Creative On Location: Raiders Of The Lost Art

Blair Witch/Crispin team parlays Manhattan expedition into PlanetOutdoors spots
On a dark, cold and rainy morning before sunrise, two pontoon boats slice across a vast river. They approach an island, tie up to a pier and unload members of The Lost Tribe expedition.
Carrying elaborate wilderness gear, some of which they will barter with the natives in exchange for food, the team of five adventurers from Colorado jump on mountain bikes and venture deep into the heart of one of the world’s most inhospitable civilizations.
“Our mission is to tell the indigenous cubicle people to go outside and discover the world beyond their territorial boundaries,” says Dave Secunda, the team leader. “We come from the outside world to teach these people the wisdom of the outdoors and to give them gear.”
A camera crew shadows the team with lightweight digital cameras as they penetrate the jungle. They are not fending off the creatures of the Amazon; they are dodging cabs and pedestrians in Manhattan.
“This is advertising veritƒ,” says Markham Cronin, vp/associate creative director at Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the Miami agency responsible for “The Lost Tribe” campaign.
Part performance art, part advertising, the work for is the brainchild of creative director Alex Bogusky, associate creative director Scott Linnen, producer Rupert Samuel and Cronin.
It is a $4 million TV, print and interactive effort that is being shot on video and will be broadcast nationwide later this month. The shoot is transmitted live on the company’s Web site.
The film crew, however, is not your standard issue National Geographic documentary squad. These guys were recently on the cover of Time, but you may know them better as the Haxan Films team, the young phenoms who directed The Blair Witch Project. The leader of this so-called “expedition” is the baby-faced president and CEO of an upstart Boulder, Colo.-based e-retailer called
“We came to the client with this idea of filming a Discovery channel type of expedition and making it into spots,” says Bogusky. “At first, it was supposed to happen in the wilderness. Then we flipped the idea and brought it to the city.”
The campaign chronicles a four-day excursion into Manhattan with Secunda, world-champion extreme skier Chris Davenport, cultural anthropologist Allison Horovitz, behavioral psychologist Brad Buikema and professional mountain climber Lisa Rust. Depending on how the footage turns out, it will be made into three, four, maybe even 10 different commercials.
The tongue-in-cheek effort is a mixture of events promotion, public relations, interactive, broadcast and guerrilla advertising. The Tribe’s mission is to survive four days and nights on the city’s mean streets without help. They have no money and must barter clothes and gear for food and whatever else they might need.
The team’s bartering keeps them fed and entertained. At Yonah Schimmel’s famous kosher restaurant on Houston Street, they trade a wool hat and a baseball cap for five knishes. In Times Square, they exchange a T-shirt and caps for CDs from a local character, Mr. Naked, a singer who walks the area wearing nothing but his hat, boots and star-spangled briefs.
“It’s not scripted,” says Secunda proudly. “It’s real, but it’s also art.”
Crispin won the account for the outdoor-equipment e-tailer in July, following a review between seven other agencies, including Ground Zero, Santa Monica, Calif., and Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis.
The company was founded in January by Secunda, the former executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, the industry’s largest trade organization. The company, which launched the Web site in August, sells recreation equipment and apparel related to mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking and camping.
According to Secunda, Crispin won the account after pitching the documentary concept, along with the idea of Webcam coverage of the mission and email contact between site visitors and expedition members. But it wasn’t until after they scored the job that the agency sprung the idea of using the Blair Witch directors, who had just been signed to direct spots by Chelsea Pictures in New York.
They sought the five-man Blair Witch team, says the agency, because of their experience with promotional Web sites and their documentary style, especially their skill with digital cameras.
Were they hard to get?
“No, we were into this idea; it’s like Blair Witch,” says Dan Myrick, who is staring into the eyepiece of a digital camera. Haxan is a collective; the members don’t have titles. Instead, they take turns editing, directing and shooting. Myrick is lensing the Lost Tribe as they ascend the 22-story Standard & Poor’s building in Lower Manhattan using climbing ropes.
“We’re not snobby about being filmmakers,” says Myrick. “Film is a product, like a commercial or a music video. As long as we get to do commercials the way we want to, we’ll do them. And this idea was different.”
For Mike Monello, The Blair Witch Project didn’t change his career path. “It made it easier to get there,” he says. “I’m not worrying about where the rent is coming from.”
Myrick and Monello are joined by Gregg Hale and Robin Cowie, who is directing another camera inside the skyscraper.
“We’ve all worked on commercials before,” says Monello. “This is nothing new to us.” [Eduardo Sanchez, the fifth member, was touring with The Blair Witch Project in Germany and London and could not participate in the shoot.]
Steve Wax, the owner of Chelsea Films, is also on the set with his 6-year-old son, Gabriel. Wax is a founding member of Cine Manifest, the groundbreaking, left-leaning independent film co-op that emerged in the early ’70s in San Francisco and which was responsible for one of the first low-budget indie features, Northern Lights, which won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1977.
Today, Wax is the proud head of a very successful commercial production shop. Besides representing Steven Spielberg’s director of photography, Janusz Kaminski, and top-billing spot director Mehdi Norowzian, Wax also recently signed Todd Solondz, the famed director of Welcome to the Dollhouse. Solondz and Haxan were the first to sign with Thru-Line, recently formed by Chelsea Films, which taps independent directors to shoot commercials.
Meanwhile, across Seventh Avenue, 400 feet above the sidewalk, members of the Lost Tribe enter a window in a skyscraper and barge in unannounced on the office workers inside.
“We’re here to say hello,” says Davenport to the surprised “cubicle people.” Later that afternoon, two of the officer workers help the Tribe set up base camp on the “summit” of the building, where they will spend the night. The next day, the expedition members don spelunking gear and enter the subterranean chambers of the “sardine people,” otherwise known as subway commuters.
In the afternoon of Day 2, they trek to the East Village to observe the “habitat of artisans in mostly monochromatic black ceremonial garb,” according to the mission diary which appears on the Web site. That night, they camp on a traffic island in Chinatown, bartering gear for Chinese food.
On Day 3, the team cooks brunch on camp stoves in the middle of Times Square, visits the New York Public Library and the “Central Park green zone.” On the last day, the Tribe crosses the Brooklyn Bridge en route to spreading their message of outdoor living to the “cul-de-sac people of outer suburbia.”
It is the magic hour on the bridge, and Samuel, the agency producer, is overcome by the beauty of the skyline and the glowing light of the waning sun. He tells the Haxan filmmakers to shoot the incredible scene. The Haxan team pulls the camera away. “We don’t do sunsets,” says Myrnick. So much for capturing the artistic moment.
What’s next for the Lost Tribe?
An expedition in 2000 to Mexico City, where their mission will be “to convert a people who worship the infernal combustion engine.” K