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Air Canada's Ads With a Heart

If you’re under the misconception that there is a hierarchy to storytelling that is foretold by the length or budget of a production, you haven’t been paying attention. You’re just as likely to find yourself fascinated, visually astounded, and emotionally drained by an advertisement as by a full length feature film, in fact…you might be more affected by these commercials. There is a fluidity to the production world these days with the most talented professionals vacillating between advertisements, film, television, and online presentations. In the 21st century it is the talent which vets work above all. “Gift of Home”, a commercial/mini-film produced by TSU-11/Softcitizen for Air Canada dares you to avoid tears and an overall sentiment of goodwill that is conveyed in its story.

Air Canada wanted to honestly communicate the feeling of being home for the holidays. In a display of true altruism, they sent a film crew to London, England and surprised one hundred plus guests at a Canadian style bar to receive roundtrip tickets back home to Canada to be with their loved ones during the season. The real-life captains of the plane broke the good news and the flight crew to hand out tickets to overwhelmed and appreciative recipients.

Capturing the event was demanding because there were no actors, only real people who were experiencing this surprising event in real time. This meant that director Shaunoh and DP Byron Kopman (known for his groundbreaking work in unusual enviornments) had to devise a method of filming that would secretly capture the footage they wanted with only one pass, no reshoots. A necessary minimal lighting design allowed fourteen different cameras to capture the conversations and activity in a London bar full of Canadian citizens. Two Red Cinema cameras, three DSLR cameras, six GoPros, and three cell phones were utilized under the guise of filming for a documentary about being away from home for the holidays. Both in plain view and hidden (camouflaged behind red Christmas bows and other unobtrusive locations) allowed for subjects to be interviewed without suspicion as the climactic moment occurred. It might seem a natural conclusion that the footage would be raw and gritty but due to cinematographer Byron Kopman’s immense talent to manifest visual emotion, this commercial campaign feels more like a high budget feature film than an advertisement. From the early part of the footage where the intimacy and quiet anticipation of the stewardesses in a cab, to the glow of the London streets with an aura of holiday spirit surrounding the two airline captains as they walk towards the Maple Leaf bar in London, up to the tears and laughter which erupt from the overwhelmed recipients of the plane tickets; all of the emotional touchstones associated with the holiday spirit are conveyed through the lens…due in great part to the ability of this gifted DP. Kopman has an exceptional ability to capture the seminal moment when varying emotions erupt to the surface. It’s more than coordinating aesthetics, this is visual precision that enables the viewer to access the sights and feelings of their own relationships. The profound effect of this cinematographer’s expertise on the footage is profound, exponentially increasing the emotional intensity.

It’s readily apparent that Air Canada wanted to do something much more important than promotion with this campaign, they wanted to encourage goodwill by setting the example themselves. The reaction to “Gift of Home” not only was positive with the public but resonated in the industry itself (including write ups in Strategy Online and Little Black Book). This production and its intent is evidence that promotion is not always based on superficial attention and metrics; sometimes it’s about changing the status quo with good intentions and talent.

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