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The Story Behind Adland’s Very Own Version of ‘The Office’

Directing collective JEAN and director Pam Thomas - all of Community Films - on satirising the crazy world of production in ‘Commercials’

The Story Behind Adland’s Very Own Version of ‘The Office’

When ‘The Office’ burst onto British screens in 2001 it offered a hilarious, frighteningly true glimpse into the life of the 9-5er. The staff room patter, staplers in jelly and secret romances were all relatable, exaggerated just the right amount to keep audiences entertained and hiding behind their cushions. Since then Ricky Gervais' creation has obviously headed Stateside - The Office US ran for nine seasons - and shows such as Veep and Parks and Recreation have drawn on the absurdity and mundanity of particular sectors for comedy. 

And now the weird and wonderful world of production has its own sitcom. 'Commercials' is a brilliant web series created by directorial collective JEAN and director Pam Thomas, both of whom are repped by Community Films (who produced the series). All former ad creatives and current directors, JEAN and Pam have seen their fair share of ridiculous moments both on and off set. Those experiences - and the characters who played a part in them - are what have informed Commercials. 

LBB's Addison Capper spoke with the crew at JEAN - formed of Eric Eckelman, Armand Prisco and Natalie Prisco - and Pam to find out more about the process of satirising adland. 


LBB> What first inspired Commercials? When did the idea first come about? 

Armand> For years, on almost every job, something ridiculous would always happen where we’d look at each other and say ‘this needs to be a show’. So, we finally decided to make that show. The world of commercial making is such an enigma to most people that it’s so ripe for satire.

Pam> I had been thinking about doing a show about the behind-the -scenes ridiculousness and fun of our business, but when JEAN joined Community and we met to say hello - we realised that they’d been thinking the same thing. We met in August 2018 at Grey Dog Cafe in NYC to say hello, and our little breakfast turned into a brainstorming session where Commercials was born.


LBB> And when did it first become something that you would actually set about to make? What were the initial steps to get it off the ground? 

Pam> We talked about it and had many phone calls where we shared our experiences and then went off to write some ideas. Early 2019 we started sharing our faves with each other and Community’s EPs Lizzie Schwartz and Carl Swan, and then realised that we really wanted to film some episodes and see what that would be like.


LBB> Where did you look for inspiration when developing the show? Were there any particular sitcoms that you looked to? 

Natalie> The first place we looked for inspiration was to the day-to-day things that we experiencing in the industry. There are a lot of entertaining and, oftentimes, unforgettable moments that happen throughout our days that we were able to draw from. Shows like Veep and The Office were two references we talked about quite a bit. Both of those shows are grounded in reality but pushed just enough to keep things entertaining without getting too broad.

Pam> Honestly, we had so much fun talking about our various experiences on set - but we definitely got inspired by everything from Veep to Parks and Rec to Broad City and beyond. There are so many wonderful shows that give you a peek into their world - we wanted to do the same thing with ‘Commercials’.


LBB> What were the main aims when it came to the look and feel of it? 

Eric> As far as the look and feel we really wanted to ground it in reality. The plot’s pulled from reality, the characters are true to life, so visually we felt like the series should reflect the world we all work and live in. 

Pam> Real. Authentic. FUNNY. We wanted to show viewers the things that people who watch TV might not know about the commercials they see, and share the humour and dynamic of our unique world. We wanted it to feel accessible - even if you don’t work in our business, you can relate to the personalities, and the day-to-day ups and downs of what we do. Hopefully while laughing (and peeing your pants a little).


LBB> Tell us about the inspiration behind each of the main characters - what was the process like for developing these? Were any of them completely based on people that you know / have encountered? 

Eric> The characters tend to be an amalgamation of two or three people, but they reflect the various people and personalities we’ve encountered in the business over the years. The main goal was to create a world full of totally insane people, all of whom are being held together by the true lead character, Nate. Nate is the EP who has to manage ego-maniacal directors, clients, difficult agency requests and everything in between. He’s the rock and the true protagonist of the series. 

Pam> Ha - none. Of these. People. Are Based. On Actual People. I think we came up with characters that are a little bit of an amalgam of who we are, and folks we’ve encountered in our business. JEAN is a directing trio - we wanted to explore what that’s like. Nat and I are female directors, in a (up until recently) pretty exclusively male-dominated industry. I’ve been doing this for a while so I have definitely had the new director ‘envy’. I’ve never locked myself in a car, though, and I don’t have a Porsche.


