Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

The Story Behind a Visual Love Letter to LA

London, UK
Cast Iron’s J. Barbush tells Addison Capper about enlisting the help of friends, family and former colleagues to instil a bit of hometown pride amid the seemingly endless negative news
Last week while stuck inside, J. Barbush and a few LA ad industry friends (and his college student son) virtually collaborated on a personal project. It was a love letter to Los Angeles, the city they all call home, as an effort to bring some comfort to themselves and viewers during these difficult times. 

The film was written and directed by J. Barbush and Luis Ramirez of newly launched agency Cast Iron LA. Cinematography was by Erik Olsen, voice actor Jamie Hill (also J's neighbour) contributed, and original music was composed by J's son, Alexander Barbush. It was done in 24 hours, with none of us actually meeting face-to-face. 

Addison Capper chatted with J to find out more. 

LBB> What inspired this project? 

J> I was seeing so much negativity in the news, hoarding, this survivalist instinct from people. It broke my heart, especially as many people cannot afford to hoard. I thought, we can’t control the virus, but we can control our response to it. So early on, I wrote this personal piece on How To Be A Better Human During The Coronavirus.

As days progressed, and SF was shut down, we knew LA was next. We knew people would be confused and scared, and we wanted to do whatever small part we could.  

When the quarantine orders came into effect for Friday, we thought we could all use a bit of light among the darkness. A bit of hometown pride. Too many people were saying “we’re all in this together”, but not enough people were showing it. That was the brief we took on. How to show people we can unify around a city we love, stay put, and still experience the city in our minds. The way we get through this is by living our lives for others, following the rules, and being kind to each other. This was a reminder for that.

LBB> How did you produce it? Where did you source the footage? 

J> My partner and I wrote a script. We called up my friend and next-door neighbor, Jamie Hill. She is a well known voice actor (and has a booth in her house). We’ve recorded together before. She recorded the script, and we had VO.

Next, we needed imagery. So, we reached out to Erik Olsen, an award-winning video journalist, former co-worker, drone pilot, and friend. I had just seen a drone piece he shot showing the starkness of the LA Landscape. I asked if he would donate some of his footage, and he immediately agreed. Next, we needed a music bed, so I asked my son, Alexander Barbush, an engineering student at Oregon Stage (home on Spring Break) to write and perform a track for this. So he recorded it in his room on a Mac with a Blue Mic.

Then, my partner Luis and I edited this together from basically found footage from Erik, and finished it late Saturday night.

LBB> What are your main aims for the project? 

J> LA is a living, breathing community of people, and although maybe shut off, we are not shut down. Even when that community is spread out, our soul moves about to the places we love most. The places where we found romance, skinned our knees or jumped off a pier with our clothes on. LA is us, and we are LA. So we wanted to create a video that brought people together. This is a love letter to our city, from everyone who calls this place home.

LBB> What kind of image for LA did you want to portray in the film?

J> Since we were using found footage from Erik, we wanted it to feel stark and still. So people could imagine our city in a lonely, quiet state. We wanted it to be inspirational and mindful. It needed to be emotional, and in a subtle way, remind people that LA will still be there after all of this madness, and we should wait it out safely at home. 

LBB> How else are you keeping busy during lockdown? 

J> We are natively digital, and are servicing clients in the same way, except now my animals are a bit more needy and walking on my keyboard. More practically, we cancelled three shoots, and may be doing one product shot stills via Zoom with our photographer. That level of remote working on production is new to us, but we are built from a growth-mindset, are curious and easily adapt. We are just looking at all communication through a new lens, and being mindful of people’s situations. Even showing people together feels odd for these times. If brands aren’t pausing their work previous to this, they should really be rethinking it. There is a line in the sand, and we must make sure all the work is on the right side of it. 

LBB> Any parting thoughts?

J> Our agency is just two full-time people, and our wives who are our C-suite in Finance and Operations. They basically run the show as their second job. We bring in small companies in our network as we go. We are trying to be adaptive to the new way of working and how agencies must survive. 

We chose our name because we were both let go after 50 from RPA. Cast Iron represents the rebirth of old metal that’s been cast away. It was the brake pad that kept your family safe while driving. The metal bridge that provided a way to work. The girder of a demolished apartment building that fell out of architectural favor. All those metal scraps were collected and melted together in a process that made them stronger than before. That’s how we like to think of ourselves.

Part of our corporate mission is to go beyond marketing, and help with the greater good when we can. As companies like Hanes are making masks, they are pivoting to do just that. Within our skill sets and capabilities, we thought we could just put together a thoughtful respite from the more dire news, and create a message of hope and perseverance with the help of our friends and family. 
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