Instagram explores Gen Z lives in pair of cinematic short films

Johannes Leonardo and director Vincent Haycock’s long-form stories show how deeply the app is integrated into young people’s lives

Published On
Aug 02, 2023
A Black teenager sitting outside at a picnic table looking thoughtful

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There’s no denying many young people today all but live inside social media. Among the current goals for apps such as Instagram is to suggest this is time well spent—that it’s a haven for creative expression and a place to build relationships, rather than fret over being left out of them.

That’s a tricky balance to strike, but Johannes Leonardo and director Vincent Haycock do a decent job of it in two short films, “Small Fries” and “The Send Off,” that are part of a new campaign called “Instagram Connections.”

Shot in Austin, Texas, with real Gen Z teens, both films explore the now-familiar dynamics of navigating love and friendship largely through a screen. In “Small Fries,” a fast-food worker strikes up a friendship—and perhaps something more—with a customer. “The Send Off,” meanwhile, involves a group planning a surprise party for a friend who’s leaving.

Both films, somewhat surprisingly, directly address the negative feelings of FOMO endemic to the app. But both stories end on a happy note, with connections that quickly transcend the virtual and become strong IRL.

“Small Fries,” in particular, feels very much like lived experience, thanks to beautifully crafted vignettes, with quietly strong performances from both of the leads.


“The Send Off,” while not quite as emotionally rich, touches on similar feelings of longing—this time in more of a group setting, versus one on one. The Instagram interface is nicely embedded in both films, too—in particular, using mirror images of the screen to frame the protagonist’s POV is a clever way to get closer to the main characters.


Acknowledging the negative emotions Instagram can foster, while presenting credibly positive outcomes overall, is a wise choice. It makes the films feel authentic and, along with the cinematic visuals, lends an atmosphere of realism—of actual emotional stakes at play.

A rep for Instagram told Ad Age that the goal of “Instagram Connections” is to celebrates Gen Z and the real connections and friendships built on Instagram through small, everyday acts of creative expression. The film emerged from real Gen Z insights, as well as interviews with creators and real teens. The goal is to highlight that real connection isn’t something that just happens—it’s something you make. 

“The next generation is leading a shift in the way people use Instagram today—we want to celebrate that,” said Eshan Ponnadurai, VP of brand marketing at Meta. “Instagram is a place to strengthen relationships with your close friends and build connections with new ones. From photo dumps, to reacting to stories, replying to notes, and sending memes in DMs—we’ve seen that all of these small acts of creativity can lead to big friendships. As the brand continues to evolve, we remain committed to providing a safe space for the next generation to express themselves and connect on Instagram.”

The films will run online in the U.S. though Oct. 8.

“‘Instagram Connections’ campaign captures the raw essence of modern youth, showcasing their connections in a way that feels genuine and unfiltered,” said Jeph Burton, group creative director at Johannes Leonardo. “Our collaboration with Instagram allowed us to embrace their authentic voice and redefine how today’s generation connect with each other on the platform.”