The Tribeca Film Festival has unveiled the big winners of its Tribeca X competition, honoring branded films and episodic series. And remarkably, the same director—Morgan Cooper—helmed two of the three winning projects.
Cooper directed both "Pay Day," a short film for Synchrony Bank created with agency Giant Spoon, and "U Shoot Videos?", a personal film, sponsored by Adorama, about his own adventures as an emerging director in adland. "Pay Day" won the Tribeca X award for Best Short Film, while "U Shoot Videos?" won for Best Feature Film. (Muse covered both projects back when they were released.)
The third big winner at Tribeca X was the Dove series "Girls Room," created by ATTN: and BBH Entertainment and directed by Tiffany Johnson, which won for Best Episodic Series.
You can see both of Cooper's films, as well as all five episodes of "Girls Room," below—along with a statement about each project from the five-person jury. Muse also spoke with the filmmakers themselves.
The jury was comprised of:
• Stefon Bristol, Filmmaker & TFF Alum
• Taylor Johns, Head of Content Production, YETI
• David Lee, Chief Creative Officer, Squarespace
• Matt MacDonald, Chief Creative Officer, Omnicom for AT&T
• Bonnie Siegler, Founder, Eight and a Half
Best Short Film, Tribeca X 2020
Director: Morgan Cooper
Brand: Synchrony Bank
Agency: Giant Spoon
Production Co.: ColorCreative
Jury statement: "This funny and stylish narrative gives a fresh and insightful perspective on getting out of a comfortable cycle and start chasing after one's dreams. What helps with Morgan's work, is that the message was very clear in the beginning. The way Morgan uses 'Groundhog Day' tropes for marketing storytelling is original. And throughout the story we champion that message hoping for the lead character to realize her full potential and start working on her business plan. This short is very cathartic and allegorical. A nice call to action for those who know they need to start chasing after their dreams."
Gabrielle Dennis wrote the script for "Pay Day" and was one of its stars as well.
"Gabrielle did a tremendous job on the script," Cooper tells Muse. "We had a lot of conversations about nuance and the infusion of comedy within the message of the story, and I feel she struck an amazing balance in her writing."
Cooper says his goal was to "create a fun, collaborative environment on set and let Gab's brilliance shine through the storytelling. She really trusted my vision, and we gave each other space to bring each of our voice and perspective into the filmmaking process."
Asked about the integration of Synchrony Bank into the story, Cooper says: "I focused on keeping the story and Nyssa's character at the forefront of all creative conversations. I find that when the organizing principles of the 'who' and 'why' are clear, the details such as brand incorporation, art direction, etc., flow pretty naturally for the most part.
U Shoot Videos?
Best Feature Film, Tribeca X 2020
Director: Morgan Cooper
Jury statement: "You had us at the shocking ending—while we all loved the storytelling and performances up to that point, how the feature built up to that climax was very impactful. The strong metaphoric message all along the way left a lasting, emotional impression."
It might seem a little ironic that this piece, which skewers advertising, would end up winning a prestigious branded content award. "Haha, I suppose it is, but what I feel is so special about Tribeca X is that it seeks to recognize authentic storytelling over pieces that feel overtly branded," Cooper says. "Whether I'm working on a branded project or not, my focus as an artist is to tell authentic stories that people connect with."
Adorama was the perfect partner for the project, he adds.
"I had a very specific vision for this film, and from pitch to completion, Adorama was fully committed to supporting my vision 100 percent," he says. "They trusted and believed in this very personal story that I wanted to tell and understood the importance of it being captured authentically. So many themes within the film naturally overlap with Adorama's brand and mission of educating and equipping storytellers, so it was really a perfect fit."
Best Episodic Series, Tribeca X 2020
Director: Tiffany Johnson
Brand: Dove & Unilever Entertainment
Agencies: ATTN:, BBH Entertainment
Jury statement: "The unique format of this series caught our eye right away and how it paired perfectly with this targeted audience. Genuine performances, great storytelling and writing also strongly complimented this series which delivered a much needed positive message for girls these days."
The Dove Self-Esteem Project worked on Girls Room with Emmy-winning actor, producer and writer Lena Waithe, as well as ATTN: and BBH Entertainment. The five episodes dealt with issues like social media and body image, learning how to love your body, and how to deal with bullies.
"What I loved the most about the scripts was that there was a clear individual voice for each girl, and how these different women were such strong friends," the director, Tiffany Johnson, tells Muse. "They had their own views but were very supportive of each other. I loved that we had moments with each girl alone, and could be with them in their space to really see how they processed their thoughts and emotions."
Johnson says the episodes "captured the uncertainty, the questioning, the self-doubt, the being in your own head, and comparing yourself to other people. Every girl has a shared experience that way and today, with social media, all of these feelings of inadequacy are magnified. Friendship can be difficult at times, especially for girls at this age. And you can really see the full power of friendship come through in this series. The characters say something when they're concerned how each other is acting, but then in the next moment show how fiercely they care for each other."
The vision was to highlight each girl's individuality, Johnson adds.
"Not only do they stand together, but that they can stand on their own," she sayd. "We used color as a device in giving them that individuality and used their home sets to give the viewer an insight into who they are without having to say it. The goal was to create a world and palette that was colorful and clearly showed that each girl is layered and has her own passions."
She also wanted to bring a "modern yet vintage vibe, and we achieved that by using a desaturated palette. This gave it a style but didn't make it feel dated. The goal was to bring a true cinematic lens and feel to this vertical aspect ratio, and we absolutely achieved that goal."
Dove was the presenting sponsor, but gave Johnson "a lot of freedom and trust," the director says. "Any filmmaker will tell you that's all we ask for. We want to bring our creative instincts and have them be approved and embraced. Dove was very encouraging of that, and we were in step with it not feeling like a commercial. The focus was on the slice of life for each of these girls, not to sell a product. Also being collaborative is key and knowing which battles are worth fighting for, to ensure that the creative vision and passion stays intact, is crucial."
Both Cooper and Johnson said they were thrilled with the recognition from Tribeca X.
"I'm so honored and full of gratitude," Cooper says. "With everything I create, my goal is to inspire people to tell their story fearlessly. To be recognized by such a prestigious institution in Tribeca means the world to me and my collaborators. I shot U Shoot Videos? in my hometown Kansas City, Missouri. Nearly all of the cast and crew are K.C. based, so to be able to shine a light on my city that I love so much means the world to me."
"This feels fantastic and totally unexpected," Johnson says. "You never approach a project with an intent to win an award, and I never really focused on that as an option. I felt like this was a project that should be done, that could resonate with young girls, and if there was something like this when I was in high school would've made me feel that I wasn't alone. It is really the icing on the cake."
She adds: "For me, the recognition for my cast and crew is really what makes this all the better. Every department slayed and went above and beyond. We built these sets and literally crafted this world in hopes that people would connect with it and feel they were authentic, and this is just a bit of extra validation that we were successful."
See all the finalists from all three Tribeca X categories at the Tribeca Film Festival site.