THOMAS THONSON

TECHNOLOGY: Microsoft [Opening]

When I think about these two spots I think about motion. About hurtling into the future. About a headlong rush into the new and the unexpected. Synergies colliding, competing ideas finding harmony, a single idea opening up a whole new universe of possibilities. It kind of reminds me of a cue ball hitting a rack of balls on a pool table and watching as they explode in many different directions. The theme here, I think, has to be about breaking down the perceived barriers between the different disciplines––the different academic fields––and presenting them as a whole. As a tapestry of what makes us human. Because they are all connected in some way, one feeding the next, and where we can find those connections, that should be our focus. By putting our emphasis on this sort of synergistic theme, I think we can really make these two spots feel fresh and exciting. We’re taking knowledge out of the box and helping the world move forward.
CARS: Dodge Ram [Opening]

THE ROMANCE OF THE ROAD

Who doesn’t have a fantasy about a motorcycle, an open road, the wind in your hair, the trip all ahead of you?

Born to be wild.

Freedom.

It’s in our cultural DNA at this point. That’s the first feeling we’re going to invoke with this spot––the real version of it, not the fantasy. And our bad boys on their thundering bikes are going to look edgy and real.

Maybe even a little scary. So a nice image to start with might be the long black shadows of the moving bikes racing across the desert floor.

And then we find our bike pack and the road is all theirs. Until...
SPORTS: Asics [Opening]

MYSTERY, ANTICIPATION, AND THE JOYS OF HUMAN CREATIVITY

This is what we have going for us with this spot. At its heart it’s got to feel playful and genuine. We don’t have to show off: the concept has a built in “wow” factor that will gain strength the more natural it appears. Any attempts to slick it up, with post effects or tricky camera work, is only going to weaken its power and appeal. This should feel like an actual event. So let it unfold with subtle camera movements and compositions that help build the anticipation and ultimately guide us to the final reveal.
CARS: Infiniti [Opening]

THE RACING MOVIE OF OUR DREAMS

We all have an image in our heads of those great stylish Grand Prix racing movies of the past. It’s set somewhere mid-century, with a European feel, and with stars like Jean Paul Belmondo and Paul Newman, and it’s got a sophisticated adult themes, fast cars, fast women, fierce rivalries, and brutal on track competition. I say the movie of our dreams, because we’re probably mixing up bits of different movies seen on TV over they years, but nevertheless, it exerts a hold on our imagination because it seems to embody a certain amount of wish fulfillment of an exciting and desirable life.

That’s the feeling we want to capture from the very first frame.
FINANCIAL: Rocky Mountain Health Plan [Opening]

In life things don’t always go as planned. Nothing does. We are caught up in a glorious uncertainty that can be both terrifying and joyful. In a very smart way, the two stories presented here mirror the concept of insurance––the idea of ameliorating the worst of times, so we can make the best of times better. It is a powerful idea that we need to drive home with a laser like focus on image selection and story structure.
CARS: Dodge [Tone]

They say that after a certain age you get the face your deserve, which is just another way of saying that who you are becomes how you look. Your character shines through. This idea seems to be at the heart of these “Wisdom” spots, because real wisdom is knowing who you are––figuring out what makes you tick. If you crack a 100 years on this planet, and have lived a full life, you better have the balls to own it. Every damn inch of it.

It might be the ex-caddy for Frank Sinatra, remembering the days when Frank was handing out 100 dollar bills, or a high society socialite who used to be the belle of the ball, or a retired country musician who used to play with Buck Owens, or a long-haul truck driver with grandkids in every state, but whatever the history, our 100-year-old faces will show us that there’s no going back, there’s no “do overs.” And they wouldn’t have it any other way. This is the real deal: unadorned, honest, living in the moment, but shaped by the past.

And those are the same qualities we want to impart to our Dodge cars. They have also had full lives––stylish, iconic, rebellious, and steeped in tradition, they have reinvented themselves decade by decade. Never look back. So, even as we start this spot with a tone of wistful remembrance, this isn’t about regret, or remorse, or nostalgic memories. This is about living your life, not your age. Because, in the end, we are more than just the sum of our choices and experiences. We are something more––something that makes each of us unique. And that something more is what we want to explore and celebrate in this spot.
SPORTS: Asics [Tone]

