The 30-second spot opens with Rossini’s famous “Largo al factotum” in “The Barber of Seville.” Newbie music fans might recognize the tune from “The Long-Haired Hare,” an old Bugs Bunny cartoon.
As the music picks up, the camera shows a young woman in front of an easel carefully painting a canvas. She recreates another famous work of art, “The Creation of Adam”, a fresco by Michelangelo. But in his version, instead of two hands almost touching, one passes a can of baked beans to the other.
She slowly dips her brush into a box, but there is no paint in it. It’s a can of Bush’s Baked Beans. After applying another brushstroke, the painter looks thoughtfully at his brush and decides to taste it. The next scene shows two people admiring the masterpiece in a gallery, one remarking to the other: “She was ahead of her time”.
The same can be said of the two gonzo business executives, Graham Barbour and Phineas Alexander, graduating class of 2021 from the University of Virginia. Fresh off the lawn last May, the two cinephiles relocated to Richmond, launching Sly Dog Creative, a boutique business that offers services in both film and photography.
“My friend and I had a bean meme exchange and just an ongoing dialogue about bean humor for about two years,” Barbour said. “About a month ago she sent me this link on Instagram and was like, ‘You have to do this.'”
It was a link advertising the “Can Film Festival” of Bush’s Baked Beans, a play on the name of the famous festival that takes place in Cannes, France. People were encouraged to submit original 30-second spots for a chance to win $50,000 and the honor of having their video aired as a new Bush ad.
Barbour said he came up with the concept for the ad fairly quickly, and then he and Alexander got to work finding talent and filming locations in Richmond.
When asked how they would describe the ad, Alexander replied, “high art.”
“It’s really our style,” he said. “It’s goofy and fun and whimsical and really really silly.”
When the couple started scouting for filming locations, one plan was to sneak into a studio at Virginia Commonwealth University, but they thought better of that idea. They landed in an old, unheated Canada Dry warehouse on the outskirts of town.
“Poor Phineas and our friend Wes,” Barbour said. “It was about 35 degrees and they were just in sheets for a few hours.” (In the ad, Phineas is on the left; Wes passes him the beans.)
Their other filming location was the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
From concept to finished product, it took fledgling directors five or six days to get the ad into the box. The cost? A paltry $60, the price of having the “Creation of Adam with Beans” printed on canvas.
They beat about 300 other contestants.
“They are trying to rip us off”
The two poked fun at each other sharing how they learned they won and how it almost didn’t happen.
“Now that’s the good part,” Barbour said on a conference call. “It’s good.”
He said he received a direct message on Instagram from a “very suspicious account” days before the announcement was supposed to be made. He had looked into the contest rules, which stated that Bush’s Baked Beans was not responsible for scammers who might try to steal people’s personal information. This put Barbour and Alexander on high paranoia alert.
“So I was expecting a DM on Instagram from Bush’s Beans, and I got one from a lady whose account looked really fake, and she was basically like, ‘You won. Congratulations. Email your information to this address.’”
“I had a screenshot of Graham saying, ‘Oh look at the crook,’ and I was like, ‘Ha, ha, ha ha. Come on, man, they’re trying to rip us off,” Alexander said.
On the day the announcement was expected, February 28, Barbour received a phone message from someone named Randy who said she had tried to let him know they had won the contest.
“I tried to contact you by DM. I tried calling you, emailing you, and I didn’t hear a response. Like, you have to answer me, otherwise we’re going to have to move on to someone else,” Barbour recounted.
Paranoia quickly turned to elation. Barbour and Alexander were shouting so loudly that their upstairs neighbor could hear the commotion. “We were freaking out,” Barbour said.
The excitement did not stop. Their ad, a true masterpiece in its own right, aired twice last weekend on ESPN2.
Pre-Bean, humble beginnings at UVA
Barbour and Alexander say they earned much of their filming chops through their respective studies in media studies and studio art with a concentration in cinematography. They received even more hands-on training while interning for several semesters for the University Communications Office video team, of which UVA Today is also a part.
“We basically did whatever they needed us to do,” Alexander said. “They had me go out and shoot a lot of college stock footage for a while. We both worked a lot on the COVID stuff. And we did a bunch of video content for the University as a whole. We did the Valediction video and the Lighting of the Lawn video.
Both also helped on the UVA Great and Good Public Service Announcementamong other projects.
Barbour and Alexander said they were especially grateful to video production manager Erik Duda and senior video producer Vinny Varsalona.
“Working with Erik and Vinny – honestly, we wouldn’t even be close to where we are now without the whole video team,” said Alexander. “The number of opportunities they gave us, along with just letting us film and touch cameras, gave us an experience you couldn’t have otherwise.”
Barbour added, “Kevin Everson, who teaches cinematography, and James Lam Scheuren, who is a professor of photography here, have both been incredibly supportive and influential.”
The duo plan to continue their creative endeavors and will use part of their prize money to fund them. Alexander soon leaves for Poland to collect video coverage of the Ukrainian refugee crisis as a freelancer.
“Now that we’ve had a chance to get this money, we can focus more on creative things and less on lower-paying things like music videos and shorts,” Barbour said.
The two plan to move to New York and meet again in October to continue their work through Sly Dog Creative. “It seems like New York is really where the people are who can really take our work to the next level,” Barbour said.