Most marketing campaigns for cameras either focus on the hardware or the random nature shot. With YouTube and other digital platforms creating a new generation of filmmaker, Canon has turned the lens on the kinds of films that can be made with its devices in an effort to stand out from its rivals.
Ron Howard returned this year to back Canon’s “Project Imaginat10n,” the second edition of a contest that had individuals submit photos from which the director and his daughter Bryce Dallas Howard chose a few to have filmmakers adapt into short films.
Five of the films were helmed by thesps Jamie Foxx, Eva Longoria, fashion designer and Marchesa co-founder Georgina Chapman, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone — individuals that Canon considers influencers. Another five films were directed by winners of the contest. Howard mentored each during the development and production of the films.
Altogether, 91 winning photos were chosen from nearly 100,000 submissions, with images having to interpret 10 storytelling themes suggested by Howard. Each director chose 10 photographs — one from each theme — to inspire their films. The overarching theme was discovery.
“The camera industry is ever-changing, and there are a lot of opportunities for Canon to connect with customers in a different way,” Michelle Fernandez, Canon USA’s director of marketing told Variety. “We’re trying to get across a stronger more meaningful story with our consumer and tell a story of empowerment. Canon products are amazing products but they’re just tools for creativity, an enabler of a storytelling process. We were trying to break away from the competition in that sense.”
The films, which were 10-15 minutes long, premiered at New York City’s Lincoln Center, and will soon travel the festival circuit. They are now streaming at Yahoo! Screen and on Canon’s website.
A screening of the films will take place in Los Angeles in early November, followed by another showing in Brooklyn in early December.
Howard helped Canon launch the film contest in 2011, with “Project Imagin8ion,” touted at the time as the first Hollywood film fest inspired by user-submitted photos.
Bryce Dallas Howard directed “When You Find Me,” as part of the project, which was produced by Freestyle Picture Co.’s Kevin Chinoy and Francesca Silvestri. Canons ad agency Grey NY is again overseeing the contest for Canon, working closely with Freestyle.
But this year, Canon wanted to bring in more celebrities as a way to attract more consumers, as well as to make more films with people who took part in the voting and submission process.
While Canon is sponsoring the contest and is releasing the films across a variety of platforms, the camera maker didn’t force the filmmakers to adhere to any rules, giving them the freedom to produce anything they wanted — rare for most brand-backed projects.
“I applaud someone like Canon to allow filmmakers to do what they want without any constraints,” Chinoy said. “It opens the door to make things you wouldn’t expect.”
While “Project Imagin8ion” revolved more around a user-generated photo contest to inspire the creation of a film that Bryce Dallas Howard would direct, Canon wanted this year’s contest to involve more consumers in a collaborative effort.
“It’s one thing to submit a photograph, but to develop a film based on 10 storytelling tenets is a bit more of a challenge,” Fernandez said. “Having the criteria made it more creative because it had the filmmakers work through those parameters.”
The addition of the celebrity filmmakers enabled Canon to “tap into the average consumer’s passion points,” especially through a mix of notable names from film, TV, music, design and social media. Grey helped recruit the five notable names. Chapman and Stone hadn’t directed a film before.
Many of the submissions came from the expected group of up-and-coming filmmakers, film students or people already working in the entertainment industry. Yet there were still a lot of amateurs, and “people with a very sharp eye,” Silvestri said. Most consumers tend to want to check into the contest and observe the process, another aspect Freestyle wanted to promote in order to inspire new filmmakers.
In addition to the films, the Canon project also stands out for the amount of time the company has devoted to the project. Freestyle, which also has produced Glamour magazine’s “Reel Moments” shorts (that also featured Longoria behind the camera), has spent the past 15 months on “Project Imagina10on” managing the submission process along with Grey, working with filmmakers on the scripts on through the production of each film.
But through the shorts for Canon and Glamour, Freestyle has seen the branded projects become a platform for actors to keep directing. Freestyle, which is repped by CAA and helped connect Canon with the production shingle, has produced over 50 shorts throughout the last 10 to 15 years, many directed by first timers who normally work as actors, writers, cinematographers.