Nat Livingston Johnson and Gregory Mitnick were this year's winners in the Student Commercial category at the 18th Annual 'Art & Technique of the American Commercial' Show held in June at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Kodak hosted Mitnick, Livingston Johnson, and other winners in a dinner, prior to the show's opening. Directing under the moniker 'Peking', they will graduate from New York University in September. Following is a conversation with them about their AICP-winning commercials 'Lost' and 'Champs', their current projects and their future.
Mitnick: Lost is a commercial for Apple iTunes. It documents a frustrating and universal experience: a cell phone has gone missing. The spot's humor hinges on the method by which we've learned to locate missing electronics: call it and it will beep. The look for the spot was inspired by the desolate, quiet beauty of the Catskill Mountains in the midst of winter where most of the action plays out in a single wide shot. There's irony in staging this amidst such a blank landscape.
Livingston Johnson: In the Slim Jim's spot Champs, a young man and woman are sitting idly on a couch when suddenly the man opens his mouth and unleashes a primal roar: a Slim Jim is flying through the air, and he intends to catch it. In one deft motion he snatches it in his teeth and returns to his position on the couch like a proud dog, all to the girl's amazement. We wanted Champs to look like a moving painting, so we positioned the actors on a 17th-century, European-style couch as if they were having their portraits taken. In contrast, the costumes are modern and informal, which speaks to the playfulness of the Slim Jim brand.
Mitnick: The AICP Show and the Kodak recognition afforded us a ton of industry exposure for our large and diverse body of work. Nat and I recently signed with Station Film for worldwide commercial representation. We are so excited to be working with Station's Stephen Orent and Michael Di Girolamo, alongside talent that includes fellow 2009 AICP honorees Harold Einstein and Emmanuel Lubezki (ASC). Hopefully we'll return to next year's AICP Show with something new.
Livingston Johnson: There is a definite sense of relief to be validated by the mainstream elite. My first thought was, 'OK, what I'm doing is relevant, and I can keep making things that I like and they will appeal to the masses.'
Mitnick: We are currently in heavy preproduction on a new short film entitled The Kook. It is a thriller in the style of Joel and Ethan Coen's Fargo. It centers around Fa, a gentle and unassuming woman who is a member of an eccentric religious sect in the Catskill Mountains. Fa's world is turned inside-out when she discovers that the leader of the sect is an impostor on the night before he plans to lead them all in a mass suicide. We're shooting The Kook on 35 mm KODAK (VISION3) 5219 film. It will be around 20 minutes in length. Nat and I are co-directing, and I am also the DP.
Livingston Johnson: We've also made a handful of music videos recently, something we've really enjoyed doing. Greg and I can really whip each other into frenzied states when we're throwing around ideas. Nothing feels better than the process of creating, although our one fatal flaw is that we often play basketball when we should be working.
The AICP Show is currently touring museums and cultural institutions around the country and abroad. The tour schedule, along with the entire Show archive, including the winning spots from Mitnick and Livingston-Johnson (Peking), are available for viewing at www.aicpshow.com.