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Feature/Spotmaking Crossover Directors Make Mark At Tribeca
Kristen Stewart (l) as Nia and Nicholas Hoult as Silas in a scene from director Drake Doremus' feature "Equals." (Photo courtesy of A24)
Drake Doremus' Feature "Equals," David Shane's Short Film "The Board" in festival lineup; Tribeca X Award launched
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Interspersed in the mix of features and shorts at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival--which got underway yesterday (4/13) and will run through April 24--are various directors with commercialmaking chops. Furthermore this year marks the rollout of the Tribeca X Award which celebrates brand storytelling at the intersection of advertising and entertainment.

First, on the former score of crossover directors, SHOOT caught up with two who fit the bill: David Shane of production house O Positive who is well known for his comedy spots over the years and is now for the second time bowing a short film at Tribeca; and Drake Doremus, no stranger to the festival circuit but now making his Tribeca debut with an already well received theatrical feature. Doremus recently came aboard the roster of Hey Wonderful for spots and branded content. Hey Wonderful is part of Ridley Scott’s RSA family of production companies. 

Doremus has made major marks in both the feature and ad arenas. His initial splash came in indie filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 when his feature Douchebag was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. A year later Doremus’ Like Crazy--the romantic drama chronicling how wonderful and at the same time devastating fist love can be--went on to win Sundance’s Grand Jury Dramatic Prize in the U.S. competition. Then in 2012, Doremus made his first foray into the ad discipline with Intel/Toshiba’s The Beauty Inside, an episodic social film on Facebook featuring a male protagonist who wakes up as a different person every day before finally falling in love. Viewers auditioned via web cam to help portray the lead character. From agency Pereira & O’Dell, San Francisco, and produced by Doremus’ spot roost at the time, B-Reel, The Beauty Inside won three Grand Prix honors (Film, Branded Content & Entertainment, and Cyber) at the 2013 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The Beauty Inside also scored a Daytime Emmy Award and Best Branded Content honors at The One Show.

Now at the Tribeca Fest, Doremus’ feature Equals makes its U.S. debut after its global premiere at the Venice Film Festival and then a high-profile screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. A sci-fi romance, Equals places us in a future society where emotions have been genetically suppressed for the good of society at large. Yet while hate and anger have been eliminated, so too have a host of positive feelings. However, for one couple, portrayed by Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, emotions have stirred, blossoming into a secret love that is wonderful yet at the same time endangers their lives.

“It’s about two people,” said Doremus, “whose human nature takes over in a world which otherwise is very controlled and where emotions aren’t allowed to exist.” 

This premise in turn impacted Doremus’ signature approach which in the past has seen him work off of an outline of a story and improvise extensively based on that outline. “I wanted to be more structured this time because of the structured society we were portraying. I wanted our process to mirror that world but at the same time leave some room for improvisation when the characters’ emotions kicked in. We had the benefit of a great script by Nathan Parker.”

Doremus noted that he’s been a long-time fan of Parker, citing the writer’s work on the Duncan Jones-directed sci-fi mystery feature Moon.

As for Tribeca, Doremus said he’s enthused over the prospect of having Equals make its U.S. debut at the festival. “The movie is emotional and hopefully cinematic and to screen it before a New York audience, with its high energy level, is very exciting to me. I’m looking forward to it, being that this is my very first time with a film at Tribeca.”

Doremus is also excited about another new wrinkle in his career--namely his aforementioned move to the recently launched Hey Wonderful for which he has already directed a Coca-Cola project in Barcelona, and a trio of GE spots that premiered during the American Country Music Awards telecast. Doremus had previously been at RSA so shifting to another company within that family was a relatively seamless transition, said Doremus who added that he was attracted to Hey Wonderful based largely on his affinity for the production house’s managing director/EP Michael Di Girolamo.

The Board
Director Shane first brought a film to Tribeca in 2013, the darkly comedic short Playdate which he wrote with Scott Organ. Now Shane returns for the second time, again with a short co-written by him and Organ. The new Shane-directed short is The Board.

Shane shared the premise for The Board. “It’s about a kid who is pathologically insecure about calling girls on the phone, so he fills up little post-it notes [on a big board] with ‘interesting thoughts’ and ‘witty’ jokes for every conceivable topic that the girl he’s calling might bring up. Which is insane.  And never works.  Sadly, it’s autobiographical. I did it.  Over and over again.”

Of his collaborative relationship with Organ, Shane related, “Scott is an insanely good writer and a humanist.  He makes me better and more thoughtful and hopefully I do the same for him.  I don’t always write with him, but if I’m writing with a partner, it’s always him. He’s the best.”

Shane had other familiar collaborators on The Board, primarily from his commercialmaking exploits at O Positive, including executive producer Ralph Laucella, editor Gavin Cutler of Mackenzie Cutler, DP Joe Zizzo and production designer Dan Ouellette. “I always want the set to be fun and relaxed and it definitely helps to work with the same people when I can,” said Shane.  “O Positive is a bit of family.   Gavin is a crazy genius and will always be my first choice to cut anything I do.  He’s saved my ass more than I want to admit.  Although I just did.  Joe and I just came off of doing the Super Bowl spot for Avocados in space and it felt natural to keep it going with him.  The Board looks beautiful because of him and Dan Oullette, who always crushes it.  Ralph Laucella EP’d it.”

Regarding what his return to Tribeca means to him personally and professionally, Shane said, “We were all excited to get into Tribeca.  It’s our hometown festival, which means I get to see the movie with a real live paying audience, an audience who actually cares about short films. Maybe because the festival, under Sharon Badal, really cares about short films.” 