The key word for me here, is real. Real-world visuals. Real-world people. Doing something extraordinary. Our look has to be realized with a deft touch, a balance between high-energy visuals that are also organic to the action. Our images will be beautifully composed, but the energy will come from the well choreographed movement within the frame. And we are going to be immensely helped by all the possibilities that come when brightly lit translucent orbs are placed against people, a night sky, tree branches, etc. Just the soft light from a glowing balloon creating a rim-lit profile or back-lighting a figure can be magical. The potential for creating stunning visuals is almost endless: the canopy of trees will ripple into view from the moving light shooting up from below. The balloons will momentarily seem to dance and blur together in long streaks with some wide-shutter effects. The silhouetted tree branches will snap into relief as we pull focus through the moving runners. As you can see, there are numerous lighting and lensing options that I am eager to explore and exploit.
HEALTH & BEAUTY: Head & Shoulders [Cinematography]

On another, purely visual level, I’ve always had a special relationship to water––water moving, pouring, flowing, splattering, etc. It’s a medium that I love to capture visually, and find constantly rewarding. It is wildly variable in its affect depending on lighting choices and film speeds. Its surface can look like anything from hard, glinting steel, to softly liquid, and can be easily infused with color and texture. In short, it is a wonderful affective palette for creating beautiful, iconic images. For that reason, I propose we shoot this spot with the Arriflex Alexa, and Phantom hi-speed cameras. The Phantom will allow me to get speeds up to 2500 frames a second. This slow-motion affect will be particularly useful for the racing footage, but it can also make a single water droplet from a strand of hair an earth-shattering event. And, it not only changes the motion of an object, with water especially, it changes the appearance and quality of it. The way a shadow moves across that surface of water at high-speed can look complete different then anything you’ve ever seen before.

As I mentioned earlier, my lensing of the racing footage, will greatly help the look and feel of this spot, as well as its over all consistency. I really want to get the camera in the pool with Michael, watch the air bubbles stream off his foot as it moves through the water, capture the way the surface of the water bends and finally gives way, just as his head breaks the surface, etc. There are many such moments that we can capture, that will feel breathtakingly original. The opportunity for great cutaways is almost endless.
FOOD: Milk PSA [Visual Approach]

TODAY/TOMORROW

Time going backwards. Like it’s being rewound. Captures your imagination. Who isn’t taken by the mysterious sweep of time? Something we can’t really control. It just marches on. Who hasn’t rewound their day in their mind and wondered how things would be different with one small thing they might’ve done in the past? This is the strength of this spot. It’s universal. We all cast our mind back and review the chain of events that brings us to a certain place. So with that in mind we want to execute our vignettes to help facilitate that effect. Here’s how we do it...

FAST/SLOW

We want to play with time -- make it appear elastic. And we want to blend one vignette into the next. One way to achieve that is to work with different camera speeds. From extreme slow motion .... and the accelerating to a blur as we cut and then slowing into the motion of the next vignette. The mind works that way: things fly by and then with intense concentration, things seem to slow down and become more vivid.
BEAUTY: Abreva [Look & Feel]

A stylish world: a world of beauty and fashion that is layered and textured, with shimmering highlights, and chiaroscuro shadows. Richly evocative. A high-end feel. Big screen cinematic in the best sense of that word, meaning that each frame has a reason to exist on a purely visual level. It has a beauty to it beyond the content, and it catches our eye and draws us into the environment we are creating.

Then a subtle use of shadow will give us a sense of mystery and suspense. Faces turned away, faces coming out of the shadow, eyes finally looking directly at us. A bit of visual cat-and-mouse will make the action more involving and alluring. And when that face come out of the shadow, she will be lit with a crisp, soft light, a high-key look that penetrates deep into the eyes and brings out our woman’s natural beauty. A light that feels clean and bright and enveloping.

And our use of color should be similarly nuanced. Instead of moving from a pure black & white image to a color one, I suggest we create a black & white world in color. In other words, our sets will have mostly shades of grey and black, or darker, muted colors that appear that way. And then as we transition from the black & white feel to a saturated and brighter color scheme, the change will come mostly in our wardrobe and flesh tones. The woman’s skin and clothes will always be in color, but change from being de-saturated to richly colored. So everything is going to feel more colorful.
FINANCIAL: Lotto [Look & Feel]

All of the scenarios turn on the idea of the juxtaposition of past and future information. To heighten the impact of this device, two things become critical. First, that the audio track of the conversation comes across as real and credible. We want to recognize two things immediately––that the environment created by the voices is not the environment we are seeing, and that the voices convey real emotion and excitement about the winning moment.

For the visual component, it’s critical that the images we present flow naturally from our narrative scenario. What I mean, is that we want to feel like we’re telling a story and not presenting a series of postcard landscapes. Of course the locations will be gorgeous but the beauty is going to come from the lighting and composition, and in the actions of our lotto winners.

