Felonious spunk: Prison Blues spots feature a shirt that opens the changing-room door on a girl with her pants down, and pants that punt a rude guy in the 'nads.
Johnny Diamond in the rough: the Reebok student spot that went bigtime.
Graduates of the Miami Ad School now have a secret weapon to add to their job-hunting arsenal: a commercials reel. It worked for art director Bobby Appleby, a '96 graduate who just snagged a job at Fallon McElligott, a position that required a reel, not just a print portfolio.
Of the 65 students currently enrolled at the Ad School, which was started three years ago by Ron Seichrist, former co-owner of the Portfolio Center, every last one has the opportunity to graduate with a reel from the school's integrated TV and print program. It won't cost them a dozen student loans, either. The school provides students with Hi-8 and S-VHS camcorders on loan, and has three editing suites at their disposal.
And the work is already showing results at student competitions: At the '96 D&AD show, spec commercials from the Ad School won First and Second prizes, as well as Best of Show at Show South and First Prize in the Los Angeles Creative Competition in the Print and TV categories. "We're not training them to do broadcast quality work," points out Ad School VP Pippa Seichrist. Not only does it help students to better understand the precise timing involved in a TV spot, she argues, but the TV program is a natural extension of the training the students are receiving in print.
Now, admittedly student reels are not a revolutionary idea. Students at ad-oriented schools with strong film programs, like Art Center, have cranked out commercials for years; indeed, some of these students have gone on to illustrious directing careers, such as Art Center's Carlton Chase and Tarsem.
But the majority of work produced is spec, and up to now, many ad programs around the country have left teaching the mechanics of TV production to agencies. Programs like Miami's insist that its students have an advantage because creative directors who would normally dismiss storyboards will take a minute to watch a reel of spec spots.
Of course, not everyone shares that view. At the Portfolio Center, while students create storyboards there's no official TV track in which to specialize. "The production value is something that they learn when they get into the industry," says co-creative director Grady Phelan. "We develop creative minds, not technicians; and why focus on something that's going to change in two years anyway?"
But while Phelan says it would be cost-prohibitive to equip all their students with the cameras to shoot a commercial and the equipment to edit it, as the price of technology drops that, too, is changing. Desktop publishing already enables student print work to mimic professional-quality ads, and now desktop video is quickly catching up, coming closer and closer to the real thing.
In some cases it already is. Last May, Reebok approached the Portfolio Center and asked students to submit storyboards for a :30 that would run during the Olympics. A joint ad for the regional retail chain The Sports Shoe, the spot would star the Atlanta Falcons' Eric Metcalf. After a creative shootout, art director Craig Ghiglione and copywriter David Weist won with their idea to contrast the virtuous and dedicated running back Metcalf with a generic, swell-headed bad boy of a quarterback, called Johnny Diamond.
Director Jeff Eamer of Spy Films in Toronto shot the spot, and it's impossible to tell that students were involved with the project. Intercut with the gold chain-decorated Diamond boasting about everything from his house ("This is my mansion") to his bodyguards ("These are my boys") are shots of Metcalf working out by himself, running up stadium stairs. Finally he tells us, "This is my day off, and this is my planet."
Certainly this Reebok spot in storyboard form wouldn't be half as impressive to a future employer, and it doesn't take slick film quality to impress a creative director either. Miami Ad School's Appleby, for instance, wrote, art directed and shot several original, home-videoish spots that helped him into Fallon. A ballbreakingly funny spot from a campaign for Prison Blues, a line of clothes made by Oregon inmates, takes advantage of the "Bad clothes" concept to have the product misbehave. In "Pants," a young couple is shopping for said item when the woman points out a seemingly innocuous pair hanging on a rack. The guy picks them up and grimaces. "This is the ugliest pair of pants I've ever seen," he sneers. No sooner do the words pop out of his mouth than one of pant legs kicks him in the groin, leaving him writhing in pain. "Made in jail," slams the cell-bar tag. Companion print work has the incorrigible trousers tripping a customer. In another Appleby spot, for Ping golf balls, we watch at a firing range as holes tear through the middle of a target. When the shredded human outline is reeled in, we realize it's not a gunman but a golfer who's been hitting balls with such precision. The blunt tag is merely, "Shoot straight."
Heather Parke, a copywriter at The Ad Store in New York who graduated from the Miami Ad School in '95, says she felt a twinge of jealousy last time she visited the school and checked out its reel and updated facilities. Even though she admits she learned more about TV in her first job at BBDO/New York, she still thinks the exposure in school helped prepare her to think in 30-second terms. Less than a year later, she was collaborating with several creatives on a Pepsi International spot, directed by Joe Pytka. But at the same time, she says, "I don't think TV should take precedence over print; it should be balanced."
Even agency recruiters, who've long downplayed the importance of presentation over an idea, are beginning to change their minds. Bonnie Lunt, who runs a New York recruiting firm, says not only was she impressed by the quality of the creative work done by Ad School students, but she was im-pressed with the school's professional focus. Gauging the growing importance of planners in the creative process, she points out, the students at the school requested lectures on the topic, one of which will be taught by Jeff DeJoseph, director of brand planning and development at JWT/New York, later this year.
Flinn Dallis, director of creative recruitment/development at Leo Burnett, admits she was skeptical of the Ad School's TV program until she took part in its portfolio review earlier this year. "The tendency of students is to get all tangled up in the technology," Dallis says, and "forget they're supposed to be solving an advertising problem." But she adds, "I was totally persuaded when I saw the work. The ideas were thoughtfully conceived and executed." And while she doesn't want this to make all students feel like they need a reel to get a job-or bankrupt their parents trying to put one together-she predicts that the school's graduates will probably approach TV with more sophistication than other students. "My guess is that they'll have a leg up." Maybe even a feisty Prison