LBB> And what was the process like of writing each episode? How close to the truth are some of the situations? 

Natalie> We had a lot of episode ideas based on various experiences over the years from when we were agency creatives to now directors. We’d have meetings where we would all sit down and reminisce about funny past experiences which acted as groundwork for the episodes. We’d then push the scenarios and storylines, making them funnier and a little left of centre. Some of the moments are close to the truth, some aren’t. 


LBB> Given your jobs as directors and creatives, this all comes from personal experience - can you give us an outline of the most crazy / absurd scenario that you ever found yourself in thanks to your career?

Pam> Hahaha. Too many to mention and anyway, can’t share that, but hopefully you can view it in an upcoming episode.


LBB> Axel - one of the directors - is prone to a tantrum! Are directors really that precious...? 

Pam> Yep. But not me, I would NEVER do that.


LBB> Do you have a favourite episode? Why? 

Eric> For me it’s Ethnically Ambiguous. I love it because it speaks to a broader cultural conversation about PC woke-ness and race, but in the most stupid and idiotic way, which is basically the only way we can talk about serious issues. 


LBB> What's the future for Commercials? Do you think the crazy world of production has enough appeal for a wider release? 

Eric> We love the way the episodes function as short-form content. They really allow us to craft a whole story around one, singular ludicrous situation. That said, we think it also has potential as a longer-format show. Yes it’s niche, but so was ‘Extras’ or ‘Episodes’ or ‘30 Rock’ for that matter. You didn’t need to work in the business to enjoy any of those shows. Whether you make commercials or work at a bank we think that everyone deals with ridiculous situations at work and in life and if this show ends up living in a longer format it would explore those very situations… just through a new lens. 

Pam> Yes. 100%. I also think that as more brands and advertising move into content, ‘Commercials’ is the perfect opportunity for brands to engage and be part of the content in a truly premium way. It’s beyond branded entertainment… and we can end each episode with the commercial we were referencing in that given episode. Could be super fun and memorable - how great is that?



ETHNICALLY AMBIGUOUS

Directed by JEAN
Written by Natalie Prisco
Story by JEAN
Created by JEAN and Pam Thomas
Production Company: Community Films
Executive Producer: Lizzie Schwartz
Executive Producer: Carl Swan
Producer: Tony Cantale
Director of Photography: Neil Shapiro

CAST
Nate Young:Nate Lang
Maggie Cheng: Ana Parsons
Ashley: Ali Hillis
DK: DK Uzoukwu
Agency Producer: Brent Popolizio
Head Client: Rebecca Tilney
AD: Sam Carsons
EA Woman: Rachel Varela

Editor: Angela Cheng
Production Designer: Jace Ford
Original Score: Jay Lifton
Casting Director: Chad McKnight
Casting Assistant: Rachel Varela
Re-Recording Engineer: Robin Buyer for Pulse Music
Colorist: Quinn Alvarez
First AD: Julianne Maiello
Second AD: Aban Sonia
Script Supervisor: Lucia Pier
Production Supervisor: Andrea Tello
Production Coordinator: Kathy Burnham
Art Director: Chad Bailey
Leadman: John Horlick
Set Decorator: Marisa Collins
Prop Master: Greg Schultz
Set Dresser: Marty McCue
Costume Designer: Julie Vogel
Key Costumer: Kristin Hazen
Costumer: Ariel Kostrzewski
Key Make Up: Brenna Bash
Make Up Assistant: Laura Connelly
Camera Operator: Bill Robinson
First AC / A Camera: Diona Mavis
First AC / B Camera: Jason Kinney
Second AC: Austin Pedroni
DIT: Lee Summer
Gaffer: Tim Stratton
Key Grip: Marco Pearson
Sound Mixer: Scott Farr
Boom: Jason Brooks
VTR: Mike Waters
Key PA: Francisco Hernandez
Production Assistant: Scott Belsky
Production Assistant: Patrick McElroy
Production Assistant: Scott Kukla
Production Assistant: Phoebe MacCurrach
Production Assistant: Jeremy Meizlish
Production Assistant: Tony Paoli
Production Assistant: Ted Sheahan

