Monday, October 10, 2011


Here, for my money, is the best commercial currently on TV: the operatic bus ad for J. G. Wentworth. I find myself singing it on the street, and I musn't be the only one because YouTube is full of parodies of it. I wish I knew the story behind the making of it. Evidently a lot of trial and error was involved, and I document some of that here.

This is a one minute film that does everything right. Take the music: it's always catchy and to the point, and it's full of opportunities for good soloists to shine. Here a sympathetic director cast a great tenor and a great baritone, and rightly attempted to give them the star treatment.

Incidentally, note that the singers address the viewer most of the time, and not the girl who had the problem. That sounds illogical but, as you can see, it was the right thing to do. And I love the way the baritone in the back nudges his way up to the foreground. That's classic stagecraft. You can tell the director had stage experience, or at least hired a consultant who did.

Here's (above) an earlier version of the same commercial, probably by a different director. What a contrast! It opens on a boring, horizontal long shot where we can't see the performers' faces. When they do go in for a closeup it's on the female lead, who lacks star quality. The male lead is a little better but there's no attempt to make him a star. A great song is getting a frighteningly generic treatment here.

Compare that to the dynamic one-point perspective on the bus (the top video). where we could see the main actor clearly, and where the two primary singers were handled like stars. I love the way the bus version puts a lot of emphasis on the chorus. I LOVE choruses, and Baroque music, which this is, is full of them.

I wish I knew where this film (above) fit in the chronology. Is this earlier or later than the others? It certainly makes a lot of mistakes. The change of venue from shower to basement, to auto accident, to garage, to nursery is jarring.  The guy in the shower has some star quality, but he's not appealing in this role. The only appealing actor in the film is the white-haired mechanic, and he's not in it very long.

I have to admit that if I had directed this version I might have been tempted to change venues just like they did here. Man, that would have been an expensive mistake! We're lucky to have three versions of this film so we can learn without wasting money.

Here's (above) an early Wentworth commercial, which was done on the cheap. It's not a bad idea if you only have a few bucks to spend, but it doesn't work as good as it should because none of the actors has star quality. They're just generic people.

Regarding the first three videos: I love the way Wentworth kept at the problem til they got it right. They knew they had a first-rate song, and were willing to persevere through a lot of trial and error til they got what they wanted.


Joshua Marchant (Scrawnycartoons) said...

That is a fun ad! Is the bus one the final/current one they're using?

And when you say star potential, do you mean singing ability (unless it was dubbed) a specific face, a personality or something else?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Joshua: Aaargh! I hate to define terms. I just use the common street understanding of words.

Anonymous said...

I usually HATE commercials where the whole cast breaks into a musical number, especially when they butcher a classic motown song and they're all in passionate agreement about some stupid thing like online trading or not getting enough bacon on their cheeseburgers or annoyance with heartburn from too many bacon cheeseburgers but this is just fun.

Helps that it's directed at people with a very specific problem in the most direct way possible.

After aspirational "endless pursuit of perfect luxurious excellence" ads The worst commercials to me are the ones where a group of guys has a "quirky" conversation while eating macdonalds or whatever. John K talks a lot about how if someone acted like an arms folded "tude" expression character you'd want to hit them. It would be hard not to punch in the face a guy from a taco bell or coors light commercial.

Shawn Luke said...

Hi, Eddie! It's always great when you talk about how a film or short...or commercial for that matter, are directed and what you think of how they did it. I often forget, amongst all the things you talk about, that you are a storyboard artist and director yourself. Would you by any chance be willing to do a whole blog post or two, perhaps as a lesson, on story boarding and your theories as to why certain shots are the way they are, and how shots, composition and camera angle affect one's emotions.

By the way. I'm reading The Fountainhead on you recommendation and am looking forward to Atlas Shrugged

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Shawn: Good idea! I'll do that when I can. I did one post like that way back in 2006, I think.

Anon: Yeah, it makes a difference when it's done right. I wonder who the song that's used here?