What do normal, everyday Americans do with really fast Internet connections? Watch movies. Lots of them. And as it goes with knowledge, the more you know, the more you talk about what you know.
The abundance of knowledge is the basis of a new campaign for CenturyLink broadband and Prism interactive TV. Launching during the Oscars, the campaign imagines life among a family of preternaturally gifted film critics. Critics so enamored with their own Hollywood smarts that even the presence of acclaimed actor-cum-CenturyLink spokesperson Paul Giamatti in their dining room, living room, or bedroom fails to impress them. Rather, they’re moved to give him unsolicited notes on his performance, wardrobe, and overall film-buffness.
Arnold Worldwide’s global chief creative officer Jim Elliott says the concept came from what he calls two cultural truths: namely that there’s so much high-quality content available today, and audiences also have unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes and insider content around their favorite programs.
"Thanks to all the amazing forms of technology at our disposal, Americans have never had this level of nonstop access to all that content. So we’re becoming these ravenous devourers of all things entertainment," says Elliott, adding that because of outlets like TMZ, IMDb, Us Weekly, Vanity Fair, Inside the Actors Studio, and more, people are becoming students of the industry itself. "We’re becoming armchair film critics. We’re becoming Hollywood Insiders. And we can’t get enough of it."
That led to the idea of having an everyday family try to one-up a real actor’s actor like Giamatti, turning the tables on the celebrity-fan dynamic. "[We thought] what if we had a celebrity spokesperson in a home talking about CenturyLink’s offerings in a completely straightforward and expected way, but then, quickly reveal a family of Hollywood critics who proceeds to unleash their insider wisdom on our unsuspecting celeb without hesitation or apology?"
Giamatti, naturally, delivers a pitch-perfect performance, but his supporting cast are also a big part of the campaign’s appeal. An ensemble cast of mother, father, teenage son, and precocious daughter, the way the family riffs off each other in a natural but knowing way perfectly set Giamatti up as a foil. Director Will Speck, who directed the spots with Josh Gordon (known as Speck and Gordon), says the duo was drawn to the richness of creating a family’s backstory. "It was an opportunity to be able to cast an ensemble of actors that would be good sparring partners for Paul Giamatti and be able to be believable as these slightly annoying but still likeable characters."
There was also a degree of flexibility in how the cast interacted on set. One of the spot concepts revolves around the family engaging Giamatti in the improv practice of "Yes, and…" while he’s giving his spokes-pitch. And that, in fact, is how Speck and Gordon approached directing.
"It came down to the rhythm—making sure we shot lots of improv and trying to keep things as fluid as possible on set and letting the actors run with it and find their own voice. Also, shooting in a real house, that really felt like the family’s house, and ensuring that the actors interacted with each other in a way that made them feel like a real family, that had a lot to do with it too," he says.
The fact that Giamatti, while a Golden Globe- and Emmy Award-winning actor, had never appeared in a commercial also helped elevate the work, says Josh Gordon. "He approached it with the same level of intensity when it comes to character building as it seems like he does in his other work."
For a campaign geared at a film-loving audience, the dynamic between actor and wannabe insider rings all too true. How many times have you voiced an armchair opinion on the believability of an actor’s portrayal, the implausibility of a plot point, the perfection or abomination of costuming, or the complete lack of emotional connection delivered by the score? All of which comes to know-it-all climax on Oscar Sunday.