What does a commercial aspire to be? It’s a question Chris [Zander] and I have been asking ourselves a lot since we started Tomorrow. Technology has granted us the ability to create any image we can currently imagine, yet no matter how many barriers we break, our audiences still thirst for something new.
Sometimes you get lucky and work with an agency and client that allow you to ask questions like these. Where the goal is “what can we achieve?” rather than “what is the next shot?” I am proud of what we have been achieving for Ford.
Thanks to our incredible collaborators at GTB we were able to design a process where the goal was “what can we achieve?” rather than “what is the next shot?” It’s a great feeling to work with kindred spirits. They are constantly pushing boundaries, trying to re-examine tried and true automotive formats with the goal of breaking and rebuilding them until they become more human.
This breaking and rebuilding is such an essential process. The word ‘authentic’ gets thrown around by every director, creative, client, and producer who sets out to make a docu-style campaign. We all have authenticity fatigue; the more we see spots of people talking to camera with cutaways of ‘real’ moments, the more we turn away. And the more ‘real’ these campaigns try to be, the faker they seem to become.
My conversations with Jeff [Bossardet], Dan [Przekop], Nick [Sternberg], Christina [Vindici], Alan [Borman] and the team at GTB started with a simple question: How can we make a testimonial feel fresh to a modern audience? That question began a journey of self-reflection and discovery.
Throughout the process, one of the key questions we kept asking is “why should our audience trust this stranger telling us about their SUV?” Trust is not something that comes easily, but if it can be harnessed, trust is the secret ingredient that kills inauthenticity. If we earn it with our talent, we’ll earn it with our audience.
We hadn’t met our subjects yet so we knew that any plan we designed had to stay flexible and adapt to the particular details of someone’s life. As we started talking about the Expedition and the people who drive it, we kept coming back to the vehicle’s interior and what it empowers a family to do. An Expedition can be a playground, an office, a storage locker and a restaurant among a million other tasks, but what does it do best? It protects the people we love while bringing us together.
All of these talks inspired a seed: what if the whole story was shot from inside the vehicle? We wanted to create a world that was a collection of moments that our families would normally be too busy to notice. Those little interactions you might catch a glimpse of in the rearview mirror on the way to your next destination.
But how best to tell this interior story? As it happened, I spent last summer travelling the country, visiting and documenting state fairs with my girlfriend. We were traveling light so needed our gear to be nimble while also giving us the intimacy we wanted with our subjects. After lots of testing, I landed on shooting with 16mm lenses on my Alexa. I had found some old French military lenses and a wide-angled lens NASA had sent to space. (Quite literally, my lens has been to space. If that’s not worth the eBay premium I don’t know what is.) As I ran through the rows of cattle and goats, I noticed the wide did something: it’s smaller sensor design could show you the whole space but didn’t have that oppressive ‘GoPro’ distortion or gross The Revenant rectilinear thing that large format lenses do to everyone’s face. Somehow it was fisheye wide without an ocean of consequences.
Our cinematographer on the Ford project, Luca Del Puppo, joined me at a dealership so we could test this theory that the lens would give us the exact right feeling. We took one of my wides inside the vehicle and it felt like we had discovered a magic trick. The Expedition transformed into a giant playground and we still looked like normal people inside. This childlike perspective made a lot of discoveries possible. Suddenly, there was no limit to what we could capture in the vehicle, as we made my Alexa small enough to go anywhere your iPhone could. The idea that ‘form follows function’ can sometimes feel a bit abstract, until you land on the perfect tool or technique to tell the story in the way that you imagine. It’s an egad! moment - and a HUGE relief!
A testimonial is a re-telling and I wanted to honour that tradition in our narrative. This didn’t have to be a single day in someone’s life, but a collection of moments we popped into like we were living through Slaughterhouse Five. These moments would never have to feel forced because our family could always be in motion, living their lives while completing a task or getting ready for their next destination. The interior of the vehicle quickly transformed into the feeling of a magic blanket that could transform into any shape or size you needed for your family to forget about what the car was doing and buy you an extra minute to live.
We started meeting our families as the seeds of this approach started to grow. There is nothing like casting to teach you what your story is really about. In all the insights and analytics, we forget people actually love the things they own. No one has a good answer to “what does your family do in your Expedition?” so we took another angle: what feature of your vehicle has changed your life then? This was never going to be a feature video, but that’s why people buy these vehicles, so why not use it to get a better sense of who they are?
Each person’s answer grew into the spine of their story and a way in during production. Our focus was on how each action reveals the family’s character. What do the objects your kids hide in a back seat pocket say about you? We never hesitated to show the little ways they’ve made the Explorer their own and what it says about them. By giving our families the chance to reveal their true selves, I knew they would surprise us, giving us a way of displaying these vehicles we could never have storyboarded.
Believing that the idea in your head is good enough is hubris. In a world where we don’t even know if we see the same color the same way, how could we ever assume we have the imagination to know what the world needs to connect? Ideas are seeds and our aspiration shouldn’t be a final product but surrounding these seeds with love, support, and collaboration so they can grow into something special.
Andrew Wonder is a director and co-founder at Tomorrow.