Submitted for your approval, "We're Being Watched," a Twilight Zone-ish slice of sci-fi paranoia from RPA, promoting the 17th annual Newport Beach Film Festival.
With dazzling visuals and sharp direction by Jogger, the short film packs a trippy punch as it explores the increasingly voyeuristic nature of our always-on multiscreen world.
There's an awful lot going on in less than two minutes of running time, and the action kicks off with a late-night hookup at an isolated house. As a young couple get hot and heavy, X-Files-type music builds in the background, and the camera pans across the room to reveal a child's huge, wide-eyed face—about the size of a door—calmly observing every move.
Then things really start getting weird. Check out the clip here:
That giant finger nails it at the end! (Please, no cracks about heavy-handed metaphors.)
While its themes aren't exactly new (Twilight Zone and various speculative fiction outlets have told similar tales), "We're Being Watched" does more than riff on classic motifs. This isn't one of those kids-watch-their-dolls-act-out-stories-in-a-dollhouse scenario. Here, the entire cast is on equal footing—each an observer and a subject in his or her own right. And RPA takes the premise to its logical conclusion by bringing the characters together in a maze of amusingly existential overkill from which there's no escape.
In other words: We're all watching each other at all times!
"At its core, the idea seems fairly straightforward," RPA copywriter Joshua Hepburn tells AdFreak. "We're watching a film where people are watching each other in a little house. Then, you watch it a few times, and various layers present themselves. Who does the house belong to? Are they in the same space? It becomes apparent you have no idea who is doing the actual watching."
The complex shoot took place from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. the following morning, and posed many challenges for the creative team.
"We had to get crafty in order to get everything we needed for post—like sticking GoPros on every ceiling to create the 'micro people,' providing reference for every move," says RPA creative director Scott McDonald. "It was more or less an editor's nightmare—and an effects artist's omniscient dream."
Hepburn recalls that the absurdist finale, with the bathtub man apparently poking himself in the head with his own finger, "was a bit of a process. Earlier in the day, we used this giant foam creation made out of an inflatable pool toy to physically poke his head and make a splash." When that visual proved too silly, the crew had to improvise. "The actor created his own reaction" sans finger, Hepburn says. Later, "a real finger was shot against a green screen at several angles and comped in to create the effect."
RPA's print ads for the festival, running from April 21-28, hyper-focus on the "watching" theme by presenting what appears to be a human iris. If you look closely, however, it turns out to be something else entirely. (Click the image to enlarge.)
In crafting the campaign, RPA kept its thoughtful, artsy target audience in sight at all times.
"The film festival audience actually thinks about what it is taking in," and that goes for NBFF advertising as well as the work screened at the event, McDonald says. "[Festival] promos might seem a little eccentric compared to others, but truthfully, NBFF is like any other smart brand, trying to appeal to their best customers." (RPA has produced some gems for the client, including the gruesome "Mandible" horror sendup from 2013, and the following year's unsettling but campy "Bedtime Story.")
This latest work, however, ups the intellectual ante. Perfectly suited to promoting a film festival, the campaign also excels as a pure content play, challenging folks to question their daily experience and, perhaps, see things in a different way.
"Ultimately, we want the viewer to create their own meaning," Hepburn says. "That's part of the fun—the ambiguity, knowing people will get something different from the story."
Client: Newport Beach Film Festival
Director of Marketing and Public Relations: Todd Quartararo
Campaign: "We're Being Watched"
Executive Vice President, Chief Creative Officer: Joe Baratelli
Senior Vice President, Group Creative Director: Pat Mendelson
Vice President, Creative Director, Art Director: Scott McDonald
Copywriter: Joshua Hepburn
Senior Vice President, Chief Production Officer: Gary Paticoff
Vice President, Executive Producer: Selena Pizarro
Senior Producer: Kay Lynn Dutcher
Music Track: "A Serial Universe"
Composer, Sound Design: Peter Lauridsen
Creative Director: David Parker
Director of Photography: Alice Gu
Executive Producer: Rich Rama
Producer: Geno Imbriale
Editing Company: Cut+Run
Editor: Lucas Eskin
Executive Producer: Amburr Farls
Senior Producer: Remy Foxx
Assistant Editor: Lauren Brown
Visual Effects: Jogger
Visual Effects Producers: Nancy Hwang, Ben Sposato
Visual Effects Production Coordinator: Erica Cruz
Flame Artists: Shauna Prescott, Gavin Camp, Cole Schreiber
Color Services: The Mill
Senior Colorist: Damien van der Cruyssen
Title Design, Animation: Laundry!
Creative Director: P.J. Richardson
Executive Producer: Lindsay Bodanza
Audio: Lime Studios
Audio Engineer: Matt Miller
Key Art, Program Ad Photography: Karel Polt, Asher Hung, Candela Rebot