- Monday, Apr. 4, 2016
First-time nominee Andreas Nilsson of Biscuit Filmworks won the DGA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Commercials in February on the strength of three entries, one of which—”Emily’s Oz” for Comcast/Xfinity—is atypical in the sense that a Guild honor is usually reserved for recognition of a director’s vision. However, “Emily’s Oz” instead showcases the vision of a seven-year-old girl, Emily, who was born blind. Conceived by Goodby Silverstein & Partners New York, the spot illustrates what a blind person sees in her head when she “watches” her favorite movie, which for Emily is the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.
Nilsson shows us Emily’s vision of what such iconic characters as the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow look like—as well as Dorothy herself. Featuring a voiceover by Robert Redford, the spot promotes Comcast/Xfinity’s accessibility services, including a talking guide created so that the visually impaired can independently search for and find movies. Making its world premiere during the 2015 Academy Awards telecast on ABC, “Emily’s Oz” is generally regarded as one of the best ads to ever debut on the Oscars.
Nilsson found the opportunity to do justice to Emily’s vision both challenging and rewarding. “The concept was to re-create what she had in her mind and to really be serious about that,” said Nilsson. “The way my production designer KK Barrett and I created the images was by playing audio from the movie while talking to Emily. We asked her questions about the images she visualized when hearing certain scenes from the movie. I think the thing that helped my process was the fact that I had never seen the movie either, so when we started working on this I was as clean from actual visual reference as Emily was. Then of course KK and DP Matthew Libatique and I had to make some creative decisions to be able to tell the story in images. But we always made sure the tone was true to the information we got from our discussions with Emily. It was basically like playing a storytelling game with a kid and then use the outcome of that to create the script of the spot. Quite a fresh and rewarding experience I must say. She didn’t care so much about target groups and things like that.”
The other two entries contributing to Nilsson’s DGA win were Old Spice’s “Dad Song” from Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and GE’s “Time Upon a Once” out of BBDO NY. “Dad Song” has moms lamenting while dads rejoice via song about their sons coming of carnal age. Parents are spying on their kids, hidden in the background as their boys turned men court young ladies. One mother, for instance, is lodged under the ice of a skating rink as her son and his date skate over her.
Nilsson smiled that the biggest creative challenge posed to him by “Dad Song” was “getting the lady that we kept in an ice block to warm up after the shoot. She finally forgave us and we are now Facebook friends.”
The GE commercial shows the virtues of looking at problems from a different perspective. This off kilter POV, such as being upside down to view situations differently, has been embraced by GE to spur innovation and is humorously depicted. The inherent challenge, quipped Nilsson, was “keeping an actor happy who is dangling upside down on a wire for a couple of days.”
A classically trained painter and sculptor, Nilsson entered the advertising arena by way of the music industry. He recalled, “I started out as an artist. I went too many years in art school and made installations and video art at small galleries and institutions in Scandinavia. I wasn’t doing great to be honest; that’s a really tough unrewarding business. At the time I was also playing in a band and since I had a cheap DV camera and After Effects I started doing music videos for friends who played in other bands in Gothenburg where I lived at the time. Bands like the Knife and José Gonzalez. All DIY.
“I didn’t even know what a production company was at that time,” the director continued. “I also worked as a production designer for the theatre at that time to pay the bills. I used video mapping a lot and kept filming and animating stuff for my sets. At the end I was at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm which was quite a playground. That was actually a great film school for me, watching the actors work with the director at the rehearsals and figuring out the staging. My breakthrough in commercials was when I was invited to that world by Wieden + Kennedy in Portland. They had a Nike project that was like a music video and the creatives Brandon Pierce and Mike Warzin had seen my videos and took a chance on hiring me. We had a blast on that shoot and five years later I’m still doing it and still loving it.”
That love, in turn, has been expressed to Nilsson in the form of the DGA Award. Regarding what the DGA honor means to him personally and professionally, Nilsson shared, “Personally, it means that I feel like I’m doing something right. Professionally it means that I’m doing something right as well. The fact that it’s an award where my peers decide makes this very valuable for me. It’s decided by people who share my experience and who know what it takes to get good results.”