TV Academy's John Leverence Reflects On Emmy-Nominated Spots
John Leverence
Apple’s “Make Something Wonderful,” “Don’t Mess With Mother”; Nike’s “Dream Crazy”; Sandy Hook Promise’s “Point of View”; Netflix’s “A Great Day In Hollywood”

Continuing our annual tradition, SHOOT sought out Dr. John Leverence, sr. VP of awards at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, to get an entertainment industry perspective on the spots nominated this year for the primetime Emmy Award, which are: Apple’s “Behind the Mac--Make Something Wonderful”; Apple iPhone’s “Don’t Mess With Mother”; Netflix’s “A Great Day In Hollywood”; Nike’s “Dream Crazy”; and Sandy Hook Promise’s  “Point of View.”

The Apple spots are out of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, L.A. “Behind the Mac--Make Something Wonderful” centers on found photos of varied notables using the Mac as a creative tool--from Oprah Winfrey to Lin Manuel Miranda, Paul McCartney, Serena Williams, Damien Chazelle, Timbaland, Shawn Mendes and even Kermit the Frog, among others.

Meanwhile “Don’t Mess With Mother” features mother Earth at its most awe inspiring, from its creatures big and small, to the elements themselves--all shot on an iPhone.

While Apple has an Emmy lineage, winning in the past for such work as “Think Different,” so too do a few other nominees in this year’s mix: Nike and Wieden+Kennedy, with such past successes as “The Morning After,” and BBDO NY with multiple wins, ranging from the very first spot Emmy for HBO’s “Chimps” in 1997 to last year’s winner, P&G’s “The Talk.”

This time around, W+K and Nike teamed on “Dream Crazy,” much lauded this awards season and now adding an Emmy nom to its haul. With narration by Colin Kaepernick, the two-minute spot features star and not so prominent athletes striving to excel. It also touches on the controversy of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and instances of police brutality. Kaepernick was the first player to protest in this manner during NFL games, leading to his, some contend, being banished from playing professional football. Kaepernick first appears on camera midway through the commercial. As his face is revealed, a reflection of an American flag is visible on a building facade behind him. At the start of the ad, Kaepernick says, “If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do, good. Stay that way because what nonbelievers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult. It’s a compliment.” He later declares, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

“Dream Crazy” was directed by Lance Acord, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki and Christian Weber of Park Pictures. The spot contributed heavily to Park recently winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

As for BBDO NY’s latest Emmy nomination, it came on the strength of Sandy Hook Promise’s “Point of View” directed by Rupert Sanders of MJZ. The PSA served as a sixth year anniversary remembrance of the Sandy Hook School shooting. The chilling video highlights how often a shooter goes unnoticed until it’s too late. “Point of View” follows students throughout their average high school day as they prepare for their class election. But the film takes a dark turn when it’s revealed to the viewer that they’ve been seeing the story through the eyes of a shooter all along. And only when the shooter raises his gun into frame do the students finally notice him too. The film serves as a shocking reminder of how easy it is to ignore the warning signs of someone on their way to committing a violent act.

Rounding out this year’s field of Emmy-nominated spots is Netflix’s “A Great Day In Hollywood,” directed by Lacey Duke via PRETTYBIRD for agency Kamp Grizzly. Narrated by Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin, the piece, which debuted during last year’s BET Awards, declares that we are in an era where African-American creatives and actors have come to the fore, marking a movement which is making an indelible impact on society and our culture. Featured in the spot are Ava DuVernay, Spike Lee, Lena Waithe, Alfre Woodard, Danielle Brooks and Britney Young, among others.

The primetime commercial Emmy Award winner will be announced and honored during the first of the two-day (Sept. 14-15) Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

SHOOT: What’s your take on this year’s field of nominated commercials?

Leverence: The work tended to be a very interesting melange of different standard genres.  “Behind the Mac” was structured like a scrapbook which shows a particular theme like my vacation, my summer, my new job. In this case, we have people behind the wheel, in charge of something, in support of innovation. We see creative people on their Macs innovating. 

