- Friday, Aug. 18, 2000
It may simply be a commercial for Ford touting the car-maker's sponsorship of The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's race for the cure event, but it is as impressionisticaand movingaas a big slice of reality. "We're Getting There," directed by Barbara Kopple of nonfiction spots and longform, Santa Monica, via J. Walter Thompson, Detroit, begins with a shot of balloons, followed by a woman in a baseball cap, saying, "It's such a celebration of life." A title comes up, superimposed over soft images of women runners: "Since Ford became partners with Komen Race for the Cure..."
A hand-held shot of a woman follows. She is saying, "I'm fighting it. I'm doing it for my daughters." More shots appear now, some in slow motion, all accompanied by subdued but inspiring music, followed by more titles explaining that Ford is contributing money to the fight against breast cancer. There are also more heartfelt comments: "Since I'm going through it right now, to see all these women ... God, I hope I'm here in ten years ... "
And so it goes, hand-held documentary-like footage, powerful moments, and it is all the more striking because it is real: a collection of spontaneous moments in time, captured hauntingly in a :60. Reality: what a concept. And with network TV's Survivor and Big Brother dominating the air waves, real people programming seems to be the newest genre to capture the public's fancy. Yet in the world of commercials, the old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up. What is new is old.
Freelance director Laura Slutsky, CEO of PeopleFinders Productions, New York, has been a part of the reality spot landscape for years, dating back to when she began casting people from the streets, shopping malls and grocery stores. Slutsky first worked as a "people hooker" for Eye View Films Associates, then in New York, now in Darien, Conn., in the early '70s. ("They called me Slutsky, the hooker," she says with a laugh.) In '74 she opened PeopleFinders. "My first job was to find people who ate Bird's Eye frozen foods in San Francisco for Young & Rubicam," she recalls. "I loved the challenge."
Nonetheless, real people commercials have never been hotter. The ads have the capacity to capture moving, funny and quirky moments that are endlessly appealing. These seem to beaand are, say their creatorsaspontaneous moments that no one could have made up. "Using real people can have a tremendous impact," explains Gerry Gartenberg, co-owner/interviewer at casting agency Hidden Talents, New York and New Rochelle, N.Y. "To some extent people have become jaded by the hard sell. When you can present a person talking about what they lived and experienced, viewers are more inclined to relate to that experience. They see themselves. There's a real connection. Television does a real good job at capturing emotions."
In addition, with the SAG/AFTRA strike against advertisers lingering on, some are wondering, will non-union, real people spots become more prominent than ever? "Because of the strike, the opportunity is more available," says Kelly Green, a producer at Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco. But she and others say the strike will probably not make a difference. That is primarily because using real people in ads is generally part of a carefully executed strategy. Although such spots seem unscripted, everything but the actual moment caught on film is carefully thought out.