On The Cusp, Longlist - Personal

Life-Changing Sleep

Grayson Whitehurst


I’ve wanted to make the jump to commercial directing in my career for some time now. Prior to this spot, I think I’d imposed a narrative box on myself that was more destructive than constructive – I never thought the bizarre, genre-agnostic stories that I have a penchant for telling would translate well into commercials. That’s an unnecessarily pessimistic outlook to have, and there’s a universe of branded content that tells peculiar, fantastic stories. Regarding the creative, the idea of an animal pleading for its life at the behest of a hunter is a concept that’s always been appealing to me (and something I’ve had dreams about before). Using that set-up as a starting point, I thought it would be compelling to explore the more philosophical implications of such an act – Who is the real monster here? If not out of necessity, do we kill for control? etc. – The yearning for an exploration of these elements shaped the spot’s existence as a morality play, and that development informed our cinematic approach. Bergman was a big inspiration here. I thought this scenario was ideal in the context of a dream sequence. While I generally find the “it was all a dream” ending is a weak cliche, it’s a perfect set-up for a mattress commercial. The idea of a mattress influencing your subconscious by virtue of its comfort is a much more enticing product benefit to me than X type of memory foam or Y brand of technology. Enter Purple. We shot the project on Alexa Mini. We used Canon K35 lenses for the dream sequence – they produce a soft circular bokeh and gorgeous flares that we thought would bode well with such a surreal setting. We switched to Cooke S4’s for reality, which offered a super sharp image that contrasted the softer look of the dreamscape. It’s also worth noting that all of the movements in the dream sequence were accomplished with a Fisher dolly. One thing I’d also like to mention is the change in aspect ratio. We chose 4:3 for the dream sequence to reflect the woodsman’s narrow perspective, whereas the real world opens up to 16:9 as he’s reckoned with his insecurities. It also makes the cut from dream to reality quite jarring, which is exactly what we wanted in that moment. Matching the door-frame alignment to the ratio bars was a clean way of transitioning between worlds.

Grayson Whitehurst is a writer and director living in Brooklyn, NY. His commercial work has broadcast nationally, his branded content has gone viral, and his narrative work has toured Oscar-qualifying festivals around the globe. The sudden loss of his parents as an adolescent is perhaps the most significant contributor to his cynical worldview, and it’s this worldview that informs both his darkly comedic and dramatic sensibilities as an artist and storyteller. He views film as a method of escape, and he hopes that the temporary departure from reality offered through his work makes you laugh, think, or scream. It's also worth noting that his favorite annual event is the 48-hour marathon of The Twilight Zone that airs on the SyFy channel.