make|SHIFT Interview with Co-Director Tim Cawley

Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

By Clara Watson

make|SHIFT is a documentary that follows the revolutionary switch the advertising industry had to make due to the new age of innovative technology. make|SHIFT interviews over 41 industry professionals from all ranges of expertise in order to create a captivating narrative tracking advertising through the last 30 years. I had the honor to interview Tim Cawley Co-Director of make|SHIFT, whose film was featured at the 2021 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. 

Note for the reader: I edited, cut out, rearranged, and summarized all parts of this interview to form a coherent article. Much like Mr. Cawley, along with Co-Director Casey Suchan, and Editor Matt Prekop were able to masterfully select highlights of each interview they filmed. I chose my favorite responses and anecdotes from our interview to include in this article.

make|SHIFT went over some of the most groundbreaking advertising campaigns to date. For example, make|SHIFT interviewed Alex Bogusky, cofounder of Porter Bogusky, who helped create Burger King’s The Subservient Chicken. It was a wackily eerie interactive website, that allowed the consumer to type in commands for a man in a chicken costume to perform on screen. Back then, this was an incredibly new type of technology that turned into a viral hit in 2004. 

Fura Johannesdottir, Chief Design Officer of HUGE, talked about her time working on the 2005 interactive Nike website. This led to a collaboration with Rihanna, to create a new workout style music video to her hit song “SOS.” The website included instructional videos teaching the consumer Rihanna’s dance moves as a form of a workout. This one video prompted thousands of people to post their own dance videos to the choreographed moves, racking up thousands of views across the internet. Mind you, this was long before dance videos were a thing. Both of these campaigns seemed like such crazy ideas at the time, but became smash hits. Now that the internet has been around for over 30 years, how in the world do you come up with an ad that has never been done before, something that feels fresh and innovative to the consumer? This ultimately led me to ask Tim Cawley about his creative process.

How do you create something original in an industry that is filled with so much content?

“Well, I would say not only in advertising, but in all things, there is no such thing as original. There are only combinations of things that preexist that run through the filter of how you see the world,” remarked Mr. Cawley. One example Mr. Cawley used was the infamous viral song, “Friday” by Rebecca Black. He explained how the theme of that song is, “waking and describing your day in specific detail.” That exact same concept was used by a legendary Beatles song, “A Day in the Life.” So, what is the difference between these two songs? “Execution and style,” Mr. Cawley stated, “The thing that I think is the trick to creativity is don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be a genius, and be a good listener to your own voice.”

How do you get over the fear of the blank page? How do you work through that fear to have the confidence to continue to pursue your passions and your projects?

“The day it goes away is the day you make the bad album or the lazy film, I think,” Mr. Cawley replied in an instant. “It’s not a question of getting rid of the fear, it’s a question of seeing it as part of the process. Advertising in particular. The blank page is all day, every day. The client comes and says, ‘I need an ad that does this, and I need it in four versions,’ and then you deliver it while working on five or six orders simultaneously at all times. That used to be very, very, very scary…And I think what you do is you steal from the people you admire. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘fake it till you make it’— nobody’s an original artist. Over the next couple iterations you make it your own, and then, if you stick with it, you realize fear is not your enemy, fear is part of the motor.”

Being a 13-year-old myself I was curious what advice a successful filmmaker would tell his younger self. That made this question pop into my mind, and I knew I had to include it:

If you were to go back, what would you tell your 13-year-old self about building a career?

“I think about my 13-year-old-self quite a lot when we do advertising or do a movie, and I try to tap into that spirit.”

Mr. Cawley went on to explain the shenanigans he had filming his own horror movies with his friends when he was a kid. From discovering the excitement of creating a character, filming scenes with firecrackers and explosions out in the woods, and trying to find all the coolest angles and shots, he was enthralled by every part of the process. That didn’t mean it wasn’t a challenge. He said it was really tricky to film without being able to edit the actual movie, and having to wait for the film itself to develop. Our generation has the luxury of being able to edit and add effects to videos right at our fingertips. However, he still remarked how both generations share the same appreciation and enjoyment of creativity.

“That same feeling of making a movie on my own, that nervousness before a shot, or how you never know exactly how to accomplish what you have planned, is something I experience to this day. Advertising used to have big budgets and work with huge teams, and now we make a lot of ads ourselves. I’ve definitely run ads that have been filmed on iPhones before. Every time you make something new, you’re running into new obstacles and things that you never saw before. One of the most important things is finding how your own curiosity can evolve and lead you to things that are still true to yourself. Above everything else, you got to stay tapped into that spirit of adventure.”

I highly recommend watching make|SHIFT for yourself. It was an engaging, educational, and inspiring movie until the last minute. If you have any interest in advertising, or would enjoy a brief history lesson of the internet, make|SHIFT is the perfect watch for you. Even if you have never given advertising a second thought in your life, I still recommend make|SHIFT. Everyone can enjoy this remarkable narrative of creativity, showcasing the power of our imagination. 

To watch make|SHIFT go to: https://makeshift.film/#intro

As of now make|SHIFT has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, a perfect score! https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/makeshift

Tim Cawley is founder and Chief Creative Officer of his own ad agency called HeyLet’sGo! You can learn more about his unique company here: https://heyletsgo.co/

Tim Cawley’s new Rock n Roll album, “Campfires for Cavepeople” is out now. To listen and learn more about his band go to: https://www.theflashpotmoments.com/

4 responses to “make|SHIFT Interview with Co-Director Tim Cawley

  1. Wow, Clara! What a talented journalist you are! I can’t wait to follow your career, it’s off to a great start!

  2. Thank you Clara for publishing this awesome interview with Tim Cawley. I love your question about what you would tell your 13 year old self!

  3. This is a marvelous article that looks like it could have been written by a professional adult. Well done!

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