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Inside James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell's Dramatic Readings for Sprint


IDEA: It might be one of the toughest jobs they've ever had.

Sure, James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell are legendary actors, known for titanic roles like Darth Vader and Alex DeLarge. But Sprint's new ads from Leo Burnett ask them to inhabit a host of motley characters they've surely never attempted—linguistically florid tween girls, avid and irritated significant others, stultifyingly indecisive bros. (Texting buds Chris and Craig from the latter spot rival Waiting for Godot's Vladimir and Estragon for existential ennui.)

The initial idea was simple: Focus on people in a sector obsessed with tech. "The story of the category is data speeds. The customer is completely left out of the conversation," said Burnett creative director Nuno Ferreira.

So, they had Jones and McDowell literally speak for the customer by reenacting mundane phone calls, emails and texts between friends and family in hilarious dramatic readings that have only gotten funnier with each new spot.

COPYWRITING: The ads open with a yellow title card as a voice says Sprint is "honoring" a call, email or text chat between two people. Cut to a black stage with the actors, in tuxedos, having said conversations.

Three recent spots, as mentioned above, feature great banter between two girls about a boy ("Ryan is a total Hottie McHotterson!" "Obvi. He's amazeballs!"), two guys about evening plans ("Think you'll go out tonight?" "Probably not. But … maybe?") and a boyfriend and girlfriend about each other ("I'm thinking about you." "I'm thinking about you, too." "What are you thinking about, about me?" "Just thinking about you." "Yes, but what about me exactly?" "Have to run to a meeting. Talk later." "Hey. I'm still thinking about you").

The yellow screen returns, and the voice says, "In honor of the important things you do …" and then makes a product offer. The commercials end with the logo and hashtag #HonorThis.

The scripts aren't meant to be mean-spirited. In fact, some are vaguely autobiographical. "I've had that conversation in 'Thinking About You' so many times, it's why I'm single now. If I'm making fun of anyone, it's myself," said Burnett associate creative director Ryan Wolin.

FILMING/ART DIRECTION: Noam Murro shot about 16 spots in all on a Friday and a Sunday in London. (Jones was busy Saturday with matinee and evening performances of Much Ado About Nothing at The Old Vic—though that day off helped the creatives, who feverishly wrote new scripts knowing how the actors were playing off each other.)

The agency considered having images pop up behind the actors to help tell the stories. "We realized very quickly that anything you added behind them or around them detracted from their performance. It was an exercise in restraint," said Ferreira.

Having fewer visual cues created a "theater of the mind," he added, where viewers can imagine themselves as the characters. The minimalism also makes the campaign easier to parody, which the agency is already seeing on Vine and Instagram.

TALENT: Jones, 82, and McDowell, 70, each signed on knowing the other was committing. (These are McDowell's first ads ever.) "You could feel it on set, this absolute admiration for each other," Ferreira said.

The acting is often brilliant. "With 'Thinking About You,'" said Wolin, "you can see and feel what they're thinking. It wasn't just reciting the lines. You can feel the disdain from Malcolm, and the enthrallment from James, how in love he is with Malcolm's character."

SOUND: The campaign uses a few different holiday soundtracks, including music from The Nutcracker. "It sets the tone and the mood as inviting and fun and playful," said Wolin.

Added Ferreira: "We're honoring these moments, so we wanted them to feel important, and the music gives it that importance."

MEDIA: National broadcast and cable, and online.


Client: Sprint
Campaign: "Everything's Important"
Spots: "Thinking About You," "Totes McGotes," "Probably Not, But Maybe"
Agency: Team Sprint - Leo Burnett
Chief Creative Officer: Susan Credle
Executive Creative Director: Michael Boychuk
Creative Director: Nuno Ferreira
Associate Creative Director: Ryan Wolin
Executive Producer: Nicky Furno, Juan Woodbury
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Noam Murro

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