A Filmmaker’s Dramatic Spec Ad for Google Glass Is Getting Lots of Fans, Including Google

'Captions' shows the power of translation

Can Google Glass help cross cultural boundaries and even save lives? It can in "Captions," a 4-minute short film promoting a translation app currently in development.

Writer, director and editor Joe Sill of digital studio Everdream Pictures describes the cinematic clip as a "branded content spec ad," much like the team's earlier, unofficial Tesla spot, "Modern Spaceship," whose admirers included even Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

And sure enough, the new video has also gotten some top-level corporate love, with the official Google Glass page giving it a share on Facebook.

Sam Morrill, senior curator at Vimeo, also left a comment on the clip: "Interesting film. Really sharp look."

"Captions" focuses on a Glass translation app that helps a photographer in the Mexican desert communicate with a boy who's been bitten by a snake.

The mood and approach couldn't be more different than "Modern Spaceship's" effects-fueled flight of fancy. Washed-out, steamy visuals—shot on location at an orphanage in Mexico's San Antonio de las Minas—and naturalistic performances give "Captions" a gritty, documentary vibe.

The slow-burn melodrama is engaging but restrained, and the low-key ending is handled just right.

Ultimately, the film doesn't oversell its message. It serves as a credible product demo, and a thoughtful meditation on how cutting-edge technology can help people bridge gaps, gain greater understanding and get closer in the offline world.

Below, Sill answers a few questions for AdFreak.

What was the genesis of "Captions"?

My friend Joel Lu approached me one day and said he had been developing an app for Glass called Captions with his engineering team at Carnegie Mellon. His goal was to help bring the universal language barrier to a close, and he asked if I wanted to make a 30-second commercial for it. I told him that we could do that—but we could also do something that told a much more powerful story.

I think Google Glass has an incredible potential to be something great. Its technology and integration suggests an innovative new perspective of looking at the world. Captions really visualized that for me. It showed me that this technology can help people on a spectrum of needs—sometimes in the most dire of situations.

Walk me through the creative process.

Joel briefed me on the app, and I went to work. I'd been reading one of those most-powerful-photos-of-the-year articles at the time, and I saw a photograph of a father carrying a child through the wreckage of a battlefield, which sparked the story for me.

I brought the project to my colleagues James and R.J. (co-CEOs at EverDream), and we all got really excited about it and ingested the project into our group's creative "think-tank." I'd flesh out my idea and then present it to our collective team of directors, who'd hash it out, dissect and pick the concept apart. [We'd determine] what worked, what didn't, areas that could enforce the branding or make the story stronger, [identify] areas of accuracy of things like snake bites.

Compare "Captions" to your earlier spec film for Tesla.

With the Tesla ad, my teammates and I wanted to capture the imagination and the heart of what we interpreted as the spirit behind Tesla. With this, I wanted to capture the possibility of what you can do if language is no longer an issue. Language is the fundamental gateway that sets us apart or brings us infinitely closer, and I wanted to really speak to that possibility of connection if it weren't a barrier.

Tell me about filming on location.

We shot at this little orphanage in Mexico called Estado 29 in San Antonio de las Minas. We had a small, intimate guerrilla crew of eight. I have gone to this orphanage for years because my friends' family at Friends of the Orphanages are strong allies in making the orphanage a better place for the children. The kids loved us. The minute they saw our Alexa camera, they flipped out and fell in love with it immediately.

The people who ran the orphanage also really supported us. They could see our intention was really to spread a good message, and they supported us for it. We were cooked amazing food that the children enjoyed with us. It was overall a magical experience.

An anecdote that's left me kind of speechless: Bryant, the boy who played Miguel … upon watching the finished film, he was apparently analyzing and scrutinizing his performance, and said, "I might want to go into acting—this has been the most fun I've had my entire life."


Created by: Everdream Pictures

Writer and Director: Joe Sill

Executive Producer: James Khabushani

Producer: Jona Ward

Featuring: Amir Malaklou

Assistant Director: Alan Michnoff

Cinematographer: Nick Roney

Assistant Camera: Juancarlos Amaya

Gaffer: Juancarlos Amaya

Makeup: Spencer Reed

Editing: Joe Sill

Color Correction: Nick Roney, Joe Sill

Production Sound: Alan Michnoff

Sound Design: Jackie Zhou

Original Music: Mattan Cohen

@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.