The writing and directing duo Bonnie Dennison and Alison Barton—aka Bonabart—are known for their comedic work on behalf of clients such as Liquid Death, Cottonelle, Wendy's, Subway and Amazon—and also for their wardrobe.
Whenever they're on set, both filmmakers rock utilitarian jumpsuits with custom name tags. They made this sartorial choice early in their careers, when cast and crew often didn't realize they were helming commercials "because the director is typically not a woman," Dennison says. "So, they'd be searching around for a guy in flannel and in a baseball cap, and they couldn't find him."
Jumpsuits are traditionally male workplace attire. So they amount to a playful (yet pointed) comment on gender roles. As for the practical reasons for such attire, "You need pockets," Dennison says.
Bonabart donned their jumpsuits to direct the latest video for Liquid Death—a wildly funny infomercial that has comedian Tom Segura hawking his "Recycling Glory Hole."
"This one came to us fully-formed," Dennison says of the concept. "It didn't need a ton in terms of punch-ups or anything. It was all really funny. So, this was more us coming in and executing.'"
"We thought the funniest part [of the infomercial] was the audience interaction," Barton adds. "So, it was just nailing the different personas in the audience, trying to veer away from anything too stereotypical or expected."
"The tone with Tom's performance was something we played around with," Dennison says. "On the day, really early, we had him try a few different versions, and there was this positive, Billy Mays version of things that really worked."
That wasn't Bonabart's first collaboration with the canned water brand. Last year, the duo directed Martha Stewart's "Dismembered Moments," which finds the domestic goddess chopping off the hands of unsuspecting dudes so she can make candles.
"She is a legend. So, we were honored to work with her," Barton says. "We got to shoot at her home in upstate New York, which was really just one for the books."
The spot riffs on dark themes—unusual for Martha—so, "This was almost veering into character territory," Barton recalls. "She had fun with it, and was surprisingly game, and she filmed all that in under an hour."
'"She plays it all very straight, which is the beauty of it," Dennison adds.
And while we're name-dropping, Bonabart also recently worked with Ken Jeong for Cottonelle. That commercial finds the actor, comedian and former doctor introducing himself as the t.p. brand's first "assvertiser" while recruiting other people to discuss down-there care.
Playing against potty-humor motifs, the duo created a beautifully art-directed bathroom set for the spot. "Wes Anderson was our reference—a Wes Anderson bathroom," Dennison says. "We tried to bring some production value to it."
While the duo regularly crafts ads, they are also active in other areas of the entertainment industry. In fact, they sold a feature pitch to a major studio just prior to the now-concluded WGA strike, but that's all they can say about the project for now.
When Dennison and Barton are writing, the process is completely collaborative, and it's the same with directing. They prep every element together.
"So, by the time we're on set, we both know exactly what we're doing and have a strong vision, a north star that we've agreed on. Either one of us can field anything, basically," Dennison says. "So, there's not one of us who's with the camera, and the other one’s with the performers. We can switch off."
The friendship that led to the creation of Bonabart flowered in 2012 when Dennison and Barton, both actors at the time, were introduced by their boyfriends, who had arranged a double date at a Coney Island Halloween event.
The foursome was about to enter a haunted house when the guys chickened out and went to get beer, leaving Dennison and Barton to brave the scary attraction on their own.
"It was one of those legit haunted houses with the person with the fake chainsaw—but maybe it's real," Dennison muses. "It was kind of trauma bonding. We came out on the other side holding each other."
"We're always thanking our lucky stars for our partnership," Barton reflects. "I mean, we've been together as work wives for 10 years."