Today, Spike Jonze’s new movie for Absolut Vodka, I Am Here, is finally available for everyone to see on the Web. It’s beautifully shot, and worth a look. And if you’re interested in some context about why Jonze ever agreed to direct what’s essentially a commerical turned short film, read our short profile of the project below….
Fresh from Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze has just announced his newest project, I’m Here, which premiers today at the Sundance Film Festival. Fast Company sat down with the film’s two executive producers, Mark Figliulio and Matt Bijarchi. The duo also happen to be the chief creative officer and the executive producer of media arts at TBWA/Chiat/Day. Which gives away one very strange aspect of the movie: Though it’s being premiered at film festivals and will be for sale in March, it’s also a commercial for Absolut. So the film is also a strategy for reintroducing branding, to audiences increasingly impervious to traditional advertising.
“This isn’t the first time people have created branded content,” says Figliulio. “But it’s never really been accepted on its own merits. That’s the grey area we’re trying to explore.” Set in a gauzy version of L.A., it’s a love story about a boy and a girl–who also happen to be robots made from what looks like cast-off computer parts from 1994. That conceit allows Jonze to create a quirky, alternate world for their romance. In one scene, for example, the boy plugs in the girl for the night–which manages to become a scene of such delicate intimacy that it makes you squirm a little. (The male lead is played by Andrew Garfield, who was also just recently cast in David Fincher’s adaptation of The Social Network, a book about Facebook’s founding. Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin, who founded the company with Mark Zuckerberg.)
In making the film, Figliulio and Bijarchi gave Jonze a brief to write and direct a film depicting creativity conquering conformity. Though Jonze eventually had to get script and shooting approvals–typical stuff for Hollywood, actually–he essentially had free reign over the project. “Companies like TBWA might hire someone like Spike Jonze to do a commercial,” without ever crediting that director, explains Figliulio. “But we left it open because we asked him to put his name on it.”
The budget for the film was sizable for a 30-minute film, and inline with what some companies spend on Super Bowl ads. That might pay off, in free placement: It’s been accepted to the Sundance, Berlin, and Turkey film festivals. It will likely air soon on a yet-to-be confirmed cable channel. And it’ll potentially sold as a beautifully packaged boxed edition, as well as watchable online. What remains to be seen is whether such a quirky project will boil down to brand recognition for Absolut, and how will film audiences react. As Figliulio suggests, it’s a gray area which hasn’t yet been widely embraced.
And for companies that would seek to follow in Absolut’s footsteps, there is a challenge: Getting a guy like Spike Jonze. He’s known for quirky fare such as Being John Malkovich. But he’s also directed commercials for The Gap, Adidas, and Miller Beer. “Spike respects the medium,” says Bijarchi. “He’s one of the few people that see commercials as an art, and his ad work is every bit as discerning as his features.”