I wanted to expand a bit on the commercial I posted earlier this week. After posting it alongside my quick thoughts I ended up watching it several more times, and realized there is quite a lot going on there structurally, and these structural elements all work incredibly well together to help drive home the main point of the spot. If you haven’t yet, take a watch and then we will dive right in.
First off let’s talk about story structure. If you have studied story in any fashion, whether it’s filmmaking, or writing, or advertising, etc., you have probably run across one of the many great storytelling gurus who preaches some form of universal structure. It could be Vogler's seven steps in the hero's journey or Snyder's “save the cat” moment. When we look at commercials and short-form storytelling I like to break it down even simpler, into just two parts; tension and resolve.
This commercial is a great example of a two part story. This is not to say it lacks complexity. Im certain you could apply a more comprehensive story structure to it, but it is very clearly divided into two distinct sections at the minute mark.
Perhaps the most obvious shift is the color grading goes from black and white to color, this happens to be exactly on the 2/3rds mark of the commercial. After this we retain a lot of the contrast and moodiness but it is in a very vibrant blue vs red setting, reminiscent of Nicolas Refn's Drive.
We also have some pretty heavy audio cues at this shift. First off we have a hard cut out of the intense clamoring sfx of the lock being opened. We are left with only the pulsing bass line, but even this has changed. It has lost its muted tone and become much more present, warm and bright. In addition at 1:07 we hear the initial notes of the first melody line. The style of this melody is resolved, and 80’s like. Its quite familiar to a culture just coming down from a Stranger things high. The melody also builds off some of the seemingly misplaced song elements from the first half, but it feels complete and with hopeful drive toward the future.
This tectonic shift is not without purpose. It is my belief that the first 2/3rds of this spot is both literally and figuratively the dream of our main character and the shift is his transition from dream to reality. This idea is mainly supported by the opening line of VO, “the other night, I dreamt I was Michael Jordan” and is further supported by many of the visual elements in the scenes such as the Bull’s ring, the exorbitantly expensive car, the clocks ticking, and the wolf walking mythically through the night. The dream-state is also shown through the cinematography choices, most of the shots leave a ton to be desired as far as context.
So the big question with all of this is why? Why does this commercial work? Why does it capture our attention? I think there are a few reasons. First of all, It asks a lot of questions of us; “What's with the wolf?” “Is this Michael Jordan?” “why are we in a jewelry shop?” “Why are there clocks everywhere?” “what does the narrator want?” really every new beat keeps us curious.
Secondly, it’s very careful about the way it resolves. Visually and sonically the ending is very satisfying, but it’s also satisfying from a story lens, while retaining a lot of the mystery built in the first section.
Lastly and this is the culmination of all of these technical observations, it’s just a well told, simple, relatable story. When you boil it down it’s just a human being who has big dreams and works hard to get them. The final shot of the car disappearing solidifies the idea that the first half was a dream, but also nails down this point. A dream is a dream but now it’s time for reality, for if we forget the reality that exists now, dreams will always be just that; Dreams.
We have to feel the dirt, put in the work, and get it.
While wearing Nike’s