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Article by CEC

‘It Was Us’ – The Award Winning Commercial Exemplifying The Power Of Storytelling.

Robert dos Santos has always been committed to the idea that the commercial is an art-form. To distil enough movement and emotion into just over a minute for a commercial to transcend its utilitarian purpose – and into the realm of true storytelling – is a rare feat. Yet, it is a feat that Rob and his production company  ‘And.’ are mastering. A specialist in weaving together aesthetics, casting, messaging and more (I won’t list the plethora of skills involved for directorial vision); Rob’s ability to derive meaning from the commercial format is so distinct, that his latest commercial has both won and been nominated at short film festivals.

For a commercial, this is unpractically unheard of. It is also unchartered territory. 

‘It Was Us’ is an intimate portrayal of a couple’s life together, for the world’s first virtual reality dating app, Planet Theta. Conceived by a leading innovator in the gaming industry, FireFlare Games, the app marks a revolutionising trajectory for relationships in our hyper-technologising world. So often the conversations around VR veer off into all kinds of cynical and unfounded directions – we imagine a world in which our connections with one another will evaporate and in which we are left with all but pixels to remedy our sense of belonging.

This uninterrogated bias is perhaps why, when I watched ‘It Was Us’, I was incredibly moved. On multiple levels, the commercial offers an inarticulable depiction of what it means to be in love while showcasing the potential for virtual reality to liberate us from the constraints of space and time. Relegated to a powerful heirloom, the VR headset featured in ‘It Was Us’ becomes a relic of varying aspects of the human experience: our lives, our memories, our relationships, this planet – this digital age – and the possibilities of the future. In just over one minute, I was left more involved than I have been before with the notion of altruistically-designed technology as beautiful and momentous; far less daunting and far more promising. This is the ultimate concern of storytelling; to change or stir in someone, what existed previously.

The initial concept for ‘It Was Us’ was conceived by Charlie Southall and Dan Walsh at London based video production company, Dragonfly, ultimately resulting in a cross-continental collaboration with ‘And.’ in South Africa. Emphasising the approach for a diverse and enriched narrative to showcase the potential of Planet Theta, the brief focused on the app’s “ambition to transcend geographical boundaries, enabling individuals from all walks of life to discover meaningful connections.” As director Rob dos Santos explains, “The initial seed that Dragonfly approached us with was centred around a couple and their experience – and I loved it. This idea of love between two people became the central tenet of the ad. I wanted to challenge our preconceived ideas about the superficiality of dating apps and virtual reality, and bring the audience back to seeing technology as these tools for that are always about us and how we can use them. We wanted to ground the narrative to a very simple, very real concept of love.”

The commercial features a crescendo in which the couple have a fight – an unusual departure for an ad, in which great care is often taken to only highlight the most joy and positivity. This risk-taking moment, though, is what amplifies the entire narrative of ‘It Was Us’ to an artistic place, more akin to the short-film category (in which the ad has actually found itself). Rob explains that, “working with Charlie Southall and Dan Walsh was amazing, especially to experience both Dragonfly and Planet Theta’s willingness to test out short-film style sentiments for a commercial purpose. I think the future of commercials is heading into a new era. We have gone from very simplistic advertising, to very influencer-driven advertising – now, I think we are craving authentic, honest story-telling that can make us feel something, or think in a new way. I think this approach will make ads, that are made in this way, as timeless – they won’t speak to a certain time or trend in advertising. Rather, they’ll have the capacity to be felt by anyone, at any time going forward, from base emotions.” 

The dual-nature of ‘It Was Us’ as both a story and a commercial has seen the ad welcome incredible success. Rob explains that, “I think it’s a testament to the ad itself that we got into the Paris Short Film Festival, as well as the BAFTA-qualifying Aesthetic Film Festival in London, and we won at the Indie Short Festival. Being in and amongst indie films was a very cool place to be.” Rob dos Santos continues to redefine the cinematic potential of advertising, with ‘It Was Us’ showcasing the potential of cross-collaborative, courageous filmmaking, as seen between ‘And.’, Dragonfly Video Productions and Planet Theta. May the future of commercials be emotion-led, as profound keepsakes and time-stamps of the human experience.

Watch ‘It Was Us’ HERE 


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