2006 would prove to be a special year for us at Freedom. The first indication was an email we received on Friday, the first week of the New Year.
“Hi there: I'm writing to you because some of us at Adobe and Macromedia have seen your work, and we think it’s terrific. It sets the bar for great motion graphic design.”
They were inviting us to contribute a piece to the new Design Center Gallery section of their website. Wow! Adobe has seen our work and thinks it’s terrific??!!
We were thrilled. A 6-person shop finishing our 3rd year in business, the majority of us were Firstborn ex-patriots working our tails off to win projects and execute creative that would propel us to the forefront of industry recognition.
We knew our talents, capabilities, and experience matched any top independent in the interactive space. Our goal was to make other people aware of that fact. Our strategy was to stick together, work hard, and seize our opportunities.
We gathered to brainstorm on a late mid-January morning. Our designer Matt Sundstrom was trying out his new camera. Here are some of the shots.
It was the moment that YouTube burst onto the scene and of the Saturday Night Live “Lazy Sunday” skit. I was fixated on doing some sort of video, rather than an animation.
I proposed a grid interface, each section containing short clips starring our personnel.
I wanted to shoot everyone in front of Magnolia Bakery in the West Village, chomping on cupcakes in a nod to the aforementioned Andy Samberg “viral”.
Somehow I thought this was going to be killer. Thankfully, everyone else had the sense to deem it awful.
The killer idea
We continued to debate and within moments the idea must have entered Matt’s brain.
“What if we shoot ourselves selling websites with a green screen sandwich board out on the streets?”
It was brilliant, and we all knew it. I don’t think we spent another 20 seconds agreeing that this was our direction. We mobilized. Matt started work on a flyer, and video mavens Shea Gonyo and Josh Ott began pre-production discussions while they rushed out to buy props and supplies.
On January 26th, Shea and Josh shot footage in our neighborhood, and that night Josh did a motion tracking test as a proof of concept. Next, he practiced editing a first rough with more of the footage, which came in at about 1:20 and got left on the cutting-room floor.
It contains some terrific scenes, the devil-worshipper volunteer kid and the Hasidic Jewish guy carrying the Airborne Express envelope and checking his Blackberry.
Video shoots begin
What followed was an emotional four months that included healthy doses of heated bickering over our small mountain of work. We began with video shoots that turned into edit after re-edit. Next, Shea and a freelancer endured most of the hours of tedious frame-by-frame handiwork before Josh dropped his compositions onto our waiting motion-tracked green boards.
The interface design process, which included this fun indoor shoot, was wrapping up as the videos became complete and Josh spent his days pinpointing video compression settings. Last, a few more days to program the simple interface and …
Adobe curve ball
Adobe threatened to kill the project once they took a look. We were stunned. Apparently our piece touched off an internal debate about their “community mission and focus”. We sweated it out for several weeks until one day it suddenly became approved. Finally, it was released in early June.
WouldYouLikeAWebsite.com is a piece based on an old-soul’s premise and executed behind the amazing shooting, editing, sound, post-production, and animation talents of Shea Gonyo and Josh Ott, sprinkled with Sabina Hahn’s irreverent illustrations.
At launch, an immediate FWA and its featured position in Adobe’s Design Center Gallery helped spread the word and within days we started to experience our site’s popularity. We heard from all types.
There were the technical critics. All along Shea and Josh were displeased with certain areas of the motion tracking, but they realized early on that we were going to be limited by lack of time and budget. To compensate they eliminated any ability to scrub the video in hopes that imperfect frames would be less noticeable. Nevertheless, we did hear from some eagle eyes.
On the flip-side, we got emails like this, from Maria M. in Brasil:
”Hi people I'm from Brazil and I just saw your website and the fantastic idea of the guys with the "monitor hanguing on" showing the web. I really don't need a website now, but I would like to know more about this media! Are those "ambulant monitor" possibles to sale? Can we have this idea here in Brazil? How can we have it here? Congratulations for the excelent work. I'll wait a return from you. Maira M. Brasil”
And this one, from Vittoria de C. in Italy:
”Thank to exist!!! (grazie di esistere!!!)
Vittorio de C. (italia)”
This from Ray in the U.K.:
We are a company based in the U.K we have recently visited your web site and we where impressed with the technology used for advertisement. We would like information on the product you used in the advert. Can we have pricing for 10 units including delivery. We understand the importance of good business relationships. And would like to become part of your business. Can you plase contact me via my e-mail. I hope to hear from you in the near future. Thankyou once again. Ray.”
And from Lev M. in Russia, who sounds strikingly like Borat:
”Hello, I want to by your product - the motion grafits. Please, the answere me about price. We are from Russia, your motion grafits is very well!!! You are regrads! We hoop about your soon answered.”
We’ve been meaning to publish some of our B-Roll footage here at FWA for some time. First, here is a naked version of the site. Below, there are outtakes from each shoot.
