Tuesday, July 17, 2018
  • Friday, Jan. 20, 2017
DGA Spot Nominees Reflect On Their Work, Recognition From Peers
Derek Cianfrance
Insights from MJZ’s Dante Ariola, Fredrik Bond; Park Pictures’ Lance Acord, AG Rojas; RadicalMedia’s Derek Cianfrance
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This year’s field of DGA Award nominees for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials for 2016 ranges from first-timers Derek Cianfrance of RadicalMedia and AG Rojas of Park Pictures to repeat finalists Lance Acord of Park Pictures, and Dante Ariola and Fredrik Bond of MJZ. 

Of this group, Ariola is the lone past DGA Award winner, that honor coming back in 2006. Ariola has a total of seven career DGA nominations (the others coming in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2011) as does Bond (whose prior nods were in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013).

Acord meanwhile is a four-time DGA Award nominee (the first time being in 2003, followed by consecutive turns in 2011 and 2012).

The winner will be announced at the 69th Annual DGA Awards on Saturday, February 4, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Park Pictures
Acord’s latest nomination is especially gratifying for first-time nominee Rojas, his Park Pictures compatriot. “Lance is an owner of Park Pictures and an artist who I’ve admired and respected for many years, long before I was at his company,” said Rojas. “He’s played a big part in my career. Being nominated next to him is pretty special. It’s the cherry on top of an honor that probably means the most to any director. To get recognition from your peers at the DGA--I’ve been a member for five years now--is wonderful.”

Rojas earned his DGA nomination on the strength of two entries: S7 Airlines’ “The Best Planet” for Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, and Samsung’s “The Snail” out of Leo Burnett USA. The latter ties into Samsung’s sponsorship of the World Surf League, paralleling the path of a surfer to that of a snail which leaves the protection of its shell to crawl to something better. “This film means a lot to me in that I do a lot of documentaries, music videos and commercials, and what I really love is to be given the opportunity to celebrate real people,” shared Rojas. “We at first didn’t know who the surfer was going to be, which country we were going to shoot in. Leo Burnett and I collaborated on creating this fictional narrative to inspire people in some way. We then went off to find a character who existed to insert into this world we created. We decided on this region in India, going to Mangalore where the first surf club in India was formed. Casting a wide net, we found this young man. I spent a good amount of time with him, reflecting on his life and how he lived so we could create an accurate and respectful portrait of who he is as a kid while also sharing a satisfying narrative.”

Regarding challenges posed to him by “The Snail,” Rojas cited shooting in India during monsoon season, which meant conditions for surfing were pretty aggressive. The young kid, though, was committed to the challenge. So too were two “really talented DPs,” said Rojas, referring to Alwin Kuchler and Rob Bruce. “This was one of those jobs where everything came together. We had some peaceful, purposeful and spiritual vibes on set.”

Regarding his S7 Airlines entry, Rojas described “The Best Planet” as “a poem celebrating Earth.” He collaborated with the creative ensemble at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, traveling to locales in Thailand, Croatia and Russia, tapping into the points of view of different people in different countries. “I feel a lot of times we have a slightly homogenized picture of different places,” assessed Rojas. We instead tried to capture moments that had a lot of energy, celebrating the diversity of the world.”

As for Park’s Acord, his DGA nod came for two spots: “Frankie’s Holiday” for Apple via TBWA\Media Arts Lab; and Kohl’s “Movie Night” from Anomaly.

The former centers on a lonely Frankenstein looking for human connection and some Xmas cheer in a village that’s scared of him while the Kohl’s spot premiered during the 2016 Oscar telecast, putting a slice-of-life domestic setting perspective on excerpts from an Academy Award acceptance speech made by Cuba Gooding Jr. for Jerry Maguire

Acord noted that a major breakthrough came with the casting of Brad Garrett as Frankie. “He was perfect for the role, had the size and feel, brought a lot to it,” said Acord of Garrett who is perhaps best known for his role in Everybody Loves Raymond as Ray’s brother, Robert Barone. 

“Frankie’s Holiday” is a two-minute piece while “Movie Night” is a :60, underscoring what Acord said is “a notable trend in advertising” that has evolved since his first DGA nomination in 2003. “We’re seeing more and more longer format pieces in advertising,” he related. “You’re limited to submitting three minutes of work to the DGA so as a result you often end up submitting fewer pieces than you would have in previous years. DGA might have to look at that limit as ads are taking on different forms like short films and little episodic pieces.”

What hasn’t changed, though, continued Acord is that a DGA nomination is “always a huge honor.” He related, “The fourth nomination really feels like an affirmation from my peers that the work is relevant and able to connect with people. And who knows...maybe this time I will get lucky and in my case the fourth time will be a charm.”

Derek Cianfrance
Cianfrance landed his first career DGA nod for four spots: Nike Golf’s “Chase,” Powerade’s “Doubts” and “Expectations,” and Squarespace’s “Manifesto.” The Nike and Powerade commercials are from Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Ore., while the Squarespace piece is out of Anomaly.

Cianfrance is proud of all this work, yet he perhaps most personally identifies with the Powerade “Power Through” campaign, particularly the “Expectations” spot, which includes a female football player who excels despite a nay-saying coach. Cianfrance cast real athletes for the campaign--in this particular case, a female defensive lineman for the New York Sharks, a team in the Independent Women’s Football League.

