This past week, Already Alive (a filmmaking collective and storytelling studio based in Brooklyn) released two epic commissioned films, one of which I’d like to touch on today: “The Bonnaroo Experience.”
When I first came on to work at Already Alive as a part-time assistant and publicist, I wasn’t fully aware of the power and depth of a “commissioned film.” In my mind, it was another marketing buzzword likened to “advertorial” or “branded content,” just in video form. In a Jonathan Harris piece I recently read, which I highly recommend to anyone seeking higher connection and creativity, he reflects on today’s near-obsessive relationship with storytelling as the catch-all foundation:
“Storytelling, which used to be a reasonably small niche populated by organizations like This American Life,The Moth, and StoryCorps, was suddenly everywhere. Every advertising agency was now a “storytelling agency,” every ad campaign was now a “storytelling campaign,” and every app was now a “storytelling tool.” Storytelling had gone mainstream and become one of those words — like “sustainability” and “innovation”– that’s so ubiquitous as to be basically meaningless. Yet through all this, I was riding the wave." — "Navigating Stuckness”
This is not to discount all the merit that comes from storytelling at its finest. But, as Harris points out rather pointedly, the word has lost meaning by spreading too thin in hopes of striking some emotional chord for commercial benefit. Everyone wants to cash in on the story, because stories are historically how we as human beings connect and share experiences. The modern day digital kumbaya if you will. The commissioned film is different.
When you watch “The Bonnaroo Experience,” you are immediately sucked into a world that turns you on emotionally and creatively. The colors, images, human emotion, and dynamic motifs are right there on screen as they are experienced in real life. In just three minues, the film manages to create a cinematic arc framed by the story of one particular guy, who we learn — from Cool Hunting’s interview with the film’s director, Michael Marantz — returned from Iraq and rediscovered himself by way of going to Bonnaroo. Brilliant storytelling aside, the strategy of releasing a commissioned film and not just another promo video or branded content was part and parcel of this project’s genius.
Leading up to the release, we learned that Big Hassle Media — Bonnaroo’s PR agency — was not going to involve themselves in the video launch. And why? Here’s the brilliance.
Bonnaroo commissioned Already Alive to create a beautiful story of the festival. Translation: Bonnaroo allowed the creators to tell their story as they experienced it. Zero creative interference as far as I see it.
Same thing happened on the day of the video’s launch. Bonnaroo gave us creators complete license to promote as we saw fit. And the result? Just take a look at our social media and comments to see how far and wide the video reached.
The thing I’ve walked away with is the power of commissioned film. A new kind of marketing that is and isn’t marketing. At the end of the day, letting the film stand in for the festival’s greatness and take off organically is testament to both strong stoytelling and strategy.