What Happens When Everything Goes Right

IP’s “Someday is Today” campaign for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society launched in 2012. It put the brand on the map and made charitable donors – and public service advertising – take notice.

But success doesn’t mean you can stop advertising and assume your brand tracking numbers will continue their high-flying ways. Even the most effective campaign needs periodic refreshing. A fact LLS learned when it found itself going through a major management change and its brand support went on hiatus.

Facing a sudden downslope in brand tracking and a cry for new fundraising from its Board, the new CMO called on Interplanetary.

The request: Create a new TV campaign that, as in the original, shows how LLS maximizes the impact of your donation, and how thousands of people diagnosed with blood cancer are in remission or cured because of discoveries funded by LLS.

The ask was for a sequel to the commercial that launched LLS, which imagined the day cancer is cured. And there was no time to waste. The new campaign had to be ready for the holiday giving season. It was already September.

I’m no football fan, but what happened next can surely be likened to a swift, coordinated field play among members of the IP team and our extended family of creators and producers.

I got wind of the assignment on the Northern State Parkway while driving to my weekend place. Our strategic planner, Andy Semons, called me from his car in Los Angeles. He had just finished a remote meeting with LLS where the project was discussed. Even before he’d sit down to write the creative brief he had an intuition of the scope of the spot, knew what the messaging should be, and understood the urgency of getting to work.

Without losing a beat I called Chris Parker, our Boise-based Creative Director partner, to get his wheels turning. Ask any creative for the most critical element in an assignment and you’ll invariably get the same answer: Time. Your first idea may be the best (which happens to us a lot) but you won’t know for sure unless you’ve had the time to explore several other directions.

Maybe it was the challenge of wanting to top ourselves, but this was one of those projects where the ideas came quickly. In one week Joe Dessi, our IP Managing Director, and I were sitting down in White Plains to show LLS our ideas.

You only show your client ideas you love and would love to make. And truth be told, you always love one of your ideas more than the others. One of your ideas is simply bigger, more breathtaking – a more elegant solution.

In this case no persuasion was required. Our client saw the potential and agreed with our recommendation.

The idea came from our experience in filming cancer survivors. Asked for the most emotional moment in their rehabilitation, each person replied unhesitatingly: Coming home. Imagining the moment of getting out of the car, stepping over the threshold, returning to family, friends, routines, their new life freighted by the deeply transforming experience they have lived through.

We always look for a truth to build our creative on – and here was one never taken advantage of in the category.

In the meantime our Creative Director partner Jill McClabb, who on occasions performs an amazing role as television producer, was arranging to bring back the original team that had worked on the first LLS campaign. Both the director, Rick Knief, and editor, Eric Carlson, were excited and on board.

That’s the gratifying thing about working with people you’ve worked with many times before. You can talk in shorthand. They know the quality you want, and even with insane super rush timing they find a way to make it work. We all enjoy working together and have been looking forward to the next job.

As meetings and internal approvals took place at LLS, even before the official greenlight, Rick’s production company had gone into high gear with casting and location scouting. The script called for people coming home all across America, but the modest budget permitted just two days of shooting. Resourcefully, Rick found areas close to NYC – Jackson Heights and Ridgewood, Queens; Sea Cliff and Brookville, Nassau County – that could convincingly stand in for Chicago, Charleston, New Orleans or any number of locations across the U.S. We snotty New York-bred Interplanetar-ians, who think we know everywhere worth knowing in the tri-state area, were amazed to discover some picturesque locales we never knew existed.

Callbacks are always a revelation. You get to see, live, whether the actors you chose online based on their audition performance are as good as you thought. “Coming Home” is a simple premise: we are witness to the emotional moment when different cancer patients return from the hospital or cancer center, or metaphor-ically “come home” by learning that their disease has been cured. Chris, Jill and I spent a long day with Rick working with dozens of actors to decide on the large ensemble that would most convincingly tell our story.

When casting goes well, when the weather blesses you with two award-winning fall days, when the infinity of details that go into producing a large film production click into place, you know that luck is with you. And this shoot seemed to come with a rabbit’s foot. It isn’t always that way due to politics, bad chemistry or other circumstances beyond your control, but in this case everyone was on board and pulling in the same direction.

The shoot went like clockwork. That’s important since a shoot is a day-long race with the sun. For a perfection-ist, Rick shoots fast. It helps that he started out as an award-winning advertising art director. His work is graphic and concise. He gets real emotion from the actors.

As we shoot, each of us is secretly editing the film in our mental editorial studio, and wondering how Eric is going to fit all the wonderfully moving scenes into 30 and 60 seconds. Eric Carlson surprises us each time. A master editor, he always goes to the core, finding the most succinct way to tell the story with the most emotion.

It is impossible to describe the effect of the right music in expressing the mood of the spot. We’ve been working with Robert Miller for nearly 20 years, and one of the things he does better than anyone is compose music that’s actually music –melodic, intimate, cinematic, haunting – that brings tears to your eyes.

I saw those tears in the eyes of Oscar-winning actor Linda Hunt, who signed on as our voiceover, as she watched the rough cut for the first time. When you are working with a great artist like Linda, often the best direction you can give is to just show her what you’re making. She got it instantly – the message, the tone, the power we wanted to convey. We spent over two hours recording her highly distinctive voice against the rough cut, honing each line until it sang against Robert’s music.

A great TV spot is the product of thousands of decisions. From the choice of the actors to the choice of the shots, from the coloration of the score to the precise words in the script to the language you use to paint the vision that sells the spot. And this was one of those times when all those choices happened to be right. Which shouldn’t be taken for granted.

As veterans of hundreds of film productions, my partners and I know that excellence is sometimes a singular achievement but more often an extraordinary collaboration, where your talent blends in with everyone else giving their best.

It’s an amazing feeling when it all goes right.