Ad of the Day: Gus Van Sant Directs Trio of Breathtaking Spots for the BMW i8

Leaning on category conventions while upending them, too

Headshot of David Griner

Leave it to the auteur Gus Van Sant to take some of automotive advertising's biggest clichés—self-glorifying narration over footage of a luxury car in the desert—and somehow still turn them into something beautifully compelling.

Van Sant, best known for his Oscar-nominated directing of Hollywood hits Good Will Hunting and Milk, helmed three new spots for BMW's upcoming plug-in hybrid, the i8.

They are, as one would expect, artfully shot, using a shifting focal depth to bring some new perspective to the age-old images of a cutting-edge automobile tearing across barren wastelands. (Thankfully they're not salt flats for once.) And the minimalist visuals definitely help you focus on the car, whose sleek lines and sci-fi detailing are definitely not the usual BMW fare.

But it's the narration that truly drives the spots. Featuring actors Michael Pitt (Jimmy from Boardwalk Empire), Sam Hazeldine (Caleb on ABC's recently renewed Resurrection) and Mickey Sumner (co-star of Frances Ha), the ads describe the i8's unlikely evolution from Tron-like concept car to production reality.

"I am one no one believed, a vision, a dream, a crazy idea," intones Pitt, who played Kurt Cobain in Van Sant's Last Days. "I am millions of questions, the endless search for answers that no one has found before. Try, error. Try, error. Try, again and again."

The ads also bring something truly rare to a luxury car ad: a woman's voice.

Most high-priced car ads relegate women to looking elegant in long, flowing dresses while gently caressing the vehicle's curves. If women are shown actually driving a luxury car, it's usually some ridiculous art house scenario where they're fleeing a black-tie gala while throwing a head scarf out the window or some nonsense.

So, while it's not necessarily a Sandra Day O'Connor-level achievement to hear Sumner describing the innovative elegance of a hybrid sports car, it's a refreshing change from the ironic modern monopoly of Mad Men manly man voices Jon Hamm and John Slattery.

These are best viewed in full screen.


Client: BMW

Senior Vice President, Brand Management, Marketing Services: Steven Althaus

Vice Presidents, Brand Management, Marketing Services: Andreas Christoph Hofmann, Wolfgang Breyer

Head of International Advertising, Online, Social Media: Wolfgang Gross

Project Manager, International Advertising, Brand Communication: Heiko Kircher

Agency: Serviceplan International GmbH & Co. KG

Chief Creative Officer: Alexander Schill

Executive Creative Director, Worldwide: Maik Kaehler

Creative Directors: Nikolaus Ronacher, Nina Puri

Head of Production: Sandra Niessen

Agency Producer: Anne Hoffmann

Managing Partner, International: Markus Noder

Management Supervisor: Jens Hoffmann

Account Directors: Melanie Blankenburg, Florian Klietz

Production Company: Iconoclast

Director: Gus Van Sant

Executive Producers: Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Nicolas Lhermitte

Producer: Julien Lemaitre

Director of Photography: Kasper Tuxen

Postproduction: Angus Wall, A52, Rock Paper Scissors

Music: B.C. Smith, Allessandro Cortini

Sound, Design: Lime Studios

Editorial Company: Rock Paper Scissors

Editors: Angus Wall, Jamie Foord, Grant Surmi, Austyn Daines

Assistant Editors: Lauren Dellara, austyn Daines

Executive Producer: Carol Lynn Weaver

Producer: Lauren Wilson

Head of Production: Angela Dorian

VFX Studio: a52

VFX Supervisor: Andy McKenna

2D VFX Artists: Andy Barrios, Richard Hirst, Steve Wolff, Stefan Gaillot, Matt Sousa, Cameron Coombs, Michael Plescia, Bruno Parenti

Flame assistants: Dan Ellis & Kevin Stokes

Color: a52

Colorist: Paul Yacono

Producer: Daughn Godd Ward

Executive Producer: Megan Meloth, Jennifer Sofio Hall

Head of Production: Kim Christensen

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."