“Dream Crazy” (Nike) was structured like a motivational tape with a spokesperson showing examples of people doing remarkable things, and encouraging people to go beyond their limits. It was akin to a Tony Robbins motivational tape.

“A Great Day In Hollywood” (Netflix) was like a class picture celebrating consolidated group achievement, like the graduating class of Harvard Medical School. It celebrated a unifying experience.

“Point of View” (Sandy Hook Promise) was in the horror film genre. The nice Count with the Transylvanian accent turns out to be this blood sucking monster. Someone you think you know turns out to be someone quite different.

And the final one (iPhone’s “Don’t Mess With Mother”) is in the music video genre, showing the kinetic unity of extraordinary images of nature’s creatures.

SHOOT: What do these different genres tell us about how spots are evolving?

Leverence: First, I was impressed by the voters and members of the Academy in the Commercials branch, parsing out and finding very distinct genres of storytelling blending pictures with messages, music, conveying themes from consolidation of accomplishment to the kinetic unity found in images--from scrapbook to motivational to the class picture, the horror and music video genres.

These are genres that are prevalent in the broader range and larger picture of TV. We are finding within this category work representative of landmark genres that you find throughout TV, that you find in the cluster of overall nominations.
The nominated work was different this year--not any comedic elements, no rank sentimentality with Hallmark Cards or Budweiser in which the little puppy is threatened by wolves. We have this year a very high level, often abstract plane of messaging that is largely positive. The class picture is an extraordinary testament to diversity in Netflix’s programming. It’s a picture of consolidated accomplishment you wouldn’t see just five years ago. 

In the music video genre you see the diversity, power, nobility and sometimes horror of nature. We need to recognize and appreciate the beauty that we have on this planet. The iPhone photography gets us to pause for a moment and recognize that.

SHOOT: The horror genre presented by Sandy Hook Promise, though, wouldn’t be regarded as positive--except in the sense that it shows the positive importance of addressing a critical issue.

Leverence: I don’t know what’s positive about “Point of View” on the surface. But perhaps in the sense that it’s a story that needs to be told and needs to be attended to. The positive thing is that if you stop being a bully and start paying attention to fellow human beings, maybe you can create a situation where this kind of horror doesn’t happen.

SHOOT: So do you see commercials as more of a reflection of TV at its best today, giving us entertainment and/or information, providing a service, that is relevant.

Leverence: Years back the commercial category was regarded as kind of an outlier of the Emmy Awards. It no longer seems to be that. It’s right in the heart of television storytelling. The sensibilities of the agencies and the talent involved are sophisticated with commercials bleeding out into the larger panorama of filmed entertainment.


Client Sandy Hook Promise Agency BBDO New York David Lubars, worldwide chief creative officer; Greg Hahn, chief creative officer, NY; Peter Alsante, sr. creative director; Bianca Guimaraes; Jim Connolly, associate creative director/copywriter; Marcus Johnston, associate creative director/art director; David Rolfe, director of integrated production; Alex Gianni, executive producer; Julia Millison, music producer. Production MJZ Rupert Sanders, director; Jess Hall, DP; Kate Leahy, exec producer; Adriana Cebada Mora, producer. Editorial Work Editorial Ben Jordan, editor; Trevor Myers, assistant editor; Jane Dilworth, EP/partner; Erica Thompson, exec  producer; Chris Delarenal, producer. VFX Blacksmith Eliza Randall, VFX supervisor; Daniel Morris, lead compositor; Yebin Ahn, compositor; Charlotte Arnold, exec producer; Tina Chen, VFX producer. Roto Studio 8 Tracking QLBeans Music/Sound TBD/Barking Owl Morgan Johnson, sound designer; Kelly Bayett, creative director/EP; Ashley Bento, producer. Audio Post Heard City Keith Reynaud, Eric Warzecha, mixers; Gloria Pitagorsky, managing director/partner; Jackie James, exec producer. ADR Lime Studio Zac Fisher, audio engineer; Kevin McAlpine, audio assistant Susie Boyajan, exec producer.

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