I was going through some old work this week for one of our new pitches and I came across a spot I hadn’t watched in a while. It was for the California Department of Health Services anti-tobacco initiative. And it was inauspiciously named, “Bubbles 2.”
Of all the spots I’ve been part of, this is maybe the one that means the most to me.
Not because it was the best. Don’t get me wrong, I always liked the original spot, entitled, “Bubbles,” simply because it was the only positive anti-tobacco ad I’ve ever seen, much less been part of. Like most sequels, “Bubbles 2″ had a little more action. A few more locations. And a bigger ending. But that’s not what made it remarkable. What made it special, was the fact that it was written by my friend and art director, Shawn Brown. Without the use of his arms or legs.
At the point we started discussing the commercial, it had been nearly a full year since Shawn had been paralyzed in a surfing accident in Mexico. When I had first seen him in a hospital bed in San Diego, I didn’t really know what to say. It was shocking to see him lying there, motionless. It was draining to speak to a friend who couldn’t speak back. It was difficult to even gauge what he even thought about what I was saying. I’m not really sure exactly what I discussed with him. I remember my plan in the parking lot was to be positive. To give him what I believed he needed, not what the rest of us did. So, I kept banging on about how we were going to get him back involved in the creative department. Just because he couldn’t move didn’t mean shit. He was a vital part of the company and that wasn’t going to change — no matter where he was located and how many limbs he could use. It was about his mind. I tried to be strong. And I didn’t cry until I got back to my car.
I saw Shawn about six months later at the Sloan-Kettering spinal cord rehab center in New Jersey. We laughed a bit. He drank a beer through a straw. The nurses didn’t much care for that. Shawn was really pushing the rehab effort with the same intensity and pig-headedness he pushed everything else with — from his work to the patience of traffic cops. Again, I don’t recall quite what I told him, but it was something to the effect that the plan was still in place. Everything was still on track.
When I learned he was heading home, I was really happy. When I learned that Colleen, the lead client on the anti-tobacco account, wanted to do a follow up to the “Bubbles” spot, I was ecstatic. I called Shawn’s mom and told her I wanted Shawn to concept the visuals for the new commercial. She said he was in a lot of pain and that he just might not be able to. Thirty minutes later, she called back to say Shawn had told her he really wanted to do the spot. Shawn spent hours that night and the next morning relaying his thoughts to his mom, Nancy, who, in turn, emailed them to me. I wrote up the script and sent it off to Colleen.
When I called back to tell Shawn the spot had been approved, I learned he had passed away that morning. When I finally pulled myself together an hour later, I told the rest of the company. Sometime later that year, we filmed the commercial. Here it is.
Watching this spot makes me miss Shawn. It makes me value the people in my life. And it makes me applaud everyone in our business who yearns to put something beautiful into the world, even under the most trying circumstances. We compete against one another every day. And we probably spend more time pointing out each other’s weaknesses than strengths. But when you get past all that, you realize there are a lot of really good, really smart, really likable people in this profession. And there are a number of things that make an ad special. Friendship being one of them.