No gaffers. No grips. No problem. What was originally conceived as a test by Frank Content owner and executive producer Danielle Kappy and director Craig Brownrigg to determine what could be achieved during a production shutdown has blossomed into a full-blown ad campaign for Distantly.ca, a new online platform created to help businesses during the COVID crisis.
Shot using scripts developed with Juliet Creative, the three ads—”Dog Groomer,” “Home Reno” and “Wax”— feature homebound Torontonians attempting to perform tasks best left to the professionals at the city’s more than 40,000 small businesses.
The ads, which went from conception to completion in about three weeks, were all shot while adhering to the rules governing non-essential businesses during the current lockdown. They’re proof of what can be accomplished through a combination of sharp writing, a little bit of technology and technical know-how, and a smattering of ingenuity.
“Advertisers want to share their message and have felt handcuffed by the restrictions,” says Kappy. “This shows that there’s an opportunity to execute and present ideas in ways they didn’t think they could.”
While Brownrigg and Kappy had developed preliminary scenarios and rough scripts for the ads, it wasn’t until Juliet came on-board that they were fully fleshed out, says Kappy. “We had scenarios, but we’re not a creative agency,” says Kappy.
“When Danielle first brought us the idea, we immediately loved it,” says Laurent Abesdris, partner, creative director at Juliet. “The scenarios were funny, and we thought the campaign had the potential to make an impact. Being a small business ourselves, we jumped on the opportunity.”
Each of the resulting ads is comedic in nature, featuring people in self-isolation fumbling their way through tasks that are almost certainly best left to the professionals. Each spot finishes with the tag “Save it for a small business,” and directs viewers to Distantly.ca.
Created by the City of Toronto, Distantly.ca is an online platform that enables Torontonians to provide financial support to local businesses that are closed because of the current health crisis.
It was developed in partnership with the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA), which works with the city’s 83 different BIAs, and Digital Main St., a City and TABIA program created to help brick-and-mortar businesses establish an online presence.
TABIA’s executive director John Kiru says the spots are in keeping with the organization’s fondness for quirky advertising. That’s perhaps most evident in “Wax,” which features a man attempting to give his significant other a Brazilian wax, with predictably disastrous results.
“It’s a little bit edgy and interesting, but that’s nothing new for us,” says Kiru of the new campaign, which marks the organization’s first foray into video advertising.
A decade ago, TABIA blanketed the city with posters featuring double entendre headlines like “My neighbour says size matters” (for a tailor) and “My neighbour jerks my chicken” (for a Caribbean restaurant).
While some props—and in one case a tripod—were dropped off at actors’ homes prior to shooting, all of the ads were created using nothing more than an iPhone and an app called Filmic Pro, spruced up with some post-production work courtesy of School Editing and postRevolution.
The spots’ five actors were ACTRA members that Frank Content had worked with previously, recruited through Mann Casting owner Steven Mann. Adam Gaudreau is the actor in the “Home Reno” spot, while Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll and comedic actress Gwynne Phillips appear in “Wax.” Alex Somerville, who was hired after a Zoom casting call, appears in “Dog Groomer.”
All of the shoots were completed in a day, following technical rehearsals during which Brownrigg and director of photography Brett Van Dyke remotely walked the actors through details such as their marks, lighting, where to best position the camera etc. “We relied quite heavily on the talent, and walked them through all of the steps,” says Kappy.
On shoot day, Brownrigg was connected to the actors via Zoom, providing direction between takes. “They’d set up the camera where Craig would say it’s supposed to be, roll a couple of takes, Craig would give direction, and we’d do it again,” says Kappy.
Where there might typically be anywhere from 40-45 people on set for spots of a similar nature, the ads were filmed by an actor’s significant other or, as in the case of the “Wax” spot, using an iPhone fixed in place.
“The reality is that there were a lot of things that the talent took on they wouldn’t ordinarily,” says Kappy. That included tasks such as hair and makeup, wardrobe, gripping, gaffing etc.
While Kappy says there are some “tells” that the spots are homemade, such as a reliance on natural light and a relative lack of camera moves, they are a reasonable facsimile of everyday ads.
“In the end, we managed to do two important things here, which I’m really proud of,” says Abesdris. “First, we created three spots that can make a difference for small businesses in Toronto. Second, I think we’ve proven that this production method is not just possible but viable, which opens the door for more productions just like it.”
Most importantly, says Kappy, the ads possess an element of fun missing from so much advertising right now. “There’s nothing wrong with happy [and] kind messages, but people also want to laugh,” she says.
Her message, then, to brands that might be looking to break out of a creative rut but aren’t quite sure how to go about it: Do try this at home.