Personal Project: Successful Man

October, 2023

A few years ago, Andrew Duncan (creative at W+K Amsterdam) came across a man on a stock footage site. He spent a long time with him. Too long, some might say. He grappled with the meaning of his life, scene by scene, until finally the puzzle clicked and his truth was revealed. Now his story is ready to be shared with the world: ‘Successful Man’ premiered at Fantasia Festival in Montreal.

This film is a tribute to a genre that has been ignored in cinema. Until now. It’s made all the more poignant with the rise of AI threatening to wipe out stock footage entirely.  

We grabbed a tea with Andy to talk about the process and to understand more about this mysterious and successful man.

What are the origins of this story? How did you find the main character?

I’ve always been a great appreciator of corporate stock footage. It’s the only thing I was allowed to watch as a child. My father insisted that all the values I needed were expressed in stock footage: team bonding, family time, eating salad etc.  So when I came to Wieden+Kennedy and learnt that we have the great privilege of a full access Shutterstock account I knew I was in the right place. It was on one of my many evening scrolls through the archives of Shutterstock that I first came across the guy. At first he seemed unremarkable, but then I kept seeing him. He’d clearly been busy. He was not just a businessman, but also a pilot, and supermarket shelf stacker. He also appeared to have countless wives and children, especially boys. 

It got me thinking, how could one man possibly fit all of this into one life? And that’s what led to me spending an ungodly amount of time hunting down every piece of footage he featured in and arranging them into a story. 

But not just any story. Jeremy’s story. His truth.

What was most appealing about the protagonist?

His name is Jeremy. I’d prefer if you call him Jeremy.

Oh sorry.

It’s okay. As I said I was mainly drawn to how much Jeremy had achieved in his stock footage career. He was a mystery that needed to be solved. There was a feeling that if I could understand his life, maybe I would understand something greater about what it is to be a human.

I assume the script was written after the images were found. How was that process?

Maddening. I don’t recommend it. I did most of the puzzling in lockdown, which became the perfect time to burrow deep into his many life experiences. I became an archaeologist. What you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Jeremy’s available footage. There were countless other story structures, side plots and tangents. Eventually I had to cut it down to the story that felt most whole and true to him. I also figured there is a possibility for a franchise of sequels to come out of this stock universe. There are still thousands of stories waiting to be told through this important and under appreciated genre.

Also in general, reverse engineering a story to footage is an insane process, also quite freeing in some ways, but mainly insane. Also attempting to lip sync my words into his mouth felt particularly futile. Especially when I learnt he was speaking Russian.

What was most difficult about editing the film?

Just deciding to stop. I had this ambition that it could be a feature length film, and it’s hard letting go of a fantasy of what a project could be and accepting the reality of what it is: a three minute thing.

Have you ever tried to find and contact him?

Oh yes. I did some investigating, and I found the stock footage company he works for.  Which is how I realized he was based in Russia, and that’s where my searching stopped. But I love the idea of him seeing this and us shooting some extra scenes together. So if you’re out there, Jeremy, please get in touch:

What are your hopes for this film?

Maybe people can appreciate stock footage a lil’ more. It’s a highly under-appreciated genre. Especially as its days are probably numbered with AI. Pretty soon companies won’t have to search through stock footage sites to make their bad adverts, they’ll simply ask AI. 

Jeremy is the last of a dying breed of actors so I'm hoping this puts stock footage back on the map and specifically gets him more work

How does this project relate to the rest of your work?

Gosh, not sure exactly. I’d say it represents a greater love for dedicating myself very sincerely to making stupid things. I mean there is also some kind of cathartic nature to his story.

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