I want to create an emotion filled moment by the way they move and interact within the frame, and it’s always been one of my strengths that I am able to integrate figures in an environment or landscape that feels exactly right.
FOOD: Maxwell House [Visual Approach]

Beyond the match-cut technique, the look here is going to be one of heightened and intensified reality. The approach will be simple, straightforward, and honest. The beauty of the images will manifest itself thought the composition and framing. We don’t want anything to feel staged, but we want to pack the most information into each frame. What I am most inspired by is showing something we’ve seen millions of times before and presenting it in such away that it looks fresh again. There’s ways to make the swing of a hammer and the brush of paint look extraordinary without looking phony, or overly tricky.

Not all close-ups are created equal. Some only get close and others become a revelation. I’ll be looking for the most meaningful reveal.

Branding is important, but it needs to be employed in a tasteful way so as not to disrupt our story flow. Our voter having her coffee moment doesn’t have to be a visual cliché. It can be shot in a way that matches the volunteer images: a natural, not overly staged presentation that emphasizes a real moment in someone’s life. We will find subtle ways to present our coffee moment, just as we will find unique ways to incorporate those coffee moments with our volunteers at work.
FINANCIAL: Barricks [Visual Approach]

EMOTION + OPPORTUNITY

Before we begin shooting we will have a carefully planned shot list, but like anything preplanned, it is best to stay open to building and expanding upon those visual ideas. My method has always been one of taking advantage of what the real world presents me. I am an opportunist, responding emotionally and empathetically to the environment I find myself in. I’m looking for the iconic image, the telling detail, the emblematic moment, something that will give life to the story we’re trying to tell. I want to capture the spirit of things, and the spirit of things sometimes can’t be choreographed; it needs to be discovered. Part of that is done through...

EXPANSION + COMPRESSION

Our visual palette needs to consist of not only grand and sweeping shots, the part of mining that is big (and we certainly do want to capture that scale in al its breathtaking magnitude), but also the human details –– the hands , the faces, the human beings that make it all go –– the tools they use, the environments they thrive in. This will give a natural dynamism to the succession of images, and keep it from being too programmatic. We will be immersed in the different worlds and drawn to the...
BEAUTY: Aveeno [Visual Style]

I’m my own director of photography. I’m up close and personal, right behind the camera, studying the image. When I think something looks good, I’m not relying on someone else’s opinion. It’s my aesthetic that they can rely on and have confidence in. I’ve spent many years lighting and photographing beautiful women. This is visual territory that I feel completely at home with. It’s almost instinctual––an intuitive understanding of the female face presented before a lens. In my world, falling light is always falling on a beautiful face, and it is this experience and these perfected methods I want to bring to the table here.

So when you say natural lighting what I hear is natural “looking” lighting. It’s how we manipulate both natural light and artificial light sources that gives us that natural look. By using long lenses for their flattering effect on the shape and planes of the face, and by sculpting the light so that it softly models that face, we are going to arrive at a glowing, radiant looking image that brings out those famous blue eyes, and makes her skin tones seem almost luminous. And by wrapping her in soft light, but also using natural sunlight for backlighting, we are going to make it feel as real as a snapshot of a woman in her backyard relaxing on a brilliant sunny day, except that I will be controlling and sculpting the light for the most flattering effect.

Our frame will also have depth to it, a striking composition, and a palette of colors that reflects the tones that you’ve already so carefully established.
TECHNOLOGY: Microsoft [Visual Style]

I see this not so much as cutting between distinct vignettes, but as a series of fluid images that flow from place to place almost seamlessly. Of course much of this is in the editing style, but we need to set up that style with image making that gives us those cut points. To that end, we will be shooting frames that always have motion in them, whether from the camera or within the frame. And we want to use a shallow focus so that we can manipulate planes of focus, pulling things into sharp relief and allowing for startling reveals. Slow motion will also work well for many of these shots. By slowing motion down we can create a timeless poetic feel to some of these moments. We can also show actions in ways the naked eye couldn’t catch. But fundamentally, it all starts with light and design. Beautiful, natural looking lighting and strong compositions. This is about having an eye and finding the most compelling angle to tell our story. That’s the bedrock of my method and it never changes.
CARS: Dodge [Casting]

There’s a beautiful simplicity to this concept: face after face comes at you each with a lifetime behind the eyes and each building on the other, until we have over a thousand years of experiences unfolding before us. There’s real power in that. You can’t help but be moved and emotionally involved, unless you don’t believe what you are seeing. So authenticity is bedrock to every frame: real faces, real people, in the moment, conjuring the past, imagining the future. Nothing feels staged or scripted, over dramatized, or manipulated for effect. You get what you see.

