Many people have come to me and asked how AT&T got such great spots out of one guy talking to a bunch of kids. And by many, I mean two. But it’s an interesting question nonetheless, since I’ve worked with kids before, ignoring the old maxim, “Never work with kids or animals.”
I fancy myself a bit of an expert on kids – I’ve made two of them from scratch – and my take on these spots is exactly what AT&T is pounding into our skulls with this series: It’s Not Complicated. Basically, you have a guy who has a great comedic presence and is even better with kids, and you have a big group of kids with a lot of personality.
There are a couple of tricks to working with kids. One is is to get them comfortable. Make them laugh, try to get them to relax. The kid you want on camera is the kid who is not terribly shy and who listens to you when you tell them to settle down.
Another trick is to get the parents out of sight. There’s nothing worse than a parent hovering just out of sight of the camera, but fully in the kid’s peripheral vision, glaring or smiling, it makes no difference. Kids tend to get self-conscious and needy when their parents are around. If you can get their minds off of what their parents may or may not be thinking, you’re much more likely to get a good performance out of them.
Also, when talking to kids, don’t talk down to them. Nobody likes being talked down to, especially kids. The brilliance behind the actor in these spots lies in the way he keeps gthe conversation simple and takes whatever they say with a straight face. And when he does crack on them, it is with such a wry sense of humor, it goes right over their heads.
The last trick is to just let kids be kids. The only thing worse than a hovering parent is a kid who’s been trained like a seal to smile and replicate adult emotional responses. The Disney Channel is full of these child Actors (who act with a capital A), and they are repellent. Kids say some crazy things, and in this case, that’s what you want.
Kids are by nature wonderful creatures – funny, insightful and curious. The reason we find them so charming and delightful is watching them try to process what they see around them, but don’t yet understand, often to hilarious results. So what you see in these spots is the real deal – the only thing scripted is most likely the first question he asks, then it’s just kids being kids and an adult steering the conversation to make AT&T’s point.
In the 1920s, a company called Burma Shave — producers of brushless shaving cream — started putting signs up that delighted and educated drivers. These