Sean Farrell and Colin Nissan, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

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More than five years ago, Sean Farrell and Colin Nissan, then partners at Boston's Clarke Goward, arrived at what appeared to be the end of their relationship. "He took me into the back staircase where he smoked every ten minutes and broke up with me right there, on the spot," recalls 33-year-old writer Nissan. "It was horrible. I almost started bawling." Art director Farrell, 32, had received a call from Jeff Goodby, who flew him to the agency and offered him a job after seeing a print ad he had done in an awards annual. It was a no brainer to take the gig, and Farrell's agency cohorts sent him packing with warm wishes, and a memorable farewell gift-a stack of everyone's resumes, with the president's at the top of the pile. "God it sucked," says Nissan. "It came out of nowhere. I had a mix of emotions. I was just totally freaked out, but so excited for him." Soon enough, however, Nissan began to tire of Boston-and his former partner's raves about San Francisco at the height of the dotcom boom. He shopped his book out west and eventually, with some help from Farrell, it landed in the hands of then Goodby creative director Paul Venables and Goodby himself. Within a year, Nissan had his own ticket to the left coast.

Even then, it still took another year before the two reunited as a team."I was dying to work with Colin, but for some reason nobody was putting us together," Farrell recalls. When someone finally did, it resulted in the Pac Bell "Laurel Lane" campaign, an out of nowhere hit for the agency, featuring a good neighborhood gone bad because of slow internet service. The duo pulled a risky move by hiring documentary shooter Chris Smith to direct, who at the time had never shot a commercial. All three in fact were TV neophytes, but the campaign ending up winning Gold at Cannes. "It was like, 'We have to prove that we can work together!'" Farrell recounts. "And so ever since 'Laurel Lane' they haven't separated us." Which turned out to be a good thing, considering Farrell and Nissan, recently promoted to associate creative directors, have continued to break ground, even where it seems there's none left to break. They conceived the highly-lauded Omen-inspired "Birthday," for "Got Milk?," another Gold Lion winner and Creativity's 2003 Spot of the year. "With Milk, you knew what was going to happen, either by the way the commercials were shot or by what's happening-within the first five seconds people are taking a bite chocolate cake or brownies or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," Farrell explains. "This had gone on for so long that maybe some of the freshness was lost in the fact that people could see it coming. So we were trying really hard to not let people know that it was a milk commercial, to get people so involved in the story that they'd be surprised at the end. In a way, we were trying to find ways to trick people." Beyond Milk, the pair, best known for their comedy, have also turned out work for Sutter Home and Discover, but also contributed to the agency's stirring spots for AT&T Wireless, in which text messages literally come to life, as in one they wrote featuring a grandmother who "attends" her grandchild's piano recital while riding the bus. Directed by Scott Hicks(see p.53), the spots convey emotion without resorting to cloying sentiment.

In 2003, the team came to another crossroads. Nissan decided to move to New York, where his girlfriend is attending grad school. Meanwhile, Farrell realized he couldn't leave the West Coast. Instead of calling their partnership quits, the pair sought counsel from Goodby and Silverstein. "We told them the reality, how I was upset and didn't want him to go but he had to go," Farrell says. "And they just came back and said, 'Why don't we just try it with Colin living in New York and you staying here?' They didn't even flinch." That was a year ago and the work shows no signs of faltering. Since then, the pair has wrapped the AT&T work, and now are about to produce new spots for Milk and their first ad for the much heralded HP campaign, which will involve a Dreamworks tie-in. What's been the secret to maintaining their long distance relationship? A significant amount of their time is still spent together in person while on set or concepting. Otherwise, "It's like the Jetsons," says Farrell. "Via a little camera and a laptop," Nissan explains. "iChat-it's amazing. The first few weeks it would ring, I'd turn it on and Sean would be goofing off, shirtless or something. But the novelty of that finally wore off and now we can actually work."

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