And all of this has to happen with real people. We need to dig down into their life stories and find the emotional touchstones that will make each of these moments come alive. That means connecting to them as people, going on that journey with them, making them feel comfortable, and letting them naturally come to a place where a single sentence or a few words can be filled with meaning. More than almost anything, I love working with non-actors––people plucked from real life. You learn something about human nature every time and it can be amazingly rewarding. You don’t get the pre-programmed responses, or canned reactions you often get with some of your professional actors. You get the unvarnished truth, the unscripted reality, the out-of-left-field nuggets that you couldn’t even dream of.
BEAUTY: Abreva [Concept]

When I think about these three spots, this is the idea that seems to be right at the heart of the visual and thematic idea of them. The premise is simple and powerful. Reveal the real you. The world is saturated by images of female beauty––faces, eyes, the right hair, your best look. How can we not be affected by these images and our own image reflected back at us in other’s eyes? We want to look great and put our best face forward. We want to feel confident about the way we look, and this spot is all about creating that confidence.

And visually, the idea of our reflected selves is the central image. In all of them we see a woman’s face looking into a mirror and examining herself––seeing if this is the image she wants to present to the world.
CONSUMER PRODUCTS: Purina [Humor]

Finally a spot that dares to show how much time dog owners spend thinking about their dog’s poop, and their dog’s well-being in general. It’s a deep dark secret isn’t it? You walk the dog and come home and your spouse or your loved one asks us how the walk went, and then… how did he poop? And you say it was a good poop and even describe it. It really happens. You’re not the only one, people. And now, with the “Talking to the Neighbors” spot, we rip the lid off dog lovers’ real lives. You don’t have to hide in the shadows anymore. You are liberated.

Really, in all seriousness, this is a universal thing with dog owners and a strong premise to wrap this story around. I really can’t wait to capture these moments and present them for all to see. It’s smart and clever and very, very true to life.

And can I just say, that the idea of a person being jealous of a dog’s physical attributes is hilarious in of itself. And you take it a step further here by juxtaposing it against a young man’s prematurely balding. A double whammy that is also oddly touching. There’s a vulnerability exposed, a humanness that will make the humorous beats all that more poignant. Don’t get me wrong, we are going for funny here, but it’s always better when you can make someone laugh and say to themselves at the same time, “That’s so true, I recognize that, ”I’ve been there.”
CARS: Infiniti [Story]

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS

And suddenly we’re in the Infiniti and it seems like a different world completely, because they are going fast––real fast, but it’s quiet and smooth and the couple riding along inside appear to be out for a day of sight seeing, which is exactly what they were up to… until they got a little off course.

What’s important here is that our couple should not play this for comedy, but make it as real as possible, that will make the improbability of it all, have that much more impact. They are on a drive, they are lost, and even though the husband seems to be incredibly prolific behind the wheel, it’s all in a day’s drive. Besides, with this car it’s all so easy, isn’t it?

And this couple has a relaxed sophistication about them. They are well traveled, and not easily thrown by a bump in their itinerary, so we’re going to believe that moment when the wife rolls down the window to ask directions of the incredulous F1 driver
FOOD: Maxwell House [Story]

Viewers are visually sophisticated these days. They can easily link two different storylines. They pick up on visual references immediately. This gives us the opportunity to be creative with our transitions between our story-paths. So while we will definitely find some clever and beautiful match-frame opportunities, we will also be looking for other cutting options.

Another way to “match” frames is through visual equivalencies: in other words, the content of the frames doesn’t have to match exactly, so much as we match movement and composition. This is the kind of thing I love to do and is almost instinctual in my shooting style. I fill my frames with images that might not go together, but suddenly feel like they do because of the way I’ve shot them. So as we cut back and forth between our voter and our volunteers, there will be many opportunities to “match” the feel and framing of the different shots, even if it’s not as obvious as two pairs of feet, or pouring liquid.
CARS: Dodge Ram [Story]

This is the heart of the drama in this spot. As the bikers close in around the truck surrounding it and eyeballing it, and the driver of the truck shooting them looks, wondering about their intentions, and considering the possibilities of what this could all mean. There are plenty of opportunities to play this up with multiple camera angles.