Cianfrance can relate to bucking the odds and naysayers--both personally and professionally. He recalled a high school soccer coach telling him he’d never play much. Cianfrance worked hard, and became an all-conference soccer player on his high school team, having his best game against the team whose head coach was the one who had initially discouraged him. On the professional front, Cianfrance noted that his breakthrough, acclaimed feature, Blue Valentine, took him a dozen years to bring to fruition. “I had 12 years of rejection on that movie,” he recollected. “The more I was told that movie would never amount to much, the greater the motivation was for me to make it happen. That’s why I understood the spirit of that Powerade work. The girl we cast who wanted to play football was in real life a force to be reckoned with.”

Incidentally, Blue Valentine went on to earn an Oscar nomination--Best Lead Actress for Michelle Williams--as well as Golden Camera and Un Certain Regard Award nominations at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, a Gotham Award best feature nomination, an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Williams’ performance, and a Dramatic Grand Jury Prize nomination at the Sundance Film Festival. Cianfrance has gone on to direct such features as The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) and last year’s release, The Light Between Oceans.

Offering another perspective on an athlete’s inner drive is “Chase” for Nike Golf. While golf is often considered a mental game and not all that physically strenuous, Cianfrance and Wieden+Kennedy wanted to paint a more accurate picture of the sport, focusing on champion Rory McIlroy. The spot captures his grueling training regimen, providing a visceral look at his workout and lifestyle.

Meanwhile Cianfrance’s remaining DGA entry, Squarespace’s “Manifesto,” focuses on real people from different walks of life and their aspirations spanning diverse endeavors. Working with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (who shot The Place Beyond the Pines), Cianfrance directed a piece which plays almost like a meditation on people in the act of doing what they want and love to do.

At press time, Cianfrance was directing a Super Bowl spot for an undisclosed client. 

MJZ’s Bond and Ariola each have a remarkable seven career DGA nominations. This time around marks the fourth instance in which they have been nominated in the same year (the first three coming in 2004, 2007 and 2011).

Ariola won the DGA Award in 2006 for Johnny Walker’s “Human,” Coca-Cola’s “First Taste,” and the Traveler’s Insurance spot titled “Snowball.” Fast forward to this year’s competition and he finds his latest nomination is on the basis of three entries: SunTrust’s “Hold Your Breath” for Strawberry Frog, Lyft’s “Riding is the New Driving” for Made Movement, and Beat’s “Tell Me When To Go.”

“Hold Your Breath” broke during the 2016 Super Bowl, showing real people ultimately starting to breathe easy again, recovering from financial angst thanks to SunTrust. The spot doesn’t play like a series of staged vignettes but rather varied real people experiencing stress and then relief over a series of shots often lasting seemingly just a second or two. Ariola sought out everyday folks for the commercial, going on an automobile road trip to places like Stockton, Calif., and Mono Lake during off-season to find his cast.

Lyft’s tongue-in-cheek piece shows the perils of driving, fraught with delays, gridlock, accidents and the like--all depicted in a comedic fashion. “It’s more like a playful feeling than a laugh-out-loud proposition,” observed Ariola, whose spot then presents being a Lyft passenger as a viable, less complicated alternative.

“Tell Me When To Go” features star basketball player Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors and some of his teammates mentally preparing for a big game with music heard over Beats By Dr Dre headphones. Green listens to an E-40 track and is then thrust into scenes from that Bay Area rapper’s music video “Tell Me When to Go.”

Ariola regards the DGA nomination as a high honor, noting that a common thread running through all seven of his career nods is variety. “I’m not just a comedy guy or a visual guy or an effects guy--the work that’s gotten nominated over the years reflects this. Each year, there’s been variety in my entries. I think that showing a range over different genres has helped.”

Meanwhile Bond’s latest DGA nod comes for Apple’s “Dive” from TBWA/Media Arts Lab; Philips’ “Everyday Hero” for Ogilvy & Mather; and LG’s “World of Play” for Energy BBDO.

“Dive” shows a cute bald-headed man poolside enjoying jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval’s “La Virgen de la Macarena” on his iPhone 7’s stereo speakers. The fairly elderly gent then ascends the high-dive platform, listening to Cuban maestro Sandoval blaring from his iPhone which remains on a table next to his chaise lounge. He then dives and makes a perfect landing into the drink, splashing his phone which is protected from water damage. 

Bond views “Dive” as “a pure character piece. Most importantly, I wanted to make the diver confident yet humble, someone whom the people around him found likable. The audience needed to love him in order for this story to work properly. The man had to have some humility.”

Meanwhile “World of Play” had Jason Statham portraying different characters--representing a wide span of ages--in a frenetic, fast-paced adventure. “It was a bit of a mind bend, posing technical conundrums which had to be solved,” said Bond.

And “Everyday Hero” centers on a guy in a Spider-Man outfit who has to move through various places (with a shoot in Auckland, NZ, having to look like NYC), ultimately ending with him arriving at a destination where he can do a superhero good deed. It’s a feel-good story that evokes sympathy and empathy for the would-be Spidey who has his heart in the right place.

Bond’s seven DGA nods have come over a 13-year stretch. “Each nomination means so much, being recognized by your peers and colleagues,” he affirmed. “Each nomination motivates me to commit to creatively inspired work and to push the envelope further.”