To promote the 18th annual Newport Beach Film Festival, RPA floats an elusive campaign awash in dark, brooding imagery.

“Go Deeper,” a short film directed by Jed Hathaway, combines live-action elements with stop-motion techniques to follow a bottled message on a strange journey through the magical, murky depths.

Our story opens and closes on a man in a tiny boat, apparently lost at sea, who sets the story in motion by scribbling something on a scrap of paper, popping it into a bottle, and tossing it overboard.

A finely detailed encounter with a Titanic-style shipwreck (and lots of rad skeletons) follows, before the bottle, many years later, returns to its point of origin and the message is revealed.

Well, that was certainly … deep. Wasn’t it?

Hey, RPA, what’s this promo trying to say?

“Watching film is [a way of] celebrating, taking part in, and understanding life,” agency creative director Scott McDonald tells AdFreak. “Ironically, there is only one ‘living being’ in our piece—no fish, no birds, just a man and his thoughts. It’s really a seize-the-day story served up in a very existential way. We also loved showing the passage of time and flipping around the main character so it’s not the man in the boat, but the bottle and its message.”

And how does that relate to the film festival?

“So simple—a message in a bottle reminding you to be part of something bigger,” says McDonald. “You don’t just watch films at the Newport Beach Film Festival, you get to immerse yourself in them by talking to directors and mingling with other passionate filmgoers. It was also noted that Orange County is often unfairly stigmatized for living ‘on the surface.’ However, the reality is a fantastic network of cities that support the arts. The festival is in three cities at once. When audiences discover us, they leave surprised.”

RPA’s offbeat efforts for the festival have been much praised through the years, and McDonald says the agency always digs deep for the client in its quest for a creative gem.

“We take a lot of pride as an agency at our ability to create a new POV for the film festival every year,” he says. “Some years the project will grow organically based on the passion and the talents attached to it, and this year was no different. For instance, with Jed [Hathaway], as soon as we began to work in miniature, it opened up a whole different way of telling this story.”

In fact, the director worked for three days to capture the footage, using an 800-gallon fish tank for a soundstage.

“All of the underwater sequences were shot high-speed, live-action,” Hathaway says. “We wanted the performance of the bottle and skeletons to be realistic in their movement, and by shooting underwater, there was a fluidity and beauty that became more enhanced when slowed down” for the film’s final cut.

Though moody and vaguely unsettling, “Go Deeper” exudes a quieter vibe than some past Newport Beach promos, which explored horror, camp and, in the case of last year’s “We’re Being Watched,” outsized, rampant paranoia.

While the approach may differ from year to year, McDonald says all of these excursions “at their core, are rooted in the same thing: Film is a projection of our lives. Such a pun, but so true.”

Along with “Go Deeper,” RPA will promote the festival, which runs from April 20-27, via message-in-a-bottle-themed ads in magazines, newspapers and out-of-home venues around Los Angeles and Orange County. Those executions feature the work of award-winning photographer Markku Lahdesmaki.

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