Free Willy’s Bob Talbot Previews His Super Bowl Ad

The legendary IMAX filmmaker takes us through the meaning of his groundbreaking game day spot for SeaWeb

Sunday, Feb 5, 2012  |  Updated 11:19 AM PDT
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Bob Talbot

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SeaWeb Super Bowl Spot

SeaWeb's official Super Bowl game day commercial

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For Super Bowl advertisers, every second of airtime counts. Isn’t it ironic, then, that a commercial would feature five seconds of nothing but a black screen? 
 

If your goal is to raise awareness about threats to the ocean, it’s all part of the plan. SeaWeb, an international non-profit focusing on ocean conservation, teamed up with award-winning marine filmmaker Bob Talbot, a man known for his iconic lithographs of whales and dolphins, as well as his footage for Hollywood blockbusters like Free Willy and numerous IMAX films, to create a Super Bowl spot that’s as shocking as it is stunning. By opening with Talbot’s typically gorgeous cinematography--dazzling dolphins, swaying fan corals, pulsing jellyfish and a magnificent great white shark–before dramatically cutting to black for the final five seconds of the 30 second spot, SeaWeb forces viewers to imagine a life without the ocean. 
 
It’s this “dead air” time that Talbot and SeaWeb president Dawn M. Martin hope will cause people to pause and think about the ocean, a resource that is being increasingly threatened by over-fishing, pollution and climate change. 
 
Bay Area residents will be treated to the full commercial during Sunday’s Super Bowl pre-game show on NBC, but as a teaser SeaWeb asked Talbot to explain the thinking and inspiration behind the spot, why people need time for reflection in today’s frenetically-paced society and how beautiful ocean cinematography can actually be a disservice. 
 
What was the inspiration behind your SeaWeb commercial?
The idea is to let the ocean speak for itself. When you are in or on the sea, you can’t help but want to wrap your arms around the world and say, “You have to see this!” The idea of this commercial is to take people there, if only for a few moments, so that they can feel immersed in the sea.  Then, in the midst of being swept into the experience, abruptly cut to black with the hopes that viewers will suddenly feel the potential loss of life in the sea. 
 
Many companies would consider five seconds of black screen a wasted opportunity during a Super Bowl commercial. Why the “Cut to Black”?  
In this day and age, people’s attention span is short.  There is very little time today to reflect on much of anything. If we aren’t watching television we are on our computer or our mobile device. We are being Tweeted, Facebooked and commercialed to death. For me, it’s fantastic that SeaWeb and NBC have the courage to say “stop and think.” It gives people an opportunity to get a sense of what we are at risk of losing and to take a moment to reflect on how disconcerted we become when we have just a few seconds without constant sensory input.  
 
What can viewers take away from your message and how can they share the word?
They can visit SeaWeb.org where they will learn about a number of actions that they can take that will make a difference.  Bottom line, it comes down to two things: What we put into the ocean and what we take out. What we put into the ocean is too much pollution.  When we take from the sea, we have to be mindful of what we are taking and how we are taking it. 
 
Fish are not the only thing on our plate that affects the ocean. What we eat, whether marine or terrestrial, directly relates to the health of the sea. Animal protein is much less efficient to produce than vegetable protein. Inefficiency in agriculture leads to more runoff of pesticides and other pollutants and increases carbon output. And all of that, like everything else we put on land ends up in the sea. Eating lower on the food chain is one of the best things a person can do to protect the planet
 
How do films affect ocean conversation?
That is a double-edged sword. If films are too much doom and gloom, people tune out.  On the other hand, if you only show pretty pictures, people believe what they want to believe; that the ocean is just fine.  
 
Through careful framing and editing, we can paint a picture of a healthy ocean even though life in the sea is a mere shadow of what it once was.  The key is striking a balance between the two. My goal is to create images and tell stories that engage people emotionally, so that they will act intellectually to solve the problems facing the sea. 
 
 
 

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