Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video A conversation with filmmaker Abigail Honor, part of Filmmaking Forum: Scene Analysis.
- Okay Abby, so this is, I would definitely say a very very powerful spot, and unique. Not anything that you normally see for this type of message. I would love for you to tell us a little bit more about how you arrived at this ultimate vision. - Well, the agency came to us with a few ideas and we worked together to kind of hone this one down. The Department of Health is wonderful with the kind of commercials that they put out there. They make sure that they're approachable, yet they have this menacing, harsh reality to them.
There have been a few in the series before we made this one, so they had the bar set very high, but we did know the kind of look and feel. So I wanted to push it a little bit darker, a little bit bleaker, especially in terms of the lighting and the quiet dolly moving which really focuses you in on the moment, because putting myself in the position of somebody who is dying of lung cancer or a similar disease brought on by smoking, it just must be such a lonely, horrific experience to go through, that I think that's the most profound thing that I wanted to communicate to smokers.
'Cause ultimately the aim of this commercial is to get people to call the number and quit smoking. So the success of the commercial is measured on how many people actually call after the screens. So we got huge numbers, it was in the tens of thousands, so it went really well and they ran it for a long time. Interestingly enough, some channels wouldn't run it, so the moment when he spits the blood out was deemed too gratuitous for some channels, which in my opinion screen things which are way more gratuitous with guns and things, but I think because this resonates, because it has that realism to it, that people can't handle it very well.
It was very hard in terms of casting. He had to cough all day, it was exhausting for him, and just getting things like the blood right. We really went into detail with the medic on set on exactly how that would be, exactly how it would look, how it wouldn't look, so that we could really hit the nail on the head. - And then as far as the actual message, like you said, call the number on the screen, you have these stark film noir-ish images, you have the white text on black background, the only soundscape you have are the coughing, the wheezing, the water.
(coughing) The message itself is in text form, with, of course all of this stuff working with it. Why did you decide that that would be the ultimate way to underscore the message of what you were trying to convey? - I didn't want to romanticize it with music. I think that would have felt a bit cloying and superficial, and again, kind of trying to produce something that was really powerful and realistic. You're not standing in the bathroom hacking up a lung to music, you're actually standing there and all you hear is yourself, and it's absolutely awful.
So I think that was, I was just trying to make sure that this spot was as devastating as possible, and we recreated, that isn't a real bathroom. Logistically we couldn't have done that really nice long dolly shot, we couldn't find a bathroom large enough that wasn't in a school or an institution and we didn't want it to feel like that, so we actually recreated it, aged it, made it feel like a home, one of the five buroughs that somebody would be living in. - Is there anything else that you would like to say about storytelling, structure, style or process for the anti-smoking spot? - Yeah, I think I just mentioned that there's only a few cuts.
I think that making sure that, I was talking about the rhythm and the pacing of the edit, you could have cut it differently, you could have jump cut it in, there's a million different ways that you could have edited the footage that we shot, but I think there's one that from an editorial perspective resonates with the editor, and I think just making sure that the sound choices, the visuals, and the rhythm of the camera all work together. As an art form, film-making is multidimensional which is why I love it so much.
You have what it looks like, you have what it sounds like, and you also have this kind of feel, if you like, on top of it, you have the camera. So we're really fortunate, and that's one of the reasons why I love telling stories, whether it's commercials, museums, feature films, or documentaries, is because you get to play with all these different sides of film-making, and I respond best to film-makers who use all that plasticity, not just one. So I think we were fortunate in this to really just go with that long dolly shot which is very ominous.