- Monday, Mar. 27, 2017
Marc Forster is no stranger to the Academy Awards, having directed Halle Berry’s Best Leading Actress Oscar-winning performance in Monster’s Ball (2001). Fast forward to last month and Forster made his imprint on the Oscar telecast in an entirely different way, directing "Lost & Found," a Walmart spot that was part of an ambitious campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi NY enlisting the creative prowess of select feature filmmakers—the others being Antoine Fuqua, and the team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
The three creative films from Forster, Fuqua and the Rogen/Goldberg duo are part of Walmart’s larger multi-year partnership with the Academy Awards that is aimed at highlighting Walmart’s commitment to the art of storytelling. Walmart is also making a $250,000 donation to the Academy Grants Program for FilmCraft.
All that Walmart asked of Forster and the other feature helmers was to center their short films (culled down to :60s for airing during the Oscars ceremony) on how every Walmart receipt tells a story. Each director was challenged to illustrate his creative vision for one receipt containing bananas, paper towels, batteries, a scooter, wrapping paper and a video baby monitor.
Forster showed us how these mundane items take on a much greater weight in the hands of youngsters, particularly those scavenging in what appears to be a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world. For Forster, the baby monitor carried the most significance in that it yielded a projected image—of a baby who in some respects represented hope, the promise of a new life. And when power gave out on the monitor, kids turned to another item on the receipt, batteries taken from elsewhere, so that they could again delight in the image of that happy baby.
The Walmart project appealed to Forster because it gave him the opportunity to create on a more all encompassing level, writing the material he was going to direct. At the same time, he enjoyed collaborating with colleagues at Saatchi and Walmart. "They gave me freedom but they also provided great support. It was gutsy of Walmart to place their trust in me."
For Forster the constraints of time were challenging and rewarding. He noted that the turnaround on the Walmart spot—from conception to completion—was a scant few weeks, with the pressure considerable to have the piece—which entailed live action, VFX and fairly sophisticated post—ready in time for the Oscars.
The other inherent time-driven challenge was having to tell a story in 90 seconds online, with a :60 for the Oscars TV audience. "It’s a gratifying experience to be able to do justice to a story, to make an emotional connection, within a shorter time frame," related Forster. "Still there are difficult decisions—which we especially felt when cutting the :90 down to a broadcast :60."
Forster directed "Lost & Found" as well as several prior ad projects via production house Tool of North America. He originally had no intent of getting involved in commercialmaking and branded content—until he had a chat with celebrated cinematographer Robert Richardson, ASC, a three-time Oscar winner (Hugo, The Aviator, JFK), who is on Tool’s spot directing roster. Forster and Richardson were working together on a movie when the DP asked him if he had considered commercialmaking. Richardson then turned Forster onto Tool, which led to the director meeting with company partner/director Erich Joiner over breakfast. "We hit it off and I started to take on select commercials," recalled Forster. "The more I did it, the more I liked it, particularly collaborating with such creative people on the agency side. It’s a form of storytelling with its own challenges and rhythms, quite different from feature films. When you get the opportunity to tell stories, no matter in what form, it can’t help but make you a better filmmaker."
Forster’s feature filmography is extensive and varied, garnering assorted accolades over the years including a Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Motion Pictures on the strength of Finding Neverland (2004), which also earned nominations for both Best Director at the Golden Globes and the David Lean Award for Direction at the BAFTA Awards. Forster also received a BAFTA Film Award nod a few years later for The Kite Runner (2007).
Forster made his first major directorial splash with Everything Put Together (2000), which was nominated for the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Everything Put Together also won the Someone to Watch Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards while nominated at the same competition for Best Feature—Under $500,000.
Among Forster’s other notable feature directing credits are the James Bond pic Quantum of Solace, and the Brad Pitt starrer World War Z.
Additionally Forster diversified into television series with Amazon’s Hand of God for which he helmed the pilot and a second episode, along with serving as executive producer for the overall show.
On the spotmaking front, last year Forster directed "Eyes on Gigi," BMW’s interactive global campaign with 360 video from KBS/Serviceplan to launch the new BMW M2 Coupé. "Eyes on Gigi" (the "Gigi" being supermodel Gigi Hadid) subsequently earned distinction at the time as the most viewed 360 video on YouTube.
As for what’s next, Forster is embarking on the feature Christopher Robin, a live-action version of the classic, beloved Winnie the Pooh stories.