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How IFC Got Alex Prager to Shoot Portlandia Ads in the Style of Her Fine-Art Photos


IFC just released the key art for Season 4 of Portlandia, and the photos are fantastic. Not only did the network get the great young photographer Alex Prager on board—she decided to shoot the ads in the style of her "Face in the Crowd" photos (many of which are on display through March 9 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and at Lehmann Maupin in New York through Feb. 22). It's almost like getting a couple of non-advertising Prager originals as gift.

AdFreak spoke on Thursday with Blake Callaway, IFC's svp of marketing, about how Prager got involved, and how the two photos will be used differently in the media buy.

How did Alex get involved with this?
We always collaborate early on in the creative process for each new season with Fred [Armisen] and Carrie [Brownstein]. In the ads for past seasons, we've always focused solely on them. And so much of the show is about the community of Portlandia and their observations about the bigger world. So we thought, Let's put them in the bigger world. And then it became a fun conversation about who could do that in a unique way. We at IFC had always been a fan of Alex, Fred and Carrie had been a fan of Alex, and we just reached out. She's a hot artist right now, and she was a fan of the show and said she'd love to do it.

The ads are just like her "Face in the Crowd" photos. That's pretty special.
So much of it is directly from the work she's putting out there right now. We just said, Alex, what do you want to do? It was Fred and Carrie and Alex working through some ideas, and it's just pure Prager. Some of her same extras are in these photos. Her sister's in there; her mother's in there. And we have nine Portlandia extras that she actually cast into this world as well. And so they're sprinkled throughout. Portlandia fans will be able to pick out, Oh that's the girl from the thrift shop. Or that's someone I've seen in the feminist bookstore. So it works on a couple of different levels.

I suppose if any TV show is going to reference high art in its advertising, it would be Portlandia.
I always kind of get excited when we get coverage off of the TV page, when we're in the arts and culture section. And I agree, I think we sort of have permission to play in that space. And the reason it works is because so many people in that world are also fans of the show. Portlandia gently sends up that world as well, and Fred and Carrie's projects beyond Portlandia cross-pollinate with that world.

Creatively, we like to look not just at what's going on at other networks but what's going on in pop culture, or art references, or other things we can be inspired by. And for this project, all the stars aligned. And the more time you spend with it, you see different little elements in each picture. There's just a lot to take in.

Was it always the idea to have two photos? One seems a bit more dressed-up than the other.
Alex wanted to get two different shots. And we thought maybe at one point we'd pick a favorite. But we think they're both pretty interesting. What you'll probably see is the one we're calling "Going to Work" (below); you may see that on midtown subway platforms. And then we may put the other one in a different environment that's maybe a little less office focused. We've also tried to pick media placements that are bigger, like Interview magazine, The Hollywood Reporter—things that are bigger scale, so you can see the art.

I see—because it reads better at a bigger size.
Yeah. We decided this isn't the thing you put on the side of a bus as it zooms past you.

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