Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” and a lesson in storytelling in advertising

It’s been awhile, but at one point in time I liked using this blog as a place to showcase powerful, original storytelling. When I stumbled upon this Chipotle advertisement a few months ago, I couldn’t help but grab the link and stash it away for a future blog post.

This isn’t the first time Chipotle has used a simple story (with no brand mentions until the very end) as a means of promotion. What I find so cool about this video, and Chipotle’s strategy, is that it actually tells a story. A lot of ads try and get you with a hook, catchy jingle or humor, and those can all be effective means of selling someone on a product. But when an ad, and the advertisers, take the time to craft a story, I’m immediately hooked. However, it’s important to remember WHAT story you’re telling and HOW you’re telling it. If the story is stupid, annoying and unrealistic, like that god damn Nissan “Commute” commercial, it’s going to miss the mark. For fun, watch the Chipotle video and it’s seamless, honest storytelling, then follow it up with this dreck:

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New year, new hustle

Apologies for breaking from the previously established editorial calendar these last few weeks. My primary excuse is I had an epic travel debacle that pinned me in the Midwest for 10 days longer than originally planned over the holidays. This was both a blessing and a curse, as I was able to see far more of my extended family and friends over that time period, but I was also stressed out having to work remotely, and I’m still dealing with the fallout of the travel issues. Anyway, let’s not focus on the past. It’s 2014 after all.

Another delay in my blogging was a planned family vacation up to San Francisco in early January. Between flying back to LA, getting settled at work after two weeks out of the office, and trying to get ready for this trip my life was in a state of disarray. I’m still not completely unpacked/organized since getting to LA two weeks ago. Part of that is busyness, part of it is laziness, but I digress. The vacation was splendid, as we visited with my dad’s childhood friend Tommy and his partner Chris in SF for a few days, and then spent the next few days driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. The view is spectacular. Just take a look at this photo my mom took from Big Sur. Yeah, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Big Sur coastline. Unedited.

Big Sur coastline. Unedited.

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Review: INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

Just a heads up, as it’s now awards season and I have more free time after my stint in community service, I’ll be watching a lot more movies. In fact, between DVDs, awards season screeners and actually going to the theater, I saw four movies last week, and have tacked on two more this week. And for those of you keeping score at home, this is only review No. 2.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS follows a week in the life of a young folk singer (Oscaar Isaac) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

InsideLlewynDavisI was immediately drawn into this film. Isaac’s performance is fantastic, and even though he’s a deeply flawed character, you still root for him. This isn’t exactly new territory for the Coens, but in their typical, unique style, they execute it with aplomb. As Llewyn bounces from couch to couch and tries to make a living in music while staying true to the music, we’re introduced to a number of rich characters along his journey played to perfection by Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham and Adam Driver. I have to give a shout out to Garrett Hedlund in particular, who is a scene stealer as Johnny Five, even though he may have less lines than letters in his last name.

The strongest element of the film is the music, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this soundtrack gets some attention by itself. Legendary music producer T Bone Burnett (who won the “Album of the Year” Grammy for the soundtrack to the Coen’s “O Brother Where Art Thou”) reunited with the Coens and put together a phenomenal mix of original music with a few classics. The music in the film itself is remarkable because they filmed the performances live to give for a more authentic, documentary-like feel. With this in mind, Isaac’s performance is even more incredible. I loved the cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel, who crafted some truly beautiful scenes to reflect and capture the emotions of Isaac’s various performances. I’d go on, but I don’t want to spoil anything, as one of my favorite scenes comes after a few key plot points.

My one gripe is that the film, at times, does move a tad slow, and there aren’t any huge stakes driving part of Llewyn’s journey in the middle of the film. He just kind of ambles along for a bit, and if you aren’t invested in his journey as I was, it’d be possible to lose interest. Still, in spite of that, the film is wildly entertaining due to the snappy dialogue and excellent performances by a cast of talented actors.

All told, this will assuredly be one of my favorite films of the year. Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of the Coen Brothers, but this film is one of their best in recent years. Give it a watch as soon as it hits a theater near you. Final verdict: 4out of 5 beers. Cheers.

- Alex

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Review: THE WAY WAY BACK

All right, so I’m a day late on my recently instituted editorial calendar. But it’s a start. Anyway, my roommate, Pete, and I sat down to watch THE WAY WAY BACK (henceforth referred to as TWWB) on Tuesday night, so what follows will be my brief review of the film. To bring those of you  who aren’t familiar with the film up to speed, it is written and directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who won an Oscar (along with Alexander Payne) for their adaptation of the novel THE DESCENDANTS, a film that starred George Clooney and Shailene Woodley. Now, back to TWWB …

The film tells the story of Duncan (Liam James), an awkward teenage boy forced to spend his summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette), her over-bearing boyfriend (Steve Carrell) and his daughter (irrelevant actress). Struggling to fit in, Duncan stumbles upon an unlikely role model in Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of a local water park called Water Wizz.

