NatGeo Is Launching a Festival of Short Films About Einstein’s Imagination for the Show Genius

Intriguing content play by Pereira & O'Dell

Albert Einstein was such a smartypants. When he wasn’t forging the theory of relativity, or generally reshaping our perception of the universe, the dude was tossing off pithy quips like “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Now, to promote its show Genius, about Einstein’s life, National Geographic Channel is launching fresh online content informed by such pearls of wisdom from the world-renowned physicist.

Developed by Pereira & O’Dell, the “10 Days of Genius Film Festival” kicks off with a pair of entries from director/musician Sam Spiegel (the brother of Spike Jonze).

“We wanted to reach new audiences that maybe hadn’t sampled Genius yet, by sharing original content on our social and digital platforms, reaching them in ways our other media hadn’t,” NatGeo global creative director Andy Baker tells Adweek. “We have done a lot of trailers and promos, but we wanted to try to attract viewers in a different way by getting them to think about Einstein’s vivid imagination. If we make people more interested in Einstein and his creative spirit, they might have more interest in sampling the show.”

The first Spiegel film, “Instrument,” which drops today, uses Einstein’s assertion “I live my daydreams in music” as a jumping-off point. Late one night, a shopkeeper assembles a most amazing keytar/violin thingamabob. Watch as his dreams take flight, along with pretty much everything else in the place:

Dude, more theremin! Let’s wake up the neighbors!

“Sam, coming from a music background, made the music itself become a character in the story,” says agency executive creative director Dave Arnold.

Indeed, Spiegel composed the spot’s urgent, ethereal (some might say teeth-rattling) score, while Wes Anderson collaborator Robert Yeoman provided the dreamy, cinematic photography.

“Some of the floating objects were added in VFX, but some floated thanks to good old-fashioned fishing wire, with guys standing on top of the set lifting them up slowly,” says Baker. “Seeing these great big guys standing on a specially built platform 12 feet above us during the shoot, lifting up coffee cups and books by strings, was pretty charming, in a lo-fi, old-school filmmaking sort of way.”

By turns poetic and playful, Spiegel’s work suggests the scope of Einstein’s intellect and interests while steering light years away from a predictable “watch-the-show” pitch. Notions of flight also propel his second NatGeo film, “Mirror,” which debuts Wednesday on the client’s digital channels. It features Einstein’s quotation “What if you could ride a beam of light across the universe?” and depicts a trip of cosmic proportions.

Whoa, open the pod bay doors, HAL—right now!

“I think this film festival is pretty ambitious not only for the stories themselves but also our approach to distributing them,” Baker says. “There’s something risky and exciting about making a promotional campaign for a TV show that doesn’t use a single clip from the show itself, but does speaks to the very nature of what the subject is all about, and celebrating that spirit.”

Seeking to present diverse creative styles to represent Einstein’s many modes of thought, NatGeo teamed up with the Tongal filmmaking community to find directors for the remaining eight entries. Those films roll out from June 1-8.

“We have created music videos, animated shorts, dramas, comedies—some of them are highly visceral and visual, some simple and intentionally rudimentary. Some are quiet and reflective, some are silly and rock ‘n’ roll,” says Baker. “Most of all, we wanted them to feel imaginative. Your imagination can go anywhere, and the stories we tell in the festival celebrate that.”


“The Instrument” Credits:

Client: National Geographic
Chief Marketing Officer: Jill Cress
SVP/Global Creative Director: Andy Baker
Creative Director: Tyler Korba
Senior Project Manager: Leah Wojda

Agency: Pereira & O’Dell/NY
Executive Creative Director: Dave Arnold
Creative Director: Seth Jaboln
Head of Production: Tennille Teague
Copywriters: Jayson Mittman, Carl von der Lancken
Art Directors: Aksana Berdnikova, Gary Lee
Managing Director: Cory Berger
Account Director: Mitch Wexler
Account Supervisor: Rosie Boskett

Production Company: Hey Wonderful
Director: Sam Spiegel
Founder/Managing Director: Michael Di Girolamo
Executive Producer: Sarah McMurray
Producer: Angela Jones
Director of Photography: Robert Yeoman
Production Designer: Elliot Hostetter

Editorial & Conform: Exile NY
Editor: Nate Gross
Assistants: Mitch Goldberg, Stephania Dulowski, Zaldy Lopez
Producers: Melanie Gagliano, Remy Foxx
Executive Producer: Sasha Hirschfeld
Executive Producer: CL Weaver

Music Company: Squeak E Clean Productions
Creative Director: Sam Spiegel
Composers: Sam Spiegel and Rob Barbato
Title: I Am the Cosmos
Executive Producer: Christine Bilich

“Mirror” Credits:

Creative Director: Sam Spiegel
Composers: Sam Spiegel and Jojo Yang
Title: Joy
Executive Producer: Christine Bilich

Executive Producer: Jesse Kurnit
Executive Producer Color: Dani Zeitlin
VFX Producer: Aiste Akelaityte
Color Producer: Jenna Gabriel
Producer: Neela Kumuda Parankusham
Colorist: Adrian Seery
VFX Supervisor: Warren Paleos

VFX Team:
Jacob Fradkin, Mike Lombardo, Monica Manalo, Vadim Turchin, Madeline Jackson, David Anger, Jeric Pimentel, Karen Weiss, Mazyar Sharifian, Meghan Sesnie, Jemmy Molero, Chris Ribar, Ambalika Nandy, Ankan Sanyal, Gowri Shankar Velusamy D, Pritesh Krishnappa Kotian, Radhakrishna Rethinasamy, Raju Ganesh S., Shaik Abdul Rahim, Shiny Rajan, Sravan Kumar, Srinivas Achary, Ankit Dheraj Toppo, Sindhuja B, Sabanayagam V, Akhil K.P., Amit Shukla, Anupam Kumar, Arulanandhan, Hemalatha T, Jose J, Joslin Job Mathew, Kishan Katrimal, Mahendra Reddy, Maheswar Konda, Mohanakrishnan C, Muruganatham T, Naresh, Prasanth Palaparthi, Praveenkumar Samiraj, R Vignesh, Rajesh Kumar, V Jegadeesan

Tongal Film Credits (in alphabetical order):

“Curiosity” by Sonia Megerdichian, Burbank, CA

“Falling in Love” by Maja Fernqvist, New York, NY

“Gravity vs. Love” by Joel Levinson (The Levinson Brothers) & Paul Rondeau, Dayton, Ohio

“Movement” by Tiffany Frances, New York, NY

“Pigs” by Afterman, Tsvetelina Zdraveva and Jerred North, Brooklyn, NY

“Relativity Ramen” by Federico Fracchia (Little Jerry Ideas), Buenos Aires, Argentina

“Stick With Me” by Adam Mosher (creator/writer) & Colin Graham (animation) (Oddbomb Productions), Tottenham, Ontario

“Take Me Back” by Michael A. Livingston and Amanda Dreschler (Quick Brown Fox Productions), Los Angeles, CA

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@DaveGian 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.