Monday, May 21, 2018
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Chat Room: Television Academy's John Leverence
John Leverence
Sr. VP of awards reflects on nominated spots from BBDO, R/GA, RPA, TBWA\Chiat\Day, 72andSunny

Our annual tradition continues with SHOOT sounding out John Leverence, sr. VP of awards at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, to get an entertainment industry perspective on the field of commercials nominated for the primetime Emmy which this year consists of: Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labels” from agency R/GA and directed by Danielle Levitt via Persuade and Influence which produced the job along with Mindride; Gatorade’s “Dear Peyton” directed by Henry-Alex Rubin of Smuggler for TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles; Google’s “Year In Search 2015” from agency 72andSunny and produced by its in-house production studio Hecho en 72; Honda’s “Paper” from agency RPA and directed by PES of production house RESET; and Snickers’ “Marilyn” directed by Jim Jenkins of O Positive for BBDO New York.

“Marilyn” takes us back to 1955 and features a hungry Marilyn Monroe on the set of the film The Seven Year Itch. In the :30 the blonde bombshell is a cranky version of herself, played by actor Willem Dafoe. But once she takes a bite from a Snickers bar, Monroe is herself again. This latest iteration of the “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign also includes Eugene Levy in the role of a stage hand who’s charged with the task of making Monroe’s dress flap in the wind above a New York City subway grate, an iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch.

“Paper” opens with Honda founder Soichiro Honda’s use of a radio generator to power his wife’s bicycle, and the story continues with the company’s development of motorcycles including a nod to winning Isle of Man TT races (1961-1967), segueing to outboard motors and then to the first CVCC vehicle. Nostalgia leads the viewer through a series of past Honda vehicle models, such as multiple generations of the Civic and Accord as well as the all-new 2016 Pilot, to F1 and Indy racing to the development of robotics and jets and numerous innovations in between. The commercial concludes with the copy, “You never know where a dream will lead you.”

“Year In Search 2015” looks back on the questions people were asking in the past year, shedding light on what’s on folks’ minds and where we’re going as a society. Looking at questions we ask of Google indeed says something about us.

In “Dear Peyton” we hear from various people who over the years received hand-written letters from Manning. These folks then read on-camera select excerpts from those heartfelt notes. Among those appearing in “Dear Peyton” are Manning’s long-time teammate, center Jeff Saturday, their head coach with the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy, the parents of a boy who died from cancer (a lad befriended by Manning), now retired New York Yankee Derek Jeter, and Peyton’s little brother, QB Eli Manning. 

And Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labels” features a variety of couples interacting behind a large X-ray installation. As the skeletons kiss and dance, viewers mentally fill in the blanks. When unexpected duos step out from behind the screen, including a loving gay couple, the surprise gives viewers a simple demonstration of their implicit bias--and often leads to their acceptance of something that is actually quite beautiful.

Leverence shares his observations on these spots in this edited Q&A, taking an academic and philosophical bent which underscores the art and beauty of short-form filmmaking.

SHOOT: Any trends in this year’s field of nominated commercials?

Leverence: Over the years you’ll see a recurrence of nominees--examples being series like Mad Men and Modern Family consistently in the running. The same is taking shape in the Commercials category. Snickers is back this year with a new take (“Marilyn”) on a concept (“You’re not yourself when you’re hungry”) that earned a nomination last year with The Brady Bunch-themed commercial.

Similarly Gatorade last year earned a nomination for its tribute to Derek Jeter who was retiring from the Yankees. This year, in a completely different commercial, the tribute is to another great retired athlete, Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning.

There’s even a sequel dynamic to the Google piece as each year their retrospective sheds light on what we’re searching for.

SHOOT: What’s your take on Honda’s “Paper” from RPA?

Leverence: A brilliant piece of work [a stop-motion tour de force from director PES] which reminded me of the fundamental principles of Edward R. Tufte, a professor at Princeton, who wrote the books “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” and “Envisioning Information.” Tufte talked about “escaping flatland” as a way to display information--moving from a 2D page to a 3-dimensional situation, combining micro and macro design. You start with an image and then take that image all the way through to its progression and the results and other images it yields, capped off by the commercial’s tagline, “You never know where a dream will lead you.” From dropping a little motor into a bicycle, we see a constant build to one innovation after another, including formula car racing. 

We see small inventions in pale shades--beiges, whites and gray for most of the commercial--segue to major innovations with bursts of color. Tufte talked about using color to show foreground information to break free from a clutter of background information. Via color, we see an emphasis on the breakthroughs, a journey which takes us from a dinky little engine to Formula One racing.

SHOOT: I understand you see a bond linking the other four nominated commercials.

Leverence: The other four ads have a certain reference or continuity to them. The Google commercial says the questions we ask reveal who we are. When you start revealing who we are, I’m reminded of the oracle of Delphi in classical antiquity, the message being “Know Thyself” which we’ve seen throughout philosophy, even in Hamlet. Today Google is the oracle. The searches of 2015 include LGBT rights, the plight of refugees. Know thyself--to deny who you are is self-deception. Knowing yourself allows you to flourish and have better, more understanding relationships with others.

Then we have Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labels” where the X-Ray reveals who others are. We are given a “Know Others” message and by knowing and being tolerant of others, we all can benefit. We can do things together.
For Snickers, it’s comedy but the message is to “Be Yourself.” You’re not yourself when you’re hungry. 

And for “Dear Peyton,” the message is to “Be Known By Others.” We see through his letters Peyton’s generosity of spirit, his kindness--and we hear from the people who have been touched by that generosity and kindness. This commercial is very Pindar-esque. Pindar was an ancient Greek poet known for Epinikia, odes he wrote to communicate about athletes and their victories. This commercial tells a story that Pindar would have told--not about a triumph on the field or in competition but triumph on a character level conveyed through friends of Peyton, reflecting the kind of person he is. 

I see a lovely “hands across the agencies” connection through these four nominated commercials--Know Thyself, Know Others, Be Yourself and Be Known By Others.