Behind the Scenes of the Bleak, Hilarious Future Selves Envisioned by Agency Leaders

McCann's Rob Reilly explains the AICP Awards campaign

The new call for entries campaign for the AICP Awards jumps forward 35 years to interview five creative leaders after they've fallen from grace. Grey's Tor Myhren finds himself in a prison orange jump suit after kidnapping the E-Trade baby. Barton F. Graf 9000's Gerry Graf is just slightly better off, inhabiting a bathroom supply closet after losing his agency, wife and kids. At least Droga5's Ted Royer is still working. He has to, though, because when David Droga left, "he took all the money."

Still, each fallen star has an ad in the Museum of Modern Art because AICP places its award winners in the museum's permanent collection. So, while the stars' personal lives may be in shambles, their most brilliant work is preserved for posterity. McCann Erickson's Rob Reilly, one of the creators of the campaign and a fellow subject along with Co-Collective's Tiffany Rolfe, explains the challenges that O Positive's Brian Billow faced in directing the ads, the history of the Burger King head in his ad and how to slay the most cynical of all target audiences: his peers.

Where did this concept come from?

How much business you've won and how successful you've been—those things are important, but really the work you leave behind is what your legacy is. … When you have that as your brief, how do you communicate this? And for some reason, I think old people are funny (laughs). Old people plus self-deprecating humor [means] there's a good chance that it might be kind of funny.

Rolfe with her bewitching older self, Marie Wallace

So this was your responsibility as a judging chair?

I think so, to help [AICP CEO] Matt [Miller] and say, "Hey, how do we promote this and do it in a somewhat lo-fi kind of way?" You know, the original idea was to use prosthetics, kind of like Bad Grandpa. Johnny Knoxville did that. Take the actual people and age us. And thank God that didn't pan out.

Why?

You realize, wow, the acting. We can write those scripts but can you act it? Thank God we went the route of hiring actors.

How did you pick the creative leaders?

I knew Gerry, Tiffany and Ted really well and you sort of use some of the same players [as in years past]. We were really short on time and use New York-based creatives was one of the parameters we had. We had to do it fast and quick in one day. Brian shot all five in one day. It's pretty incredible.

Graf and Gene Ruffini, who plays him in 2020

All shot at Droga5?

Yeah, all shot at Droga. Their space is really spectacular, so we were able to use different pieces to make it look different. To be able to shoot five of those in one day with some of the actors being really challenged age-wise—particularly Gerry's and mine—we ended up doing a great job. It definitely took some deft directing, for sure.

Did the subjects write their own scripts?

Yeah, the notion of aging of us was something I pitched to Matt and I pitched to Gerry because Gerry is the outgoing chair. So, we all brainstorm ideas together and this creative manager who works for me, Eric Monnet, he threw out the line, "Craft your legacy," which made it fun. And then Matt actually threw out the line, "We'll protect it." Then it was, we need to know how this wraps up because it will inform how we write the scripts if we know what the ending is going to be.

Royer with senior doppelgänger Frank Ridley, minus the oxygen tank

Tell me about the Burger King head.

It's actually the stunt King's head. We put the King through a lot: he played football, he got hit by a taxicab, he did some serious stunts. And when we did the stunts, Stan Winston had to make the head out of rubber. That's why there are holes in it because that's actually the stunt King. And you take the holes out and you only shoot from far away—just like any kind of stunt. It's a rubber head and it has got a football helmet built inside of it.

Wow, okay.

A lot of mementos you have from the past and it was obviously a big part of my life and my career just to be a part of that campaign. And I think it kind of added a bit of weirdness.

You have the most hardened, cynical target audience for this campaign, so the ads better be pretty good to break through because these folks have seen it all and they're going to pick it apart, enjoy it or hate it.

These are the kinds of ideas that I love the most. It's either going to be a homerun or a piece of shit. This definitely fell into that category. But again, I'd rather go for homeruns or strikeouts than hit singles. That's the worst you can do. You know, the business is pretty brutal regardless if it's for the industry. People will kill you no matter what and, on the flip side, people will really prop you up too if they like something. So, this wasn't any different doing something that gets seen by people in the ad industry. Certainly, I've done enough stinkers that I've felt the wrath sometimes. But I think you're right. This is certainly directed toward them. So, there's a little bit more pressure.

Absolutely.

You didn't have a lot of time or money, so there are some production pressures. I've been giving Brian a lot of the credit but in this case, he really came through. But it doesn't hurt you have people like Gerry, Ted Royer, Tor and Tiffany writing scripts. You had some challenges, but also had some really strong writers who've made funny stuff in the past.