Tight moving shots of truck details can easily be intercut with looks from the biker as their gazes linger on the truck with grudging admiration. We will also be able to get a spectacular moving 3/4 view of it as they try to pull around. A nicely motivated shot that will also be integral to the unfolding dramatic action.

And as we discussed, a dynamic use of truck versus motorcycle sounds will greatly enhance the interplay of the dueling machines. The hiss of the tires, the throaty roar of the exhaust pipes, etc., should get louder as we cut to closer shots and fade away as we go wider angles, really giving us the feeling that we are on that road with those speeding vehicles.

We also want to take care that we the driver registers a bit of concern initially, before he realizes that the outlaw cred of his truck has won these tough guys over. The final head motion or nod by our biker leader, as the group pulls away should be a subtle one. Not anything hammy or cartoonish. We want this to feel real, and at the same time we should still be slightly uncertain about what his intentions are.
FINANCIAL: Rocky Mountain Health Plans [Story]

We are outdoors at the reception. Bride and groom glowing. Guests milling about, waiters at work. A sense of great anticipation.

Our first hint of disaster is a rising wind that lifts the bride’s dress.

DETAILS: I love the idea of using old pates and cups, as if these are precious heirlooms passed down for generations. It gives us a certain specificity and richness. Individualizes it so we’re not creating a generic wedding. Another nice visual touch would be the use of umbrellas for decorations. They have a gossamer beauty and one could perhaps tip over as it fills up with rain. And as we’re going to be in a beautiful natural environment, let’s make sure that we use natural textures in our art direction––old wooden chairs, hand painted items, etc.

In the reflection of a tea set we notice storm clouds gathering.
Then a few drops of rain fall.

A drop hits an open menu and the ink smudges. Another drop fall into someone’s drink. (extreme close up)

A lady with a big hat looks up at the sky and frowns. A drop of water strikes her hat with a resounding thud...
SPORTS: Asics [Story]

A big part of making this work relies on how we build our story. I see us starting with shapes, colors, streaks of light, and movements––back-lit, shadowy––that the viewer will not immediately recognize. So while we are saying to ourselves, wow that’s beautiful, we will be wondering what’s going on. And then recognizable figures will appear, and running feet (a natural way to showcase our product), and the shapes of the balloons will become more clear and definable, and we will see that these are people with balloons, but we still won’t know why they are running with balloons.

At the same time, we should be getting the feeling that these are different groups of people coming from all over: out of dark alleyways…across pedestrian bridges against a glittering sky…through open fields with a city backdrop…winding pathways beneath a canopy of trees. A pilgrimage.

As we do this, to add to the mystery and wonder of it all, and to give it a larger dimension and scope, we are going to be changing our point of view, so that we see the balloons through a window, or high from a rooftop, or reflected in a fountain, or pool of water. The environment itself should feel like it’s caught up in the excitement of this journey––it’s an epic event and the whole world is holding its breath, waiting to see what this is all about.
FINANCIAL: Nationwide [Script]

FADE IN

A NEIGHBORHOOD STREET. Modest, well kept, solidly middle America. And at first everything looks normal. Houses in a row, blue sky, birds chirping. Everything is fine, right? But then…

CUT TO

A TREE BRANCH is dangling from some power lines.

CUT TO

A CAR has been pushed up onto someone’s lawn and sits at a crazy angle, like it’s been abandoned..

CUT TO

A WINDOW SMASHED and gaping, the curtains blowing gently into a dark house.

ANNC (V.O.)
As an insurance company, you expect Nationwide
to protect you in times of need. And we do.
FINANCIAL: Nationwide [Script]

PULL BACK TO REVEAL

A HUGE TREE has been blown over by the fierce wind and now lies on top of their garage. The roof has been crushed. This is some serious damage.

CUT TO

A DOORWAY to a small business on main street. The shop owner is exiting, and as he does, he flips the sign hanging in the window to read, “Closed.”

ANNC (V.O.)
But what makes Nationwide Insurance a different
kind of company is that we’re member-owned, so
we look out for each other’s interests, not Wall Street.

CUT TO

A PLUMBER’S VAN parked on the street as the plumber walks up to it, tosses his tools in the back, turns, and walks up the street.
Sports: Asics [Music & Sound]

A big part of building the drama and anticipation will be sound design and song selection. The sound should have a muffled, whispery feel at first, slightly obscured and mysterious like our images, and then as we move into the group, it should grow clearer and more natural. Similarly it would be great to find a song that has a build to it and an explosive chorus––something along the lines of Coldplay’s “Viva, la Vida.”

Click Image To Enlarge