We’ll start downtown and work our way uptown. My shoot was on Wall Street. I’ve been a New Yorker for 9 years, but I grew up in Chicago. As I watch this footage, I can clearly hear my distinct native accent for the first time in my life.
I sound and act like Dennis Franz. My goodness, I take that back. I certainly mean no disrespect to Dennis Franz. I sound and act more like a Chicago jackass. No disrespect to jackasses, and above all no disrespect to my beloved Chicago. I take full responsibility for my own jackass-osity. B_roll_mark.
Matt’s shoot, in Soho, just outside our office doors, was one of the first we did. Ironically, he put himself in an uncomfortable position with his own idea. Like a lot of us, the last thing he wants to do is draw attention to his self in public.
In the immediate moments of adrenaline rush, when we were all high on the initial impact of the idea’s beauty, he surely did not imagine himself in front of the camera, or out on the corner in Soho with a day-glo green poster hanging from his neck. When the group enthusiastically advocated everyone doing a shoot, his buzz was probably killed dead that instant. Matt was a trooper though, and he went ahead with his segment.
Watching it, his pain is somewhat palpable. Genius is suffering, Matt. Well done, taking one for the team in the name of commercial art. B_roll_matt.
Andrea Shapiro’s shoot was in Chinatown, just down the block from Little Italy, where in 1973 Martin Scorcese directed Robert DeNiro in Mean Streets. Check me out doing my poor attempt at Scorcese to Andrea’s even worse attempt at DeNiro, as I frustratingly feed her lines and she fights to recite them.
Josh did at least three different shoots, for two reasons. One, as a ham and something of an artistic exhibitionist, he loved the avant-garde performance-art nature of carrying The Board. Two, he kept saying he didn’t like his footage, which was really just a thinly veiled attempt to indulge reason number one.
Anyway, I was at his Washington Square Park scene. Josh plays awesomely to the crowd. I insisted he get in the fountain and he begrudgingly did it, I’m sure cursing me out in his head. He included it in his final edit and in his outtake reel, so he must have wound up liking the way it worked out. Now he’s undoubtedly moved on to cursing me out about something else. B_roll_josh.
Heading up Fifth Avenue from the arch, Shea canvassed the Union Square area. This was one of the shoots I couldn’t attend.
One of my favorite cuts in the entire website remains the guy who says “I don’t even know what a computer is” while he playfully taps Shea’s board. And the guy in the scrubs, he’s great too. In the outtake reel, when Shea looks at the camera and says “Adobe”, he’s really sarcastically making fun of my request to drop their name as much as possible in hopes of cozying up to them. B_roll_shea.
We shot Jason Rosenfelt, our Director of Business Development, in Times Square. Originally, he was shot dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans. I wanted our salesman in a suit so I requested a re-shoot, which caused everyone to curse me out in their heads AND undoubtedly behind my back.
Anyway, he cleaned up and went back out there, where he mingled delightfully among the orgy of capitalism. High school kids were high-fiving him. Women were snapping his picture. If he stayed out there another 10 minutes someone would have asked for his autograph. Why? Because he was wearing a green board and there was a video camera. Go figure. It was a great shoot.
Jason crystallized what we were trying to achieve, and Shea captured it in the edit, “We’re Freedom Interactive Design. We want to build your brand online”. B_roll_jason.
Sophia (and Bryan)
When Sophia Leang, our Project Coordinator, started working for us in the summer of 2004, we began receiving bouquets of flowers at the office quite often. Her ex-boyfriend Bryan was wooing her back, and before long they were a couple again.
Many moons later, when she hit the streets in the posh area of Fifth Avenue uptown, calling out “I know you like it” behind her green board and guys all over the place were hitting on her, she politely declined. I have been officially authorized to tell Bryan right here via the FWA that Sophia is ready for you to pop the question, old sport. Get a move on! B_roll_sophia.
Our last shoot, and definitely one of the best, was Sabina Hahn’s, Illustrator and Animator. Sabina is Josh’s wife and their in utero daughter Orli also got to be a part of our project, taking her first trip to the Central Park Zoo in her mommy’s belly.
Sabina is clearly a great sport. My guess is she hated the idea of dragging around the green board in the cold instead of curling up at home with a book. She was certainly cursing me out in her head. In the end, I think she had fun with the kids and ultimately with the absurdity of what we were doing. “Even bears can have websites!” B_roll_sabina.
The Aftermath and the Future
Since WYLAW.’s launch we’ve grown by 50%. We now have a total of 5 FWA SOTD awards and we think we may have a few more in our future based on some of the exciting opportunities we’ve been accepting lately.
We’ve been doing stuff for Anomaly and Dasani, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky and Volkswagon, Goodby, Silverstein and Partners and HP, MGM, Penguin Publishing, Universal Pictures, and maybe most exciting of all The Matthau Company, for whom we are creating the all-new, official Walter Matthau website.
We should have those commitments wrapped up by mid-April, at which time if you perk up and listen, you just might hear Jason’s voice ringing in your ears.
“How you doing? We’re selling websites today. What do you think of the work?”