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LBB Film Club: Hope Builds


BBDO Atlanta and The Home Depot speak to LBB’s Ben Conway about making the documentary that shows how the brand and its people react to natural disasters

LBB Film Club: Hope Builds

‘Hope Builds’ is a new documentary from American home improvement retailer The Home Depot, made in partnership with creative agency BBDO Atlanta and Ron Howard’s production company, Imagine Entertainment. The film details the devastating effects of natural disasters on communities across the US, and the human spirit that compels people to help each other rebuild. 

It focuses on three major natural disasters - Hurricane Andrew (1992), the tornado that destroyed much of Joplin, Missouri (2011) and the wildfires in Paradise, California (2018) -  and features first-hand accounts from Home Depot associates and survivors who were there on the ground. The film offers a unique view into how these disasters, and the resulting reactions from local communities and Home Depot stores, have influenced The Home Depot’s business, culture and volunteering/philanthropy efforts. 

Telling these heart wrenching stories of homes, lives and businesses being destroyed, the documentary shows how the retailer is setting an example on how corporations can act and rebuild communities in the wake of natural disasters. To discuss how the film came about, LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with the BBDO Atlanta creative team, including creative director Jenn Tranbarger and senior creative director Tom Kraemer, as well as The Home Depot’s head of creative, Briar Waterman.

“Both our clients and the agency knew that this story – which spans nearly 30 years – was deeply compelling and involved many details known only to current and former associates,” says the BBDO team. “The Home Depot suggested we explore it because they felt the time was right to ‘externalise the internal’.  The more we learned, it became clear the longer format would be necessary given the span of time and all the people we needed to include.”

After deciding that a documentary would be the correct route to take, the agency enlisted the help of Imagine Entertainment - the production company founded by producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard - which was selected due to its impressive record of ‘riveting films’ in non-fictional storytelling, including last year’s Disney Plus successes, ‘We Feed People’ and ‘Light & Magic’.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. The documentary was filmed during covid, bringing with it logistical challenges and staffing issues while they were organising the 10-day shoot across seven different States. The other main challenge was deciding which Home Depot customers and employees to feature in the film. After a tremendous 122 pre-interviews via zoom, the team eventually sifted through the footage and selected 23 people that would contribute to the piece. 

The BBDO Atlanta team explains, “We always heard that there were some truly compelling, real-life stories about how [Home Depot] associates were involved in natural disaster relief. As a company, The Home Depot had rarely ever formally touched on that publicly. We wanted to bring those stories to life as authentically as possible.” They add, “Our clients put us in touch with a few key people who had genuine firsthand knowledge of natural disasters – including associate Lloyd Jarell, who ended up being a key part of the film. The challenge was to dive in and gather as many of those stories as possible. And, once we finally did, to ultimately choose the most compelling stories to highlight – from seemingly endless possibilities.”

The agency attended the first several shoots to help director Jessica Dimmock and cinematographer Joe Rivera with establishing the look of the interviews, as well as help the interviewees feel more comfortable speaking about the highly emotional subject matter on camera. This emotion not only translated impactfully to the screen, but was felt deeply by the crew at the time. “On those occasions when half of us were crying while filming, we knew we had found the right person to interview.”

For the most part, this raw feeling was maintained in the documentary by simply showing the subjects telling their stories to the camera, although The Home Depot and its associates also provided ample archival, newsreel and private footage taken during the disasters. The agency adds that these visceral shots of communities, that had been indiscriminately levelled by Mother Nature, helped to “instantly take the viewer inside the turmoil” of the shocking events being described by the interviewees.

For Tom Kraemer, BBDO senior creative director, it was clear just how much the associates care about their stores and the communities that they exist within, through the passion and emotion that they expressed when talking about The Home Depot’s culture and its disaster response efforts. “So many of The Home Depot folks we spoke to are 20- or 30-plus year veterans,” he says, “It became immediately evident just how deeply tied in they are with their communities. As associate Lloyd Jarrell eloquently points out in the film: ‘These storms go over all of our roofs’.”

Continuing this thought, BBDO creative director Jenn Tranbarger says, “The Home Depot has such amazing people who work there. In each interview, we’d ask, ‘Why did you do what you did?’ and ‘Why do you feel this responsibility to help?’. Continually, they’d say the same thing, with a shrug: ‘Why wouldn’t you?’ or ‘It’s just what we do’. It’s just who these people are and it was really inspiring to witness.”  

This passion for their company and the good work it does in communities across the country in times of need is certainly not an act for the cameras - as The Home Depot’s head of creative, Briar Waterman attests. “That passion is genuine within Home Depot, especially around communities in need. There is a ‘Value Wheel’ that is on every apron and all associates use it to live our culture. ‘Do the right thing’, ‘giving back’ and ‘take care of our people’ are all part of those values and you could see that come to life with everyone we interviewed.”

For the creative team at BBDO, one of the most poignant moments of the documentary is when associate Donna Carr describes how she and her family fled the California wildfires in 2018. Describing her story as “particularly chilling”, the audience is put into her shoes as she recalls being drip-fed seemingly innocuous and harmless information, before heeding more severe warnings later on and returning home to witness her neighbourhood in a state of “Armageddon”.

Briar also reflects on the story of Pete Capel, an associate who has been with The Home Depot since 1992, as one of the standout moments of the documentary. “He is a key leader in developing our disaster response and said: ‘When things are at their worst, we are at our best’. Again and again, we heard stories that validated that – that in those darkest times, the company shows up to make sure that the community has what it needs in that moment, as they work to rebuild their lives.”

For The Home Depot, long-form brand storytelling has certainly become a significant part of its marketing strategy. Documentaries like ‘Hope Builds’ and other longer pieces exemplify the messages that the brand wants to communicate to the audience, and provide a suitable format for detailed, authentic stories from their associates and customers alike. Briar says, “While these longer pieces involve a significant time investment, they ultimately become labours of love – because you’re bringing stories to light that may not otherwise get told.” 

This is something that BBDO Atlanta evidently agrees with: “As an agency,” they share, “we’re excited to create more long-form content to tell these amazing brand stories that have naturally developed as The Home Depot has grown and evolved to become a part of more and more communities.” So it seems we can expect more projects in a similar vein to be released in the future - tales of human compassion, community and the unbreakable spirit of this brand and its people to rebuild homes and lives after tragedy strikes.

You can watch the full ‘Hope Builds’ documentary on The Home Depot website here.

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BBDO Atlanta, Fri, 27 Jan 2023 16:39:00 GMT