The Story Behind Dead Celebs Lennon and Gandolfini Appearing in That Fake Ad for

Funny stuff from directors Nick & Charles

The late James Gandolfini promotes a meal delivery app, while the equally dead John Lennon plugs an eczema treatment in a promotional video for

Alpen Pictures comedy directing duo Nick & Charles are behind the faux tech company, billed as "a powerful new generative model tailored for inserting beloved life-challenged celebrities into advertisements and activations."

Their AI parody is brilliant and funny, but it's also scary!

Well, it is for those of us who are unnerved by the idea of dead celebrities hawking products. Those of you who have no qualms about this might find the whole thing inspiring.

Featuring famous folks who are no longer living in advertising is nothing new, of course. John Wayne, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn and Bruce Lee are among the deceased who have featured in ads over the years. But the ease of creating doppelgängers using AI opens up a brave new world of possibilities and risks.

Here, we talk to Nick & Charles about the thinking behind and the making of their thought-provoking project.

MUSE: What was the inspiration behind

Nick: Young Luke Skywalker's voice in Mandalorian.

Charles: We'd had enough of seeing and hearing lifeless, artificial portrayals of some of our favorite actors and musicians. The empty feeling brought on by the uncanny valley effect winds up making us connect less to what we're watching. On the flip side, it can be so stilted that we found the attempts hilarious.

Have you received inquiries from people who think is a real company? If so, what are they asking for and saying to you?

Charles: We've definitely had some reactions come back asking, "Wait, is this for real?" We haven't had anyone reach out to hire a "Recognizable" just yet. Most people who stick around through the end catch on to the absurdity.

Nick: A good friend of ours was jealous we got the rights to Tony Soprano.

Why did you decide to base your fictional company in Austin, Texas? It's a little detail that I loved.

Nick:  The right mix of tech bro and ethics.

Charles: Austin is such a booming tech center that it just felt right for a "disruptive" company that thinks of itself as really cool.

How do you feel about AI and the impact it will have on your careers as writers and directors?

Nick: Hopefully the threat of AI forces humans to step up their game and make better TV and movies.

Charles: This is an inflection point for us to decide what we value as audiences. If we determine that human-made works of art and media have inherently more value than something a computer can do, then the future is looking bright. As a creator, I don't see the fun in outsourcing my own imagination. And as a consumer, I'd rather hang a painting on my wall made by a real artist before I put up something from Midjourney or whatever. But I am scared of AI as a cost-cutting measure for big corporations and hirers.

Did you write the block of copy on the website about leveraging cutting-edge AI technologies, etc., or did AI write that?

Charles: Since this was all about fighting fire with fire, that generic block of text was absolutely written by AI. It did a great job of sounding vague!

This is more a comment than a question: I love how the one guy sits down to watch "the big game"—a phrase I have to admit I have used, though it sends shudders down my spine—with a plate of spaghetti bolognese. Forget chips! That's my kind of snack. 

Charles: The "big game" has been a long-running joke between us. So bizarre! It's like when people used to sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" in birthday scenes in movies before "Happy Birthday" was royalty-free. Spaghetti bolognese is hard to top!

Why and how did you resurrect Jim Gandolfini and John Lennon in the promotional video. Did you use AI tools to create them?

Charles: We used a variety of methods. We had a terrific body double named Chris Fine, who stood in and performed Tony Soprano for us. Then we used an AI face swap with images of Gandolfini, finally polished up and composited by me in After Effects. We purposely left it feeling a bit subpar and stiff to drive home the message. Seeing Gandolfini—one of our most gifted actors who brought so much flawed humanity to his role—as an automaton shilling a delivery app isn't exactly fun!

The voice was done using AI tools trained on his voice. It delivers "takes" that you sift through. Some come out really insane. John Lennon was done the same way and for the same reasons.

Nick, is that you in the role of spokesman?

Nick: Yes. I tried to channel the Capitol One guy via Skynet.

Charles, are you anywhere to be seen in the video?

Charles: Yep, I body doubled John Lennon, wig and all.

You have created social media accounts for your fake company. Are you thinking of doing more with Maybe make more parody videos, or expand it into a TV series or movie?

Nick: Maybe it'll become a legitimate company that makes so much money we can abandon our beliefs!

Charles: I could see it becoming a recurring means to parody various issues relating to AI as they arise. Keeple could be a catch all.

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