The John Lewis Christmas Advert is something I have come to look forward to every year, along with most of the UK I think. Somewhere along the line they stumbled upon the perfect balance of advert and cinematic storytelling.
What I found incredible about this year's ad was the speed with which I became emotionally invested in the characters. Apart from the story, which is beautifully written and touching on a subject everybody understands, age and loneliness, or even on a more basic level, being separated from other people, there is a skill in the storytelling here and the use of images which helps us fall for the little girl and the elderly man.
The very first image is this one:
What does it do? Well first of all, it's a cute little girl. If you go through a lot of the festival winning shorts, they tend to feature cute little children. Something about a child, and a pretty one at that, grabs the attention of the audience faster than say an object or even an adult. The fact she looks a little sad also intrigues us. We can't help but wonder what she's looking at so sadly.
This initial image plays a part in grabbing the audience's attention, but it is the following little sequence that I want to learn from.
We see the little girl looking through a telescope up at the moon. The casting has played a large role in this short. The girl is a great actress, really animated and energetic. This look she's giving her makes us intrigued - we want to see what's she's looking at or looking for
We are then faced with the man on the moon. This too is great casting. I'm not sure how old the actor is, but he sure looks old. He also looks frail which makes us care. The way he looks straight into the camera here really pulls at the heart strings.
But then, the magic of this shot is the way his eyes slowly move from looking straight into the camera to gazing vacantly away as we realise that the elderly man has not seen us, or in fact the little girl gazing up at him. Heart wrenching stuff!!! But it's very clever. A really important part of the story has been told in a single shot, with the smallest movement of an eyeline.
And here again with and even smaller movement, which I personally find even more powerful, another important part of the story is told. The little girl has been waving up at the man on the moon but then drops her hand as she realises he can't see her. Just that tiny drop of the hand in one swoop gets us right there.
What's it telling us, that tiny little movement? That the girl WANTS the elderly man to see her and she is sad that he can't.
You could call this little sequence the inciting incident. The little girl sets off on a mission to enable the man on the moon to see her.
The combination of the great casting, the acting and the heartwarming story allows us to very quickly emotionally invest in both these characters.
The John Lewis Christmas Advert 2015 has made me think about the way I want to tell stories and how I can make my audience emotionally invest in my characters.
What was your favourite part of the film?