The Spot: The Big C

A woman with cancer regains her hair, and her hope, in a quietly magical ad from BVK

GENESIS: The University of Oklahoma wanted to position its new cancer center as the best in the region with a message of hope. Milwaukee agency BVK didn't want a maudlin ad full of hand holding, hugs, and worried children. "How do we do another spot about hope that feels fresh?" asks creative director Mike Holicek. They chose to focus on the hair loss that comes with chemotherapy—an often traumatic experience for women, who feel they are losing their femininity. Their 60-second spot flips that script: It opens with a woman at her lowest point, alone at dawn, head bald, a tear falling down her cheek. Then, as she goes about her morning routine, her hair grows back, little by little, scene by scene, until she has a full head of hair. The change is so gradual that there's a sudden moment of recognition when the viewer realizes what is happening—a spark of delight that hints at the longer glow of hope the client can provide.

COPYWRITING: The ad is understated and uncomplicated—ordinary domestic scenes with "little moments of real life that are not spectacular," says director Rafael Fernandez. The woman showers, dresses, and makes a sandwich for her daughter. "It's the mother's struggle, it's her moment," explains BVK executive creative director Rich Kohnke. The action takes place over several months, but it's shot as though it were a single morning—which makes the healing process feel quietly magical. At the end, a female voiceover says: "When you have every resource for beating cancer, you have every reason for hope. Pioneering research and treatments from the new cancer center at OU Medicine. Another level of medicine." On-screen copy adds: "Oklahoma's only comprehensive cancer center," followed by the OU Medicine logo and Web address.

ART DIRECTION: The woman's hair is the main visual motif. The agency considered using CGI to show the hair growing continuously. That felt over the top. Instead, Fernandez shot everything in camera. He filmed the scenes in reverse order, and had the actress cut her hair between each one—seven trims in all. The spot begins in gloomy dark blues, and then brightens—but not excessively. "We wanted to stay within the same universe and just come to the brighter version of that world," says Fernandez.

FILMING: The ad was shot in a single day in a house in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. The camerawork is subtle and elegant. "Most of the shots have just a little bit of floating to them," says Fernandez. "It has that feeling that you're witnessing these scenes as a person there."

TALENT: The actress, Heather Ann Smith, was able to transition from despair to measured hope with simple movements and gestures. For the first scene (the last one shot), Fernandez helped to get Smith in the mind-set by narrating a piece of text he had written about "what I thought would go through someone's mind who is faced with a situation where the hopes and dreams of their life may never come to fruition." Shaving one's head is a drastic move for an actress, but after shooting, Smith landed a role on Torchwood that called for short hair. She also had the support of her fiancé, even though their wedding was approaching.

SOUND: The composer, Bryan Mir, came up with a Spanish-flavored acoustic-guitar track that the creatives felt, against all odds, fit perfectly. The client hated it. They went with an acoustic guitar track that was more toned down.

MEDIA: Broadcast and cable across Oklahoma and into neighboring states, where there aren't other major medical centers.

THE SPOT:

CREDITS:
Client: OU Medicine
Agency: BVK, Milwaukee
Executive Creative Director: Rich Kohnke
Creative Directors: Mike Holicek/Mike Scalise
Writer: Mike Holicek
Art Director: Rich Kohnke
Agency Producer: Allison Lockwood
Account Supervisor: Tricia Lewis
Account Executive: Ali Dawe
Production Company: Green Dot Films
Director: Rafael Fernandez
DP: Doug Chamberlain
Managing Director: Rick Fishbein
Executive Producer: Darren Foldes
Executive Producer: Rich Pring
Producer: Jacquie Frisco
Production Designer: Janet Nelson
Editor: Bryan Mir @ Blend Studios, Milwaukee
Colorist: Mike Matusek @ Nolo Digital Film in Chicago
Music: Bryan Mir @ Blend Studios, Milwaukee
Sound Design/Audio Mix: Steve Kultgen @ Independent Studios in Milwaukee
Lead Actress / Mom: Heather Ann Smith