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  • March 28, 2011, 10:25 PM EDT
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The debate about whether commercials qualify as art just got more complicated. Case in point: a campaign for Homestore.com.

The print and TV work created by TBWA\Chiat\Day features people residing in offbeat homes, including a couple who lives in a converted missile silo in Kansas.

Inspired by their stories, the TBWA\C\D creatives assembled the footage into an hourlong docu-mentary, called Home Movie, and submitted it to the Sundance Film Festival competition.

"The client challenged us to break out of the box," says Rich Siegel, creative director and copywriter at the Playa del Rey, Calif., agency, when the shop presented the concept to Homestore. It did. Deciding the topic was compelling, TBWA\C\D upped the stakes—and produced a film.

Four of the humorous 30-second commercials began airing in February; two more are slated to launch later in the year.

In one, a paunchy middle-aged man offers a tour of his cluttered-but-efficient houseboat, which sits in the middle of a Louisiana Bayou. He tells how his teacup and saucer "make a nice little setting," then dives into waters filled with "more alligators than you ever seen in your life."

In another ad, Benny from Illinois shows off his electric house, which features a plastic-flower arrangement that opens to reveal a toilet. "There's a dream home for everyone. What's yours?" asks the tagline.

The campaign is the shop's first major branding effort for Homestore.com's estimated $15-$20 million account. Located in Westlake Village, Calif., the company provides home-related products and services, property listings and advice.

Through research, Siegel and his partner, creative director and art director John Shirley, found most people define themselves by how and where they live.

"Who better than Homestore to champion what a home is to the individual?" asks Shirley. "Not everyone out there wants the ranch- style home."

Finding those eccentric individuals, however, proved harder than anticipated. The creative duo sent out 12 scouts armed with video cameras to scour the country. They even found a man in Utah who lives in a cave with 11 wives. Sounded promising, but he "came out sort of flat" on camera, admits Siegel."By the skin of our teeth, we found six interesting ones," adds Shirley.

The team committed two days of shooting to each location. Director Chris Smith of Independent Films spent up to 16 hours a day following the owners around and saying very little. "The quiet would be so uncomfortable, people talked about things they ordinarily wouldn't talk about," says Shirley.

Still, there were many tense moments. Siegel and Shirley waited for the homeowners to utter just a few good lines that could be later edited into a commercial.

True, the anxiety might have been avoided if the team had tapped one of the more traditional ideas suggested early in the process.

They even considered scripting the stories and casting actors to recreate real-life situations, much like Shirley had done for Saturn while at Hal Riney and Partners in San Francisco.

But fact proved more interesting than fiction. And choosing to shoot the campaign as a documentary ultimately allowed them to create Home Movie, a more poignant version of events that shows the homeowners' delusions as well as innovations.

Even though they didn't bring home any prizes, the agency staffers viewed the experience as a major accomplishment. "The biggest deal for us was getting into Sundance," says Shirley. "A couple of ad guys got to pretend like we were big Hollywood producers."



Homestore.com

Agency

TBWA\Chiat\Day

Playa del Rey, Calif.

Executive CD

Gary Topolewski

CD/Art Director

John Shirley

CD/Copywriter

Rich Siegel

Producer

Barbara Joy Laffey

Editor/Sound Designer

Dan Bootzin

Production Co.

Independent Films

Director

Chris Smith