Thursday, February 18, 2010

Census television spots

You might have seen that 30 second spot on during the Superbowl, which has what looks like a movie production team sitting around talking about doing a "secret Snapshot of America". Some have been airing during the Olympics as well.

I don't know about you all, but some of us around here have been wondering: what is up with those ads? Are we missing something? Why are they talking about a "secret location?" Is it supposed to be ironic? Maybe we're just too unhip to "get it."

So I checked out YouTube to conduct some serious in-depth academic research on this topic, and it turns out the character of the "Director" (played by Ed Begley Jr. in the ads) actually has his own YouTube Channel.

Oh yes. His character's name is "Payton Schlewitt," and his Channel hosts all the varieties of these Census ads that have aired, and plenty that haven't. "Payton" even has his own YouTube profile, which describes himself as an "billionaire everyman" with a passion for "Jazzercise," and lists one of his favorite books as "The Spelunkers Guide to Delaware."

This is keeping in the weird irony of the movies "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and the other group of Christopher Guest-directed films starring much of the same cast that populates the Census ads. It would seem that the Census Bureau is hoping to capitalize on the faux-documentary comedy style that characterized those films, along with many current popular TV series like "The Office."

The premise is that this production team, led by billionaire and legendary director "Payton Schlewitt" (aka Ed Begley Jr.), is attacking a new, great film project: "A Portrait of America." In their pre-production meetings, they are attempting to answer the team's questions about the logistics of taking a picture of all 300 million people in America.

These films might, at first be slightly more amusing for those who actually work for or around the Census. Mocking the enormity of preparing for a successful 2010 Census by equating it to 6 movie production crew members standing around a table talking sort of requires an understanding of how colossal an enterprise the 2010 Census actually is, an understanding that isn't quite common knowledge. (Of course, the die-hard Christopher Guest fans will be amused no matter what).

However, if you watch the videos the humor finally starts to come together - the nobility of their director's "vision" of having one snapshot of the whole country, the ridiculousness of trying to organize this, the endless questions. It is these questions that, I believe, the casual viewer of the Census ads is meant to be left with, and one reason why the ads may seem sort of random and non-informational at first. They're designed to get people talking and asking questions, chief among them: "What the heck are those commercials talking about??"

Here's the "production team" - click for their little video intros. You'll recognize the actors (even if you, like me, can't remember their names):

"Chad Sipkin", the burdened Producer
"Danya Burakoff," the dedicated Wardrobe artist
"Robert Rooney", Director of Photography
"Katie Hawbaker", genius Location Scout
"Alden Resch", Casting Director

If you want to watch the full-length version of a "Snapshot of America" ad, here it is:

Full-length "Snapshot of America" spot - 3 min

Below are a few of the shorter videos.
Visit the Snapshot of America's Facebook page.
Visit the Snapshot of America's YouTube page.

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