The expertly made film sees a new storyline introduced into the hit TV show, when Oscar from The Office discloses he lives with HIV.
The responses he receives from the other characters in the show are surprising and upsetting, and raise questions about how far we’ve really come in tackling attitudes towards AIDS and HIV.
The campaign was created by Toronto-based agency Bensimon Byrne with its sister shops Narrative and OneMethod. It was prompted by a study from Casey House which revealed that almost a quarter of North Americans believe their friends, family and co-workers would shun them if they revealed they were HIV+ – a striking indication that the stigma around HIV/AIDS remains pervasive.
The study also showed that while nearly a quarter of North Americans would rather see a favourite sitcom character die than be diagnosed with HIV, over half agreed that if shows such as these tackled the subject it would also help them emphasise with a friend or family member who received the same diagnosis.
The initial campaign also featured a reworked episode of Friends, where Chandler receives an HIV diagnosis and is shown being shunned by Joey, who decides to move out of their shared apartment in response. This film was released alongside the new Office episode, but has currently been taken down due to a copyright complaint.
The creation of the new storylines was an epic production. “We searched 236 episodes of Friends and 203 episodes of The Office to find scenes that could be reedited, rewritten, and reordered,” explains Joseph Bonnici, partner and ECD at Bensimon Byrne. “The writer had to seamlessly integrate new dialogue with what was remaining from the original scenes. The editor had to consider everything from the natural dialogue, the setting of each scene, the year of the episode and the appearance of each character.
“To replace dialogue we cast voice impersonators for every character and re-recorded all dialogue. We then cast for lookalikes across Canada for each Hollywood actor and filmed on a green screen mimicking the exact movements but with new impersonator dialogue. We composited the lower half of the face of the lookalike onto the original actor and used colour transfer to seamlessly blend skin textures and features of the lookalikes and real actors together.”
In addition, the team also changed the sound of the shows. “100% of the sound design is new,” says Bonnici. “In order to create a seamless audio experience, we replaced all dialogue, music and sound effects. We even created a more sombre version of the original show themes.”
The resulting films look and feel totally authentic, which is why the ads work so well. The new campaign follows other clever ideas from Casey House that also look at HIV stigma, including the June’s Eatery, a pop-up restaurant in Toronto run by chefs with HIV, which aimed to raise conversation around misconceptions about HIV.