The elderly man only wanted a moment away from his dreary life, where he sat surrounded by others counting down the hours while dreaming of past glories.
The key to his freedom was simple—a well-worn pair of shoes.
Adidas is a major brand with a roster of international agencies. But the spec ad below, created by students at Germany's Film Academy of Baden-Württemberg and going viral this week on YouTube, is the most moving work we've seen so far in 2017. (That school also produced 2015's amazing Johnnie Walker spec spot "Dear Brother.")
Viewers may note such delightful details as a soccer game involving East Germany (which has not existed in more than 25 years), a Nurse Ratched-like villain, the protagonist's track photos and an old man sadly and devotedly watering his TV at the 24-second mark.
AdFreak spoke to fourth-year film student Eugen Merher, who wrote and directed the spot, to learn more about the inspiration and process behind the work.
AdFreak: How did you come up with the idea for this film?
Eugen Merher: I had a distant relative who passed away last year, and he was the main inspiration. He was an old man with a very young spirit who used to walk two kilometers every day and bring his wife flowers, was very up on the news and loved to watch basketball. I combined him with the idea that running or playing sports makes you feel free, because that's what I've always thought. There's also a German feature film called Sein letztes Rennen (His Last Race) about an old marathon runner who lives in a retirement castle and wants to run a race in there, but I didn't know about this film until mid-production and I chose not to watch it so I wouldn't subconsciously copy it.
What led you to tie the story to Adidas, and did you send them the ad?
I did some research and learned that Adidas used to make a lot of Olympic marathon gear in the '70s while Nike did not. The company did get back to me after we emailed them. They said that they didn't support the work because they get lots of these kinds of requests, they already have their agencies, and they don't really need it. I'm not sure if they even watched it, but we sent an email before production and afterward.
Is this your first full commercial work?
It's technically my second-year project. Our studies last about four years, and starting in your third year you get to make an ad every six months as an assignment with no restrictions. But in your second year you have one-half of the year to make an ad, and I used that time to make this. We shot it in two and a half days in January 2015 and edited it in the following weeks.
Why did it just go live last month?
Since we do a lot of projects at the Film Academy, you try to finish everything ASAP just so you can start the next one. I had forgotten about the ad by last March, but then we showed it to Sebastian Ritzler of e+p films and he put in some new music by my favorite composer Alex David. All of a sudden the ad became magical in a way. It was entirely different. Sebastian said, "The music will make or break the ad."
How could you afford to shoot such a professional-looking film with no budget?
The Academy provides infrastructure for production, tech setup and crew as well as a database of actors close to the school. We got 1,500 euros from the Academy, and everything else we had to pay for ourselves. We did get lots of student discounts like on the Vantage camera lenses … but I had to put in 2,000 euros of my own money. The hope is that you win awards and get some prize money; I sent it to the Young Director Award with the old music, and it got nominated but didn't win. It also aired during some other awards shows last year. … Someone from the Clios wrote me and said I should send it to them.
The work has gotten a good bit of attention since you posted it on YouTube and Vimeo last month.
I like the commercial, but I never expected it to get so much attention. It just doesn't stop; I'm getting notifications all the time and I can't handle it. It feels so old to me now, but I realize that it's not that bad.
What are your professional goals moving forward?
In the long run, I want to make feature films. I made a short film that I will try to send to the festivals now, and I'm already working toward the next commercial and trying to get as many projects as possible.
Cast: Jens Weisser, Herman Van Ulzen, Anja Karmanski, Hiltrud Hauschke, Daniel Hubertus
Writer, Director: Eugen Merher
Producers: Karli Baumann, Karl Heidelbach
Director of Photography: Mortimer Hochberg
Editor: Ernst Lattik
Compose: Alexander Wolf David
Sound Design: Marcus Fass
Sound Recording: David Hill
Production Design: Nora Brockamp, Julian Dieterich
VFX: Tim Markgraf
Production Company: Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg