Revisionism Reconsidered

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The Concept Farm really knows how to milk it when it comes to stock footage. The New York shop, founded by Bozell, JWT, TBWA and Saatchi alums, faced quite a daunting task when they first landed a promo project for A&E's History Channel International. Working with such classic footage as Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon, the Hindenburg disaster or the crowning of Queen Elizabeth, the creatives had a hyped-up version of the typical stock conundrum. How do you turn images that aren't just canned, but well-worn, into a fresh-faced campaign for a client that by virtue of its name alone suggests stodginess?

"With the History Channel, you can't really invent anything," explains Greg Wassiak, one of the founders and farmer/directors, as they're called, at The Concept Farm.

"It's an amalgamation of all the events that unfolded before we even got here. How many shots of Adolf Hitler can you see? You've seen the explosion of the Hindenburg. There's some compelling footage there, but sometimes it gets old. We wanted to serve up what's great about the History Channel, some of the most spectacular film you've ever seen about history, in a way you've never seen it before."

The Concept Farmers managed to harvest some freshness out of the antique footage in back-to-back image campaigns, "Go Back in Time" and "In Case You Missed It," which were both shortlisted at Cannes. "Back in Time" used clips from the History Channel archives and allowed the audience to relive significant historical episodes in a new way: backwards. In one spot, Jesse Owens is pulled back in the air and reversed into the momentum-building run that preceded his Gold medal-winning long jump in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. "Go back in time and see the leaps we made," the voiceover announces. In another, the fiery smithereens of the Hindenburg fuse to reveal the dirigible's massive form just as it hits the New Jersey soil. A third spot shows the notorious footage of a Vietnamese in civilian clothes eerily rise from a rumpled heap after he's gunned down by an officer. The retro-play can be strangely moving, if not downright grim, emphasizing the abruptness and impact of the original moments.n

"When you see the Hindenburg going from exploding mess back into its full form, you go back in time and see tragedy unfold," Wasiak points out. "You understand that those were not `moments in history' until that instant. We wanted people to work backwards from that point and understand that that's the moment when history was made."

"The ideas the Concept Farm comes up with really cut through all the barriers we're faced with," says Dawn Berkowitz-Ader, manager of on-air and brand development at A&E. She says the agency worked well with her tight budget, which is usually eaten up by graphics. Also, the shop's largely visual work was able to speak to the History Channel's culturally diverse audience. "My market is international and it's really challenging to accommodate everyone's needs, which, as you can imagine, differ greatly," she elaborates. "The biggest challenge really is the language barrier, and so the visual is what we really need to focus on."

The Concept Farm followed "Go Back in Time" last spring with "In Case You Missed it the First Time." The series of three spots played on the idea of how a small mishap can cause sideliners to miss out on historical stepping stones. In one, a royal in the British Court misses the crowning of Queen Elizabeth when a fellow member drops his crown, bends to retrieve it and accidentally slams his staff into the man's crotch. In another, a distracted NASA engineer fails to witness Neil Armstrong's "one small step" when he knocks his coffee into his lap. A third shows a photographer missing Max Schmeling's 1936 knockout of Joe Louis when he blinds himself with his own flashbulb. For this campaign, the agency sifted through the History Channel's footage as well as reels from stock houses WPA in Chicago and Archive Films in New York. The spots combine stock with what Wasiak dubs the "lost footage" - additional scenes that were shot and hammered out to look like they happened alongside the original event. "We worked with the footage very, very carefully," notes Wasiak. "We wanted to trick people into looking at it and accepting it for what it was. The extra footage we tried to match as perfectly as we could to the stock footage."

More lighthearted than the previous campaign, Wasiak says that the idea behind this project was inspired by his real-life experiences. "We had the idea `In case you missed it the first time' because pretty much, we all missed it the first time," he notes. "We thought we'd take these favorite moments in history and visualize these people who missed the event, for whatever reason, in a funny way. I remember when Mike Tyson knocked out Buster Douglas, I was taking a pee. I missed the whole thing. When man first landed on the moon, there must have been somebody who was in the bathroom and missed all that."

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