As for his latest commercialmaking endeavors at O Positive, Shane said, “Been doing some fun spots for Apple TV with the gang at TBWA\Media Arts Lab.  It’s a series of behind the scenes peeks into the star trailers of actors and athletes on set.  And I just wrapped a campaign with Steve Fogel and Doug Fallon at Grey, who’ve done a boatload of the funny Direct TV stuff, about a family who loses their Internet and then, increasingly, their minds.”

Tribeca X Award
The festival will also be highlighted by the first ever Tribeca X Award celebrating branded storytelling that meshes advertising and entertainment. The X honor will be bestowed during the Tribeca awards ceremony on April 21. In contention are eight finalists chosen from more than 100 submissions. The finalists represent the best artist-brand collaborations of the past year and highlight excellence, authenticity, originality and creativity in storytelling that is sponsored or underwritten by a brand. 

“Brands have a great tradition as inspired storytellers,” said Andrew Essex, CEO of Tribeca Enterprises. “As new technologies such as ad-blocking and over-the-top television make it harder than ever for command-and-control-style advertising to succeed, genuine entertainment and authenticity have become increasingly important qualities for cutting through. The Tribeca X was conceived to celebrate brands that aspire to tell engaging stories that add value to people’s lives, rather than advertising that creates pollution.”

The projects selected come from filmmakers including Michael Rappaport, Brandon Oldenburg, Ariel Schulman and Rob Meyer, many of whom are Tribeca Film Festival alumni. These filmmakers partnered with dynamic brands including Derek Lam, American Giant, Samsung, Olympus, The Balvenie, Robert Graham, KENZO and Radio Flyer Wagons, to create exceptional stories that speak to audiences.

The final projects include a mini documentary about an iconic L.A. boxing gym, a look inside the mind of a paranoid young man as he wanders the streets of Manhattan, an online series with Anthony Bourdain, and a short film inspired by the life and heritage of Antonio Pasin, inventor of the Radio Flyer wagon.

“We saw a mix of narrative and documentary and series of varying lengths in the submissions. This model of story production, if done authentically with the artist empowered, has tremendous potential. The finalists reflect the quality and the spirit of independent storytelling we were looking to find.” said Genna Terranova, festival director.

Eligible projects included scripted and documentary work for film, TV, digital, social, and VR/AR, in both feature and short length.  The winner will be chosen by the five Tribeca X Award jurors: Laurie Anderson, Scott Carlson, Judy McGrath, Liev Schreiber and Hank Willis Thomas.   

The eight finalists for the Tribeca X Award are:

10 Crosby 
Brand: Derek Lam
Directed by Benjamin Dickinson, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Albert Moya and Andrew Zuchero 
One street, 10 stories--An adventure, A Party, A Secret, A Romance, A Surprise.

American Giant X Wild Card Boxing
Brand: American Giant
Directed by Michael Rappaport
American Giant x Wildcard Boxing is a five-minute branded content mini-doc told in a lyrical yet gritty style that complements the look and feel of the gym about the far-reaching influence of Freddie Roach and his iconic Wildcard Boxing Gym in Hollywood, CA., Through interviews with Roach and numerous boxers who train there, viewers get to a sense of both Wildcard’s rich legacy and the community that Roach has sought to create since the gym’s inception.

Hearing Colors
Brand: Samsung
Directed by Greg Brunkalla
The life of Neil Harbisson is like something out of a sci-fi novel. Neil was born with achromatopsia, a rare condition that leaves 1 in 30,000 people completely colorblind. But Neil isn’t colorblind, far from it. After convincing his doctors to implant an antenna into the back of his head, Neil now possesses a new sense—the ability to hear colors. In this short film by Greg Brunkalla, Hearing Colors, Neil takes you through a day in his life and into an entirely new world. 

The Irrational Fear of Nothing
Brand: Olympus
Directed by Paul Trillo
Follow behind the back of a paranoid, neurotic man named Terry as he wanders through the streets of Manhattan. Past memories and his irrational inner thoughts soon plague his every move. By channeling a form of mental time travel, he attempts to overcome these past anxieties. Executive produced by Vimeo.

Raw Craft with Anthony Bourdain
Brand: The Balvenie
Directed by Rob Meyer
Author, TV host and raconteur, Anthony Bourdain brings us Raw Craft—a new original online film series that took viewers on a journey of discovery, unearthing captivating and emotional human stories of true craftsmanship in America. Similar to the rare craft of whisky making, the series introduces audiences to people who still choose to do things the old way—or as Bourdain lovingly describes it, “the slow, stupid way.” 

Second Sound Barrier
Brand: Robert Graham
Directed by David Wain
Three fastest men in the world with nothing in common are summoned to a mission; save the    beautiful recluse—Lady Billionaire—from a mysterious illness. How? By driving faster than anyone has driven before. Why?  To break the second sound barrier.

Brand: KENZO
Directed by Sean Baker
From acclaimed writer/director Sean Baker (Tangerine), Snowbird stars Abbey Lee in her latest role since appearing in the blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road. Abbey Lee plays, Theo, a young woman living in the remote California desert community, Slab City, a place in which residents live off the grid. The film follows Theo over the course of a day, as she goes door to door, sharing a cake she baked with her colorful neighbors.

Taking Flight
Brand: Radio Flyer Wagons
Directed by Brandon Oldenburg
Taking Flight is a short film inspired by the life and heritage of Antonio Pasin, inventor of the Radio Flyer wagon. In this fictional tribute to Pasin’s legacy, what begins as a small boy’s over-scheduled, over supervised, boring day with Grandpa turns into a larger-than-life journey, narrowly escaping wild monkeys and battling aliens to save the universe. Through the power of imagination and epic adventure, a boy learns to be a kid, a father learns to be a dad, and a grandfather reminds us all what childhood is about.