Writer/Director Lo Lam on the Art of the Commercial

Lo Lam consulting on set with an actress
Lo Lam consulting on set with an actress

You might be old enough to remember a time when film, television, and commercials did not involve the same talented professionals. That clear delineation is a thing of the past. These days it is talent and creativity that reign supreme. Writer/director Lo Lam is deeply rooted in this with her award-winning films like Who Lives My Life? (Headline International Film Festival, 15 Minutes of Fame Film Festival) but there is a touch of old school in her own personal/professional story. Lam was discovered by the advertising world as a result of her hugely successful/millions viewed/self-made YouTube videos which displayed her trademark humor. Since then, Lo Lam has created massively popular commercials for some of the biggest companies in China.

Lam points out that her love of dry satirical comedy is rooted in the show’s she watched as a youth. These Hong Kong productions likely derived at least some of this ingredient from their former status as a British colony and the UK’s approach to irreverence in the face of serious, oft times grave circumstances. It’s the provocation for independent thought and ideas that entices her and which she finds inspiring. Lo Lam professes, “I feel that humor is absolutely one of my trademarks as a writer/director, but not limited to commercials. My films such as Who Lives My Life? and I’m a Doctor have a comedic/satirizing approach to some things that I would like to say and change.”

Lo Lam on the set of her film Who Lives My Life
Lo Lam on the set of her film Who Lives My Life?

Following her creation of comedy short film for Taiwan’s Super Media “Ms. Cantonese Cares About You”,( http://youtu.be/uxS2eSiJGYY ) which garnered over 1 million views, Lo Lam wrote and directed a duo of commercials for international shopping retail giant Momo, Taiwan’s second-largest online shopping platform. The first offering, “Grandma’s Tears”, was created and designed to appeal to a wide demographic. Playing on the popularity of overly emotional Taiwanese TV shows, the plot of this commercial utilized Lam’s quirky sense of humor to satirize a social problem while being eye-catching and fascinating enough for the short attention span of a modern audience. Presenting a multigenerational family dwelling situation, the story illuminates the captivating quality of online shopping for any age group. A young girl named Lulu seems to prefer time surfing the internet to spending it with her grandparents. A trait which the grandmother later exhibits in her spousal relationship. Through this commercial spot, Lo Lam built on the abundance of television programs about family life while placing an unexpected twist at the end. The result was a whopping 620,000 YouTube views for “Grandma’s Tears” and a sense in the marketplace that Momo was funny and hip.

Momo quickly followed the success of “Grandma’s Tears” by having Lo Lam create the TV commercial “Momo Ba Wu Zhe.” For this ad, Lam recreated the well-known illustration “Jiugongge”(3 by 3 Grid) in a motion picture form, something unattempted prior to this commercial. The writer director went as far as starring as the featured character “Ba Wu” in this production to expedite her ideas. The action shows Ba Wu performing a variety of tasks until breaking the third wall when a funny twist on the Chinese language “Momo Ba Wu Zhe is starting” informs her that a “Momo 15% off discount is starting” and she bolts off-screen to shop online. In addition to the ads popularity on television, it has acquired 530,000 views on YouTube. This is a strong indicator that being clever and quirky can usurp big budgets and impossibly attractive physical specimens.

Even in regards to feminine hygiene, the imagination and bravery of Lo Lam is seemingly boundless. She created a commercial for Summer’s Eve feminine product brands, one of the industry leaders for nearly four decades in Taiwan. The story presents the head of the company, Mr. Summer, as he relates the story of his success to a new intern at the company. From here, viewers are taken on a voyage that involves super shrinking powers, a boyhood crush, and the revelations that all women have worries to deal with when it comes to proper care of their bodies. This wildly original take on a feminine hygiene product captured the attention of the public and was resoundingly praised for partnering humor with a commonly avoided topic. Summer’s Eve featured “Summer Shrink” on their website and in many of Taiwan’s cosmetic stores that displayed and sold the company’s products.

Though she has awards for her films and millions of views for her commercials, there hasn’t always been a sense of having “made it” as a writer and director in Lo Lam’s mind. Having abandoned her pursuit of a law degree in favor of a passion for creativity, Lam admits to having experienced her fair share of self-doubt. Sometimes confirmation comes via the most understated of couriers as she relates, “I had left Law School in Hong Kong to go pursue my dream as a writer and director. That’s incredibly hard to do. I’ll never forget the day a former fellow student messaged me about one of my productions. He was so incredibly complementary of it and his praise gave me that extra boost of confidence to feel that I was indeed on the right path for myself. I love dark comedy and I am encouraged by the strong responses my films are getting. What I really insist on is originality and speaking the truth through my work. I would like to eventually be able to exercise my imaginative visions to write and direct other genres, including sci-fi, which requires a higher budget and more resources. An artist’s path is to continually evolve while discovering their own voice.”

Writer: Cecil McCoy