Real to Reel

Jesse Kipp's job in the emerging field of commercial ethnography could make you the star of your very own advertisement

After more than a hundred hours of editing, Kipp will transform these casual conversations into a short movie about footwear for Goodby, Silverstein. And then, a few months after that, one of these ladies will turn on the tube or step into a mall in Oakland -- or Dallas, or Madrid, or London -- and there, among the images displaying the latest trends in jeans and sneakers and celebrity fragrances, will be an advertisement for shoes that appeals to her for reasons she may not fully grasp. It will be, quite literally, based on her life.

Though Kipp's job presents persistent questions about what is and is not genuine, the responsibility the filmmaker feels to this anonymous woman is something that weighs on his conscience. "When you are filming friends ... they're more likely to treat you as a friend and speak honestly about how they see things," he says. If those things -- like shoes or celebrities -- seem superficial at first, you would never know it by listening to the people in Kipp's films.

For example, one of the girls in the Britney film says, "I want to smell like [her] so I can feel like a movie star." But she already smells like her (she buys the perfume), and, in a way, she already is a star. The fact that she misses this connection makes her seem more human.

Kipp at his office.
James Sanders
Kipp at his office.
Claudine Murphy, an account planner at Goodby, 
James Sanders
Claudine Murphy, an account planner at Goodby, Silverstein.

When Chip Rees talks about his and Kipp's job, he characterizes it simply: "It is about the craft of understanding human behavior."

Or, to put it another way, it's about the craft of seeming real -- without the quotation marks.

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