It is this wonderful time of the year. No, not awards season. Awards season is mostly anxiety-inducing because there is so much to catch up on; studios have scheduled all their good movies for that time of the year. Films that are equally good, but not as sexy, are shoved aside until January for anyone that hasn’t been satiated with the Christmas dinner of a movie slate. And yes, the most wonderful time of the year is Christmas.
The day after Halloween, stores had magically changed their windows from spooky pumpkins to snowy trees and reindeers. Here in the United Kingdom, it is also the time when we expect the new John Lewis Christmas advert almost as religiously and fervently as we do Christmas Day itself.
A special Christmas movie
For the past decade, department store John Lewis has released ads -effectively lovely little short films- touting the beauty and poetry of Christmas, extolling the wonder of Christmas shopping while ignoring the fact that it has now also become a combat sport.
This year, the ad took us all by surprise as it starred pop icon and rock’n’roll legend Elton John. See below.
The ad retraces Elton John’s history in reverse order, from the legend that he is today, through concert halls and outlandish costumes, all the way back to being a child that sat down at a piano with his mother and grandmother, all to the sound of the iconic tune of Your Song, arguably one of the most beautiful songs ever written and his signature song.
The video is beautifully made, emotional, and, by partnering with John Lewis, it also helps write the story of the Rocket Man as a quintessentially British icon. As ever, it extolls the virtues of thoughtful Christmas gifts, and it’s the thought that counts. Because a gift is a gesture, and also, through a genuine gift, Reginald Dwight became Elton John because he discovered his gift. (We could also mention the fact that Sir Elton is multiplying his appearances and media partnerships as he is on his Farewell Tour, but that is neither here nor there.)
Another kind of Christmas ad
The John Lewis ads are invariably cute and sweet, riffing on familiar images, such as the monster under the bed or children waking up early on Christmas day to open their presents. (If you are in a nostalgic mood, do have a look at all of them, they’re all on YouTube.) They are now as much a staple as It’s A Wonderful Life is. (Or close enough.) They’re the capitalistic version of the Christmas movie.
Following the release of the Elton John ad, filmmaker Phil Beastall decided to share a short film he had made in 2014. As it turns out, the film could equally serve as a Christmas ad for John Lewis. It’s not overtly an ad, it’s about Christmas, and boy is it a weeper. Take a look.
When the Elton John was more about meshing together two British icons around the Christmas spirit, this short film is much purer. It’s profound, emotional, and immensely relatable.
It’s not just a great Christmas film, it’s a great short. It is self-contained, has a narrative arc with dramatic questions and an extremely impactful finish. That’s the making of a blockbuster short film right there. It has made such an impact that there is a social media campaign to get Phil Beastall to make the John Lewis advert in 2019. Wouldn’t we like to see an independent filmmaker get that gig?
The extraordinary thing is that the film was made for just £50. It is yet another proof that, at the end of the day, you only need a good idea and a bit of craftiness to make a great film. There are key elements to making a good short film: we built a short film toolkit for you. And a good film is nothing without a good distribution and/or social media strategy: here are the tips and tricks that will save your life. After all, that film had been around for four years before it blew up on the internet.
There is an interesting aspect to the fact that a landmark cultural event of Christmastime is an advert. It speaks both of how much advertising is still very much an art form, and also how much advertising has permeated every moment of real life.
Having said that, we can appreciate those beautiful films nonetheless. And maybe you can make your own heart-tugging Christmas ad. And next year, it could be you making the best Christmas ad.