Behind the scenes with Visit Seattle and SundanceTV on their sensual project to promote the city

Visit Seattle has taken a unique perspective on the city for its latest campaign in partnership with SundanceTV. Actually, it has taken five unique perspectives from five different filmmakers, calling the effort Project Five by Five.

The filmmakers were tasked with giving their takes on the city, guided by one of the five senses.

  • Actor and filmmaker Clea DuVall took on taste with a lush view of the Seattle locavore food scene from a farmer’s perspective, following Kurtwood Farms milking cows, clipping fresh berries and taking the ingredients to market on the ferry to be made into artisan ice cream.
  • Drew Christie’s “Scent of a Sasquatch” is a quirky animated take on the famously elusive Northwest beast as she sniffs her way through Seattle and the surrounding landscape.
  • “Touch of Seattle” by Ian Cheney shows three woodworkers – one native carving totems, one man using old-school sawmills to make beautifully crafted furniture, and one modern man using laser etching and precision technology to craft hanging lamps.
  • “All at Sea” by Martha Stephens is a quirky film showing a man on his houseboat, inspired by Bruce Lee, doing his exercises, then being inspired and calmed by the sight of the Seattle skyline from his bow.
  • Terence Nance’s “Jimi Could Have Fallen from the Sky” explores sound by chronicling Jimi Hendrix’s early years through a surrealistic lens that hints that, as grounded as those years were, it’s possible that he came from another world.

The series will live online at VisitSeattle.TV and VisitSeattle’s YouTube channel, and will be promoted through social and paid digital media content. Visit Seattle is the first destination marketing organization to release films with SundanceTV, according to new Seattle agency PB&.

“No ads, no key messages, just entertainment-based content that unpacks what makes the city special, from different points of view," said Tom Norwalk, chief executive officer of Visit Seattle. "These films show off our culture, local icons and stories – offering people a real chance to engage with the rich history of Seattle."

Bringing it all together

Tim Perell was the executive producer of the five films. The veteran producer and founder of New York production company Process Media has produced feature-length films, like Shortbus, Last Chance Harvey and World’s Greatest Dad, along with branded content for a wealth of clients. But he calls Project Five by Five one of his favorites.

“You don’t ordinarily get the opportunity to curate a group of filmmakers – the kind of filmmakers I’m interested in that excite me – and work with them on a pretty open creative palette. Usually when you work on branded content the palette is pretty narrowly defined. Our boundaries were so wide open with this one that it was really exhilarating.”

Perell worked with the filmmakers to come up with and develop ideas for the films. They were allowed to roam almost freely with their ideas to find, explore and celebrate Seattle.

“For me, knowing that I was overseeing all the films, I wanted to keep them really unique and distinct.”

Perell had a relationship with SundanceTV through previous projects he had done. The channel came to him when they partnered with Visit Seattle and agency PB& to do this project.

Perell put together a long list of filmmakers to choose from, with a mandate that they protect diversity in every respect – stylistic, personal, etc. – to make sure they came up with five filmmakers who would come at the theme with very different angles.

Perell had admired Nance’s film “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” and was a fan of DuVall’s “The Intervention” and her video for Tegan & Sara’s “BWU.” He also wanted to grab directors who recently had films at Sundance to tie them into the channel.

In divvying up the senses, Perell was concerned that they would all want to take taste and sound, but he was pleasantly surprised when Seattleite Christie jumped at the chance to do smell with his Sasquatch animation. He encouraged the other filmmakers to come up with ideas on the other senses and all fell into place.

These are not classic tourism videos, and that’s the point. Seattle is a different kind of city, with distinct neighborhoods, gorgeous scenery, a quirky sensibility and amazing people and Five by Five highlights them all. The Space Needle is seen a couple of times, but the films dig deeper, beyond the skyline and typical tourist attractions, which led Perell and company to wonder at one point what how this would all work as a tourism promotion.

“They all have this real affection for Seattle, but while we were making each one we definitely had these moments of thinking ‘what is this, this is a really weird thing to be doing and a weird approach, but one of the threads is a sense of warmth and affection. There was no cynicism in any of these…[they had] a real respect for their subject,” he said.

So far, reception has been good, and people get the fact that they aren’t conventional tourism videos. They had a fun screening at Sundance, according to Perell, and an engaging talk with the filmmakers afterwards.

“People seem to be getting what we want them to get out of it,” he said.

Some of the films may be submitted to festivals and they are looking for other ways to give the films lives outside the festival. Plus, Perell hinted that there might be a possibility of continuing the series into a second season.

A first for a new Seattle agency

The Five by Five series is the first major piece of work to come out of independent creative shop PB&, which is now officially open following a quiet launch late last year. Founded by Britt Peterson Fero and Pete Anderson, formally of Publicis and Cole & Weber respectively, the Seattle-based agency has adopted a unique model that marries strategy and production disciplines together to quickly turn strategic questions and insights into paths of action for brands.

Since launch, PB& has retained several clients in addition to Visit Seattle, including Providence Health Systems and entertainment-meets-health brand, Sqord. Fero holds the title of principal and Anderson has taken on the role of head of content production.

"We live and operate in a world where categories, culture and companies are becoming more complex every day. Being in this industry for over two decades, Pete and I have had a front row seat to these major shifts and understand both consumers’ need for experiences that add value to their lives and brands’ need for agile solutions to exceed those expectations.

"PB& is our answer to the type of nimble, modern-day partner that brands need,” said Fero. “Our partnership and work with Visit Seattle is the perfect, first proof point to show off the type of solutions we can deliver for a client, quickly.”

Said Norwalk of Visit Seattle: “We are excited about partnering with PB&. They offer a unique, collaborative experience and bring strategically-driven ideas that demonstrate the appeal of Seattle in a fresh way.”

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