admiration for a previously largely unheard of company in Pennsylvania, 84 Lumber, and its agency having "the balls" to take on a controversial subject.

Similarly Paula Maki, managing creative director of mono, San Francisco, told SHOOT for that same survey, "Slow clap to the executives at 84 Lumber who must have thought, ‘Well if we’re going to spend 5 million dollars...’ Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Every single shot had a purpose. Every single frame propelled you forward into the journey. Who is 84 Lumber? Doesn’t matter. We’re all going to the website to see what happens to the little girl."

Webley applied a deft directorial touch to the story, noting that it was right in his creative/filmmaking wheelhouse. "Graphic and visceral work does not represent who I am," he shared. "I’m more intent on telling longer narratives, delving more deeply into people and their stories. I’m always looking for a script I can sink my teeth into—and this was it for me. In recent years where longer versions of branding messages are appearing across different platforms, I’ve been able to tap into more of these story-driven opportunities."

Still this particular opportunity admittedly prompted some initial pause on Webley’s part. "I was a little nervous to be honest about how to deal with such an intense subject matter. The agency was too. We wanted to delicately handle this, focusing on the people in the story."

Ultimately the approach of putting viewers in the characters’ shoes, creating a much-needed empathy, drove the project, which was produced by Sanctuary with FIXER Partners handling agency production. "For one, we  wanted to show that there is a sense of patriotism within immigrants, a deep love of their origins," noted Webley. We didn’t want this to come off as a white savior film. The immigrants were not running away from their origin but they felt the real need to make a better life. It’s hard for them to leave their homes. In a longer version, we see the mother and daughter bidding farewell to an older man outside their home. We don’t know who he is but you see the pain in his face as he watches them leave. It’s difficult for all involved."

Webley acknowledged criticism, though, that the 84 Lumber piece romanticized the journey to the border which in reality can be very dangerous with violence and sexual predators. "I can respect people’s thoughts on that but we didn’t intend to make a documentary. The network for sure wouldn’t have cleared a spot showing the dark aspects of immigration. Our main purpose was to connect an individual story—of a mother and daughter—to the idea of immigration and the will to succeed. We don’t want a conversation without Americans thinking about the people behind the conversation."

Speaking for himself personally, Webley added, "I felt it was important that we show the wall and the effect it had on this woman when she first saw it. Building a wall without doors is not the answer."

Spots, shorts, features
At press time, Webley was headed to Madrid to shoot a cell phone commercial. His spotmaking endeavors over the years span such brands as Purina, U.S. Cellular, Apple, New Balance, McDonald’s, Lexus, American Express, adidas and Canada’s Bell phone network.

Webley also has assorted short film credits including Con Amor, which gained exposure on the film festival circuit, and a best of month designation from Vimeo. "I’m always interested in good people doing bad things, and bad people doing good things. My films often live in that gray area," related Webley who described Con Amor as centered on a single woman who’s faced with a difficult decision that will define who she is and how she loves.

Next up for Webley is a trilogy of short films focused on love, loss and life. The first one, shot in Chile, is slated to soon be released. Webley has wrapped production on the first two chapters in the trilogy and will soon be embarking on the third.

Also on the docket is feature film development. Webley is working on a feature with the characters in Con Amor, as well as other long-form projects. He recently signed with UTA for feature representation.