Nat Faxon, Sam Rockwell, and Liam James at the Water Wizz.

Nat Faxon, Sam Rockwell, and Liam James at the Water Wizz.

If that setup sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it is. There’s nothing wholly original or inspiring about the backdrop of this coming of age tale. But that’s just fine. Where the film excels is in the dialogue and interaction of the characters. Scenes are sharp, and filled with life and energy thanks to the excellent performances. Even though she has minimal screen-time, AnnaSophia Robb is excellent as Duncan’s psuedo-love interest, Susanna. The tension and emotion between all of the characters feels real, which pulls you into Duncan’s plight as he awkwardly finds his voice and confidence over the duration of the film.

The writing is snappy, and the story, while trite, is ultimately very satisfying at its conclusion without relying on cliché. Hats off to Rash and Faxon for crafting this touching tale, and putting their own unique stamp on the final product. It would have been nice to see a little more from Rash, Faxon and cinematographer John Bailey to help flesh out the story visually, but they still made great choices without being too over-bearing, or distracting viewers from the story at hand.

Definitely worth a watch if you can snag it on Redbox or Netflix in the near future. I’ll give it 3.5/5 beers. Yes, I’m going to start ranking my movies in beers instead of stars, because really, it’s just as arbitrary as stars or thumbs for a form of measurement for cinema. Cheers!

-Alex

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Where has Alex gone?

Alright, quick post here. Basically, I feel a need to explain my extended absence from blogging, which as of the writing of this post has eclipsed two months. Sheesh. That’s bad, even for me. So what happened in that time span to prevent me from blogging? A number of things, which I’ve listed below.

However, before I get to that, a little house-keeping blog-wise at the top. I’ve been wrestling around with how to craft a feasible editorial calendar for myself and this blog. Between actual work, side projects like screenwriting, and living my actual life, I’ve developed a bad habit of continuously pushing blogging down my priority list, even though I’ve really, really wanted to get back to it. A solution would be an editorial calendar that I force myself to adhere to. The trouble was, determining how many posts I could commit to week-to-week. Well, after months of inactivity I’m just going to start with one post, the topic will be whatever pops into my head for the week. I’m leaning towards publishing said post every Friday, to give my seven avid readers something to do on the weekend. There, that feels good. A plan. Now all I need to do is follow through.

As for the list of what caused the two-plus month absence in blogging, here goes:

  1. I traveled to Cincinnati for the Packers road game in early October. Needless to say, it didn’t end well.
  2. I traveled back to Wisconsin to watch my friends Jake and Courtney get married later in October. Needless to say, this ended very well.
  3. I got sick. I hate being sick.
  4. I finished another screenplay with my writing partner and BFF Dane. We’re currently collecting notes from several savvy people and will be starting a polish soon. It’s a religious/revenge western called THY WILL BE DONE. We’re pretty proud of it thus far.
  5. I opted to do community service instead of paying for a red light “ticket” in L.A. Originally, when I got the B.S. ticket, numerous well-respected people told me to not do anything, as L.A. county no longer enforced them. Turns out that was mostly true, except that West Hollywood (the neighborhood I received my ticket in) and Beverly Hills were sneaky little bastards and still enforced the tickets. So I appeared in court, and rather than pay $600+, I opted for community service thinking I’d have like 20-30 hours. NBD. I was thinking of looking for volunteer opportunities in my area anyway, so perhaps this could be it. Nope. Instead I got 61 hours, which I steam-rolled through almost entirely in November by volunteering at a local theatre, ushering for plays, cleaning the theatres, and other such nonsense. A joyous experience to say the least. I’m done now though, and couldn’t be happier. Many beers have been sacrificed in celebration.
  6. I launched a new column on NFL.com. You may have seen me plastering it on Facebook, it’s called the Fantasy Film Study. I’d been kicking the idea around for awhile, and soft-pitching it around the office, but finally just decided that if I wanted this idea to see the light of day, I’d have to buckle down and write one. So I did. On my day off. It went over really well though, and I’m happy/proud of the product so far. Even if I keep spending part of my days off writing it, it’s worth it. I’m excited to see where the idea/column can go from here.
  7. Thanksgiving and my birthday were the same day this year. Suffice to say, I’m kind of a big deal. There was much rejoicing.

And that about sums it up. Hope you’re up to speed on all things Alex, and are excited for more regular posts. I’ll obviously blog more if inspiration/time magically collide on my schedule. But I’m not making any promises. Until next time…

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The end of the movie business?