Special Thanks
House Casting
Cosmo Street Editorial
Pulse Music
Apache

REALLY GREAT MEETING

Directed by JEAN
Written by Natalie Prisco
Story by JEAN
Created by JEAN and Pam Thomas
Production Company: Community Films
Executive Producer: Lizzie Schwartz
Executive Producer: Carl Swan
Producer: Tony Cantale
Director of Photography: Neil Shapiro

CAST
Nate Young: Nate Lang
Jay Beck: Bo Barrett
Agency Producer: Katie Von Til
Creative #1: Rich Pierre Louis
Creative #2: Dalton Leeb

Editor: Aaron Langley
Production Designer: Jace Ford
Original Score: Jay Lifton
Casting Director: Chad McKnight
Casting Assistant: Rachel Varela
Re-Recording Engineer: Robin Buyer for Pulse Music
Colorist: Quinn Alvarez
First AD: Julianne Maiello
Second AD: Aban Sonia
Script Supervisor: Lucia Pier
Production Supervisor: Andrea Tello
Production Coordinator: Kathy Burnham
Art Director: Chad Bailey
Leadman: John Horlick
Set Decorator: Marisa Collins
Prop Master: Greg Schultz
Set Dresser: Marty McCue
Costume Designer: Julie Vogel
Key Costumer: Kristin Hazen
Costumer: Ariel Kostrzewski
Key Make Up: Brenna Bash
Make Up Assistant: Laura Connelly
Camera Operator: Bill Robinson
First AC / A Camera: Diona Mavis
First AC / B Camera: Jason Kinney
Second AC: Austin Pedroni
DIT: Lee Summer
Gaffer: Tim Stratton
Key Grip: Marco Pearson
Sound Mixer: Scott Farr
Boom: Jason Brooks
VTR: Mike Waters
Key PA: Francisco Hernandez
Production Assistant: Scott Belsky
Production Assistant: Patrick McElroy
Production Assistant: Scott Kukla
Production Assistant: Phoebe MacCurrach
Production Assistant: Jeremy Meizlish
Production Assistant: Tony Paoli
Production Assistant: Ted Sheahan

Special Thanks
House Casting
Cosmo Street Editorial
Pulse Music
Apache

MANTRUM 

Directed by Pam Thomas
Written by Lloyd Stein
Story by Lloyd Stein
Created by JEAN and Pam Thomas
Production Company: Community Films
Executive Producer: Lizzie Schwartz
Executive Producer: Carl Swan
Producer: Tony Cantale
Director of Photography: Neil Shapiro

CAST
Nate Young: Nate Lang
Axel Roundhouse: Joe Hursley
Andy: Oren Skoog
AD: Monte James
Girl: Everette Lang

Editor: Barney Miller
Production Designer: Jace Ford
Original Score: Jay Lifton
Casting Director: Chad McKnight
Casting Assistant: Rachel Varela
Re-Recording Engineer: Robin Buyer for Pulse Music
Colorist: Quinn Alvarez
First AD: Julianne Maiello
Second AD: Aban Sonia
Script Supervisor: Lucia Pier
Production Supervisor: Andrea Tello
Production Coordinator: Kathy Burnham
Art Director: Chad Bailey
Leadman: John Horlick
Set Decorator: Marisa Collins
Prop Master: Greg Schultz
Set Dresser: Marty McCue
Costume Designer: Julie Vogel
Key Costumer: Kristin Hazen
Costumer: Ariel Kostrzewski
Key Make Up: Brenna Bash
Make Up Assistant: Laura Connelly
Camera Operator: Bill Robinson
First AC / A Camera: Diona Mavis
First AC / B Camera: Jason Kinney
Second AC: Austin Pedroni
DIT: Lee Summer
Gaffer: Tim Stratton
Key Grip: Marco Pearson
Sound Mixer: Scott Farr
Boom: Jason Brooks
VTR: Mike Waters
Key PA: Francisco Hernandez
Production Assistant: Scott Belsky
Production Assistant: Patrick McElroy
Production Assistant: Scott Kukla
Production Assistant: Phoebe MacCurrach
Production Assistant: Jeremy Meizlish
Production Assistant: Tony Paoli
Production Assistant: Ted Sheahan

Special Thanks
House Casting
Cosmo Street Editorial
Pulse Music
Apache
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Category: Media and Entertainment , Online Media