Erik Freeland, Director
On directing commercials with subtle messages and sensitive subjects
Most directing projects present some sort of challenge whether it’s creative, budgetary or time-related. Of these the creative challenges are preferred –– the other two usually exist anyway.
Over the years, I have directed several commercials where the creative required a sensitive balance between the tone of the spot and its message. Two examples of these are spots I directed in Philadelphia, one for the Phillies and the other for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation.
For the Phillies, I was presented with a script written by Kelly Simmons, of Tierney Communications. The action required that a group of actual players be filmed playing like ‘kids’ in a grassy meadow, selling the team’s transition to a real grass field in Citizens Park.
The shoot day arrived and the players were only available for minutes. We hit the field with DP David Morabito and the hard part of my job began… getting celebrity ball-players to skip in the grass for a broadcast spot. After a few moments of coaxing, they were getting into it, with resistance only coming from one player. They ran, skipped, did jumping jacks and even played tag. We filled in with more action from body doubles and called it a day.
The nervous energy of the players as they became more comfortable with the spot made it genuine, fresh and timeless. As it turned out, the spot won a Silver Addy Award that year.
Philadelphia’s gay tourism spot “Pen Pals” was the first tv commercial ever created that is specifically geared towards gay tourism. I thought, this should be interesting… there was no standard or reference for what a LGBT tourism spot could or should look like. The creative was great… an 18th Century gentleman writing by candlelight to his beloved to come join him in Philadelphia. On the day of their meeting, it is revealed that his paramour is another gentleman. The tag line “Get your history straight and your nightlife gay” finishes the spot.
The challenge with this spot was heading into this uncharted territory while presenting Philadelphia tourism with the appropriate tone of its brand. In directing the commercial, my intention was present the story without any bias toward sexual orientation. In order for the spot to work, all characters and actions needed to be subtle, dignified and intimate. By presenting the story ‘straight’ and matter-of-fact, the reveal at the end does what it needs to do –– quietly surprise and elicit a feeling of warmth.
The spot, produced by Bill German of Cornerstone Pictures, went on to win the top prize at the annual International Tourism Awards (HSMAI Adrian Awards).
Q: What do Miami police forensics and Philadelphia Tourism have in common?
A: DP Romeo Tirone
Tirone, DP for the HBO series Dexter also shot “Pen Pals”.