“(In Hollywood) nobody knows anything.” – William Goldman

Entertainment is an interesting business. That’s probably why it attracts so many quixotic youths like myself, convincing us that moving across the country to one of the largest cities in the world to chase a childhood dream is the best thing to do post grad.  And I’m not saying it isn’t.  I know plenty of those youths that are doing just fine for themselves out here in LaLa land.  Yet sometimes, I feel these people aren’t quite fully aware of the monster they’re up against.  Sure, they’ll have watched countless hours of TV, and are able to quote a number of movies off AFI’s Top 100 list.  Hell, they probably even have a friend of a friend who works out here, or a school connection that could help them land work. But, while there is magic out here in the creative spirit that possesses so many talented men and women to produce memorable works of art and entertainment, often time that magical sensation obscures what is really lurking behind every screen, lens, and ego.  A business. And not exactly a healthy one at that.

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Alex takes on the 2013 NFL Draft – Part II

Thursday

The big day had finally arrived. Thursday is the premiere night of the NFL draft, as many of the first round picks are in attendance at Radio City Music Hall to hopefully hear their name called and have their life changed forever. My day started with a star-studded morning, as Adam and I did a video with former NYC mayor Rudy Gulianni, shot a video with Barry Sanders, and rounded out the morning by sitting down with Emmitt Smith. That right there would have been one hell of a day’s work, but we were just getting started.

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Emmitt with a few of NYC’s finest. Even though his Cowboys ousted the Packers in the playoffs three straight times, it was hard not to like Emmitt.

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Alex takes on the 2013 NFL Draft – Part I

“Each man reads his own meaning into New York.” - Meyer Berger

I’m back. I made it across the country, worked the 2013 NFL Draft, and have landed back in Los Angeles. Granted, I landed almost two months ago but let’s not split hairs here. Let’s get into the reason you clicked on this post in the first place. You want to know all about my experience at the NFL draft. So here goes.

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Sunday

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I arrive super early at LAX as I had to check my luggage before the trip. After a brisk six hour flight, we land at JFK and take an EPIC taxi ride into NYC.

Even though we were flying, I managed to get some work done by editing some video. The guy across from me thought napping was a better option.

Even though we were flying, I managed to get some work done by editing some video. The guy across from me thought napping was a better option.

Thankfully, our cab driver decided it’d be prudent to take local routes and skip the logjam of traffic on the freeway. Not only did it get us to our hotel 40 minutes faster than the rest of our coworkers, it took us past this street:

That is Queens Blvd, made famous (to me at least) by Vinny Chase in Entourage. Needless to say, several "I am Queens Blvd" quotes were dropped.

That is Queens Blvd, made famous (to me at least) by Vinny Chase in Entourage. Needless to say, several “I am Queens Blvd” quotes were dropped.

After settling in at the Le Parker Meridian, we sauntered down to the burger joint tucked in the back of the restaurant. Draft veterans had spoken highly of this little hole-in-the-wall, and it did not disappoint. After refueling the tanks, we headed off to The Ginger Man for a few drinks to close out the night. My boss pitched the bar to us as having “like 60 beers on tap.” Needless to say, there were no complaints. A few pictures are below.

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Like I said, there were no complaints. Definitely a place you can "throw in the anchor" to borrow my old man's expression.

Like I said, there were no complaints. Definitely a place you can “throw in the anchor” to borrow my old man’s expression.

I tried the Firestone Walker Double Jack IPA, which was downright fantastic. Thankfully, this is a California beer so there will be many more on the horizon. The bar had a great atmosphere and was the perfect way to unwind after a long day of travel before the real fun began.

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Monday

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Monday was quiet in terms of shooting video content, so we worked out of a conference room at the NFL league offices (which are stunning). I’ll let the pictures do the talking below. Oh, and the Texans Best & Worst draft picks article was published. I had the honor of writing the worst picks, which you can read here.

A tribute to Pat Tillman. My favorite part of the offices.

A tribute to Pat Tillman. My favorite part of the offices.

A copy of every Super Bowl ring in the history of the NFL.

A copy of every Super Bowl ring in the history of the NFL.

All of the hallways are lined with giant photos like this.

All of the hallways are lined with giant photos like this.

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Tuesday

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Things were slowly starting to ramp up, but before all the craziness started I woke up early for a quick run through Central Park. Unfortunately it was a really cold morning, so I had to cut the run a bit shorter than I wanted. But, I managed to snap a quick pic before heading back to the hotel to get ready for the day.

I could have spent all day in Central Park.

I could have spent all day in Central Park.

We had our Media Mock Draft show later that day and I shot this behind-the-scenes video before the taping. I also had my first New York City pizza experience for lunch, and it was delicious. We ate at five different pizza places (I believe, maybe 4) over the course of the week. I think this one ended up being my favorite.

New York City pizza is everything it's cracked up to be.

New York City pizza is everything it’s cracked up to be.

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Other than that, my memory is a bit fuzzy this far removed from the actual draft, so for the sake of this blog I’ll say Tuesday was when I took a jaunt down to Times Square (sounds about right). Having never been to New York, I wanted to hit as many of the hotspots as I could while in the city.

Obligatory Times Square shot.

Obligatory Times Square shot.

Times Square was great. I loved how it was such a little hub, and the rest of NYC almost seemed to be spiraling out from it. Yet, the coolest part was the “Inside Out New York City” street art project going on. There was a little truck that was taking people’s pictures and printing them out in HUGE poster prints, which they were then pasting onto the streets of Times Square. There’s more info on the project in one of the photos below.

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The photo truck.

The photo truck.

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And the result!

And the result!

I’m pretty sure Tuesday was also the first time we patronized a little establishment called Whiskey Trader near our hotel to close out the night. It was a hole-in-the-wall joint with cheap drinks, good-looking waitresses, and plenty of big screen TV. Good times.

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Wednesday

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Wednesday was a busy one. My day started off at 6:30am as Adam (my co-worker, and talent for the week) and shot some behind the scenes videos of our morning show, NFL AM. They were pretty fun given the small area/time frame to shoot. Check them out here and here.

Behind the scenes of the NFL AM set in NYC at the SNY Studios, right across the street from Radio City Music Hall.

Behind the scenes of the NFL AM set in NYC at the SNY Studios, right across the street from Radio City Music Hall.

After that we went to shoot at a meet-and-greet with Hakeem Nicks, which you can watch here. Hakeem was a great guy, really nice to all of his fans that waited in line to see him. I was glad the video turned out well, because it was hard not to be distracted by the HUGE posters of Alex Morgan at the Sports Authority store.

We're in discussion with Bravo do yo a reality TV series about our relationship called "The Alex's."

We’re in discussion with Bravo do yo a reality TV series about our relationship called “The Alex’s.”

The last video we shot was a featurette on the Commissioner visiting fans waiting in line for tickets to the draft, which you can watch here. After that, I raced back to the offices to edit the video and send it back to Culver City. And then I loaded content into our companion app for the draft, Draft Xtra. After waking up at 6:30, I finally stopped working at hit the pillow at about 3am. But I enjoyed every second of it.

The line stretched on for BLOCKS. it was so massive that I didn't realize just how large it was until I walked back to the league offices. They had to partition the people off in groups of several hundred to not block city streets.

The line stretched on for BLOCKS. it was so massive that I didn’t realize just how large it was until I walked back to the league offices. They had to partition the people off in groups of several hundred to not block city streets.

Also on my walk back, I stumbled upon this little guy at 30 Rock.

Also on my walk back, I stumbled upon this little guy at 30 Rock.

Alright, seeing as this post is epically long as is, and I have three more days of draft content to cover, I’m going to split it up into two posts. For now, enjoy Part 1 and these pictures. I’ll do my best to publish Part 2 tomorrow so you can read all about the conclusion to my draft adventure. Until next time…

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Another day, another adventure

So, most of you should have heard one way or another now that I’ll be in New York next week for the NFL Draft for work. Frankly, I’m honored that I get to attend. Not everyone from the office goes to these events, and this is the first one I’ll be a part of. I’m also extremely excited, as I’ve a) never been on a “business trip” before, and b) never been to New York City! How crazy is that? My first business trip and trip to NYC all wrapped up into one thanks to the NFL. Have I mentioned how much I love this job?

As for the trip itself, I leave bright and early tomorrow morning and will return to Los Angeles the Sunday after the draft. All week long I’ll be covering various events leading up to the draft, like the Madden cover release party where they announce whether Adrian Peterson or Barry Sanders will be on the cover of the 2014 Madden game, as well as the draft itself. I won’t be writing, but shooting and editing short videos, which has grown to become a substantial part of my job these days.

It’s been fun mixing it up with video again. I definitely had to knock the rust off, as I hadn’t been behind or operated a high-quality camera in well over a year before I started working at NFL.com, but thanks to the endless videos I shot and produced during my days at Marquette, slowly but surely I’ve been getting all of those old skills back.

Robbie – A sci-fi short film worth your attention

Highlighting creative film-making is something I wish I did more on this blog. So there’s no time like the present to get back into it! Last summer when I was still with RCR Pictures, as we were searching for a director for one of our projects my co-worker stumbled upon the short film embedded below. It’s called ROBBIE and was made by an Australian director named Neil Harvey as an anniversary present to his girlfriend. The best part, is that he created this short using only downloaded footage from NASA archives. It’s an awesome little sci-fi short, so check it out before reading on:

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