Q&A: The Director of That Viral Chevy Dog Ad Isn’t Surprised He Didn’t Win

Lloyd Choi looks on the bright side

"Maddie," a minute-long commercial by young Canadian director Lloyd Lee Choi, didn't win Chevrolet and Mofilm's Oscars competition. That honor went to a whimsical exploration of creativity by Jude Chun, whose ads about kids making a movie with a 2014 Chevy Cruze aired during the Academy Awards on ABC.

Choi's entry, however, clearly has legs—four of them, to be precise, belonging to the ad's titular Golden Retriever, whose heartrending story unfolds in reverse chronological order. (Three dogs were actually used to portray the pooch.) "Maddie" opens at the end of the dog's life, closes in puppyhood, and makes the point that your Chevy—seen throughout—can also be "A best friend for life's journey."

Shot for $7,000 in less than three days, it's an emotional tail-chaser that's proven to be popular yet polarizing. Some commenters seem to both love and hate various aspects of the film. (AdFreak's Gabriel Beltrone called it "beautifully written and produced," then smacked Choi with a rolled-up newspaper for making folks angry "when you realize Chevy is a dick who has shamelessly manipulated love for a dying dog to get you to buy a car.")

The ad has fetched more than 1.4 million views on YouTube, compared to 33,000 for Chun's winning entry. It's the best of both worlds for Chevy, which reaps publicity from both spots but still maintains some distance from the mildly controversial "Maddie" ad.

Of course, it's up to each viewer to decide whether any commercial is best in breed … or just a dog. To gain some insight, AdFreak chatted with Choi about "Maddie."

Where did you get the "Maddie" idea? Is it based on something from your own life or the experience of someone you know?

Chevy is a very family-oriented brand, so we came up with an idea that followed a girl and her family—their life together told in reverse. But I felt it was missing an emotional thread, and I thought back to my childhood growing up with pets and how they provide us with unconditional love and affection that is so unwavering … and that's a beautiful thing. I wanted to capture that truthfully, which is why we showed a multitude of moments, big and small.

What was the major theme or message you were trying to get across for the Chevy brand?

I think viewers nowadays prefer subtlety versus messaging that's in your face. Our generation tends to skip commercials that blatantly advertise something, and we are quick to forget about it and move on to the next thing. Chevy wanted young filmmakers to create content that focused on authenticity and narrative that evoked an emotion. In the end, our main goal was to create a narrative that told a compelling story in one minute.

Why shift into "reverse"? Did using reverse chronology present any problems?

A reveal is more exciting!

The spot took me a couple weeks to edit, trying to find a flow that worked. Always a bit more challenging when you have to film and edit against your natural inclination of moving forward in time.

Where did you get the dogs, and how many did you use? Did they cause any problems during filming?

We used three dogs and a litter of puppies, all found through friends. Stanley (young pup), Maddie (main dog) and Lily (old dog) were the stars. They had their moody moments, but we all do in our different ways. Filming a couple times before with animals, I've come to realize you just have to let them be and sometimes film around them. And to be patient. Oh, and they dictate the washroom breaks.

What was the toughest or most surprising thing about the production?