Shots: UNIT9 on the Appeal of Making a Spec Spot

Directors Greg & Jacob on reimagining Cupid's look in this OKCupid spec spot & sharing it without client approval.

If you Google the word 'Cupid', pictures of a naked, winged baby armed with a bow and arrow will flood your screen.

It's difficult to conjure another image of the romancing cherub, set on matchmaking prospective couples, however UNIT9's directors Greg & Jacob considered it a challenge they openly accepted.

Their spec spot Keeping Cupid Busy sees an ageing man reflect on his life's work, only to realise that he's no longer needed as much as he was previously - thanks to the success of dating apps and websites that currently threaten his role.  

We caught up with the directors to find out why they thought it would be a good time to reimagine the mythical character of Cupid, things to consider when creating a spec spot and why humour was the best approach forward.

How did this project come about?  

We’d been bouncing the idea around for a while and knew it was something we wanted to explore as soon as we had the time. We try and do a personal project at least once a year and this felt like a great one to tackle. We do a lot of documentary work and wanted a project that challenged us to create a strong character narrative. The idea of playing with a mythical subject in a modern day context was also fun, hiding easter eggs throughout the piece that hint at the Cupid legend.    

And why did you decide to keep it as a spec spot? 

Once the cut was locked we approached OkCupid to see what they thought of the film and to see if this aligned with their content output. We didn’t expect a response but we felt it was important to put it in front of them before releasing it as a spec spot. Ultimately, we’re happy that we got to keep the idea pure and just have fun with it. Even the greatest clients in the world will invariably want a say in how your film is created and that’s fine - that’s their right, but we wanted to do this our way and make a piece that was completely pure to our vision from start to finish. We has such an amazing cast and crew who worked for nothing / next to nothing to bring this one to life. The atmosphere was different than a big commercial shoot, people were there because they wanted to make something special.  

What particular characteristics were you looking for in your main actor? 

Cupid is world-weary and grizzled. He’s been on this earth way too long and he yearns for retirement. We saw him as a union guy from Staten Island who grumbles non-stop, but deep down, he’s married to the job and can’t imagine life without it. Jack (our lead) walked into the room and he just brought with him this great presence. He’s a really tall guy and has these huge assassin’s hands, but he also has these gentle, puppy-dog eyes….and that voice. 

This approach is very different from the way dating apps are usually advertised. Why did you decide to take this approach rather than the tried and tested soppy love story?

We just thought a reimagining of the the character of Cupid would be an original approach. We were also very unimpressed with the current crop of dating app ads and thought we could do better. Despite this being the opposite of that soppy love story archetype you mentioned, it was nevertheless important that we had that character arc that lets the audience see Cupid’s soft side. We needed him to ultimately be a sympathetic character and have that realization that actually, despite the long hours, he loves his work. Otherwise it would just be a guy grumbling about his job for 2 minutes. 

The spot is essentially comedic in the way in which it mocks stereotypical representations of love. How much do you enjoy directing comedy and were you sure it was going to come across as you planned?  

The script always had comedic elements but that wasn’t our main focus. We knew that if we cast Cupid correctly, he would naturally bring out that dark humor in the character and Jack absolutely nailed it. We didn’t realize how much we’d be laughing on set. Jack would just be improving in that thick Staten Island accent in-between takes and it was gold. He was such a pro we had a blast working with him, eking out this Cupid character.