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Producer Arlene McGann and “The Surprise”, Apple’s Emotional Holiday Gift

As consumers become more resistant to overt advertising and marketing, savvy companies are turning to creative professionals more focused on telling a story that appeals emotionally rather than one based on prestige. It seems that what continually resonates with the public are messages with depth, a strong contrast to previous decades with an appeal that espoused the benefits of being “cool.” There’s perhaps no better example of this that the redirect of Apple’s marketing of the iPad with commercials like “The Surprise.” Producer Arlene McGann oversaw this heartfelt mini-film and its subsequent shorter commercial version with director Mark Molloy. “The Surprise” is presented by Smuggler, the production company responsible for the feature film Sing Street, Once The Musical, and cinematic ads like Heineken’s “Daniel Craig Vs. James Bond”, “Superstar” with Jonah Hill for Adidas, and Harley Davidson’s “Breathe.” McGann is a frequent collaborator with Molloy (nominated for the DGA “Outstanding Directorial Achievements in Commercials”); together, this producer/director duo delivered a final version of “The Surprise” with results as grand and fantastic as the formerly mentioned productions.



Molloy’s calling card is his attention to detail and requirement of an intuitive experience for the viewer. His projects always possess the feel of an expansive film even within such a brief running time. His frequent and first choice as a producer, McGann’s understanding of this process allows the director to create in his signature voice and transfer it effectively from project to project. Arlene reinforces, “Mark is masterful at finding very relatable stories and adding magical touches to them and this is exactly what he wanted to achieve in ‘The Surprise.’ He also wanted to integrate the product seamlessly into the job.” To achieve this requires a producer at the helm who is equally masterful. From attaining the ideal locations to the perfect casting, Arlene is a leader in the industry as evidenced by her massive body of work. An international casting search was conducted for “The Surprise” which discovered real life sisters Ava and Isabel Hawes from Toronto; two previously unknown actors. Other cast members were brought from the US and Australia to create the family presented in the commercial. To bring the proper sentiment to the story, triple Oscar nominee (Brokeback Mountain, Silence, The Irishman) and three-time BAFTA nominated (Brokeback Mountain, Babel, The Irishman) cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto joined the production.


The point of such great effort and an acclaimed team in creating this production for Apple was to redefine the public’s perception of the iPad, to assert that it is not a tool for distraction but rather a tool to bring us together. The story told is of a family gathering for the holidays. What becomes quickly apparent is that the grandfather has recently lost his wife. In an attempt to cheer him up, the young sisters make a memory book of their grandparents, with their iPad, and present it to the obviously still grieving patriarch. The tone of the spot is intensely moving and reaffirming. Far from the centrepiece, the iPad is a tool which takes a backseat to the efforts to ease one of the most difficult experiences in life while also bringing the family unit something they can share together without ignoring the obvious loss.

In presenting this theme, there is a rejection of the normal trope of the holidays in favour of something far more important, the chance to relate actual healing. The result is an unexpected story that still connects with the sense of unity that the holidays are meant to inspire. This is nothing short of remarkable. In addition to its twenty-five million views on YouTube, “The Surprise” was recognized with being placed on the SHOTS Americas Shortlist for Online Commercial of the Year, Television Commercial of the Year, and received an Andy Award for Craft. While she is happy about the recognitions by institutions, McGann confesses, “Things never go exactly to plan on a production and that was the case with this one as well but at the end of the day we built a world to tell a story; if that world feels real and relatable and ultimately touches people, that’s a success. This was a holiday film about emotion. I’m very proud of what our team accomplished and it’s obviously resonated with millions of people.” Arlene McGann and Mark Molloy have already completed another film for Apple which is due out in the upcoming months.



Author: Patrick Wilson
Producer Arlene McGann and “The Surprise”, Apple’s Emotional Holiday Gift Reviewed by JaamZIN on 8:10:00 AM Rating: 5
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