By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 9, 2015
[Don’t forget the huge savings on our Black Irish Christmas Special—the 7-Book Megabundle for Writers. Keep a couple for yourself and spread the rest around to “worthy recipients.”]
This is gonna be a different kind of post today. I want to talk about a TV commercial.
First, because this 30-second spot is in my opinion a legitimate work of art. I’ll go so far as to say it’s outstanding art.
Second, because this commercial (it’s really a mini-movie) is a brilliant depiction of the Artist’s Inner World. It doesn’t intend to be, but it is. It’s your world and it’s mine. That’s why I want to examine it in this post.
First, here’s the commercial:
One point before we go further: I don’t care about the fact that this piece of film is trying to sell Bose headphones. That aspect works the least well. Forget about it. We’ll focus only on the mini-movie that comprises the first twenty-three seconds.
Let’s break it down like we would a movie or a novel:
The hero of the piece is Russell Wilson.
Russell Wilson is the real-life quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. He led his team to a Superbowl victory two years ago and would have repeated last year except for a final-second interception.
Russell Wilson is a winner. An article in Fanpost made the case that his first three years are the best in NFL history. But Russell Wilson is a very specific type of winner. Russell Wilson was overlooked coming out of college in the 2012 NFL draft. He was picked in the third round, 75th overall. That is late late late. Five other quarterbacks were drafted ahead of him.
The rap on Russell Wilson was that he was not tall enough to succeed in professional football. At 5’11” (most of today’s QBs are 6’3″ minimum with 6’5″ being the ideal height that teams want), how could he see and throw over towering opposing linemen?
But Russell Wilson had big intangibles. He had guts. He had brains, he had passion. And he had a tremendous mental toughness, work ethic and belief in himself.
What separates Russell Wilson from the competition is what goes on in his head. His inner dialogue. He’s a samurai. He’s Musashi Miyamoto. He’s the warrior athlete par excellence.
These aspects of Russell Wilson’s persona are crucial to what makes this mini-movie work. And they’re why, in my mind, Russell Wilson is the avatar of the Artist.
Okay, that’s our hero.
- Narrative device.
The voice and point of view of this commercial belong to the other on-screen actor, played by the Seattle rapper Macklemore. (We don’t have to know it’s Macklemore for this film to work; in fact I didn’t know it when I first saw it.) This character speaks all the dialogue except the final line.
The character played by Macklemore does not exist in the material dimension. He’s some kind of metaphysical apparition, like the Nicolas Cage character in City of Angels or Patrick Swayze in Ghost. We know this because he appears out of nowhere at the movie’s start and vanishes in a single frame 7/8ths of the way through.
The character is what we might call the Archetypal Trickster.
He’s a witness. He looks on. He sees and he comments.
What does he see?
He sees inside Russell Wilson’s head.
His commentary is a zany, wry appraisal of the aura-reality (hang in there with me) of the scene and of the interior self-talk of Russell Wilson.
Seattle. A Seattle of the mind. Russell Wilson plays football for Seattle. Macklemore is an ominpresent artist/musician in Seattle.
The setting is Seattle technically but it could be anywhere. Metaphorically it’s the Land of Winners.
- Act One. (Hook).
Can we really have three acts in twenty-three seconds of film? Absolutely. And they follow the exact Shawn Coyne/Story Grid pattern of Hook, Build, Payoff.
Act One begins with Russell Wilson in his kitchen, crossing to the fridge. He opens the door, takes out some kind of food container, and turns back out of frame. But as the refrigerator door closes behind him, the film does a “reveal.”
Behind the door (and apparently invisible to Russell Wilson) stands Macklemore, wearing a leather jacket and chains. He’s leaning coolly against the wall, observing.
There he is. Look at that bad man gettin’ his smoothie on.
At this point, I’m hooked.
- Act Two. (Build.)
Cut to the swimming pool outside the house.
Russell Wilson, in the same shorts and Seattle Seahawks T-shirt he was wearing in the kitchen, is now sitting beside the pool with his feet dangling in the water. He’s alone. His focus is entirely internal. Intention and intensity seem to radiate off him. Our sense is that he’s psyching himself up for the next (and immediately impending) football game.
Standing chest-deep in the pool, about twenty feet away and outside the direct sight line of Russell Wilson is Macklemore, wearing his same leather jacket and chains (and apparently invisible to Russell Wilson). We are certain now that Macklemore is some kind of spirit or supernatural being.
Bad man gettin’ his feet wet!
Who’s that bad man gettin’ his feet wet?
The next shot is closer on Macklemore. Russell Wilson is out-of-frame now. The camera is tight enough on the Trickster to let us see the wry glint in his eye and feel the playful knowingness in his tone. We realize that, glib as he may seem, he is articulating some kind of occult, esoteric truth.
This is Russell Wilson country. And this …
Russell Wilson air.
A fleeting form passes overhead.
You see that?
The Trickster points. The camera follows. A bird lights on a fountain across the pool from where Russell Wilson is sitting.
Whose bird is that?
- Act Three. (Payoff.)
Russell Wilson sees the bird too. (Somehow a set of Bose headphones has materialized over Russell Wilson’s ears.)
(still deep in his own inner world)
That’s Russell Wilson’s bird.
The camera angle now includes Russell Wilson, still sitting on the edge of the pool with his feet dangling in the water—and Macklemore, still standing chest-deep in the pool about twenty feet away.
Russell Wilson’s head continues to bob rhythmically, apparently to the music he’s hearing through his headphones (or, more exactly, to his own interior dialogue as he psychs himself up for a coming game.)
What is this 23-second movie about?
It’s about the psychic gravitational field set up by an individual’s interior focus, intention, and will.
Russell Wilson is that individual. We don’t (and can’t) know what specific thoughts are going through his head. But through the Trickster’s commentary and our own observation and intuition we can acquire a rough idea.
One, he is a “bad man.” Meaning effective, powerful … a dangerous dude to go up against.
Two, his intention is clearly on some performance he must give in the immediate future. A football game almost certainly. He is turning up the interior juice, psyching himself to play at a level of will and intensity that will produce victory.
Why do I say that Russell Wilson (or at least “Russell Wilson” as depicted in this 23-second movie) is the avatar of the Artist?
Because the mindset he demonstrates is exactly the one that you and I want for ourselves.
And because the effect it produces is precisely what you and I are aiming for as we prepare ourselves to work.
I’m speaking of the psychic gravitational field.
True, the commercial (and the Trickster) are spoofing this and themselves. They get the joke. The film is knowing and wry. The filmmakers see how irrational and woo-woo this stuff appears.
But at the same time they are depicting reality—the reality you and I as artists inhabit every day, just as athletes and warriors and theoretical physicists do—and they know it.
Is that bird really “Russell Wilson’s bird?” Preposterous, right? That bird has no clue who Russell Wilson is and couldn’t care less if he did.
And yet …
And yet, if we believe that animals, particularly wild creatures, are tuned in directly to the Divine Ground, to instinct, to intuition, to vibrational fields such as birds and butterflies navigate by or human emotional fields that dogs can feel and sense, then who’s to say that that free bird, flying by, didn’t on some level pick up the vibes of focus, intention, dedication (and of purity) radiating from Russell Wilson—and decide that he wanted to bask in their aura for a moment, just like he would in a cheerful pocket of sunshine?
Who is that bird?
That bird is your novel. It’s your dissertation, it’s your TED talk, it’s the plans for your new startup.
You drew that bird to you by the psychic gravitational field you set up, powered by your will, your intention, your focus, and your dedication.
The Trickster speaks in jests and riddles, but only because he speaks the truth.
That isn’t just Russell Wilson’s bird.