Renowned Director Stash Capar brings life experience into his method of filmmaking

Unlike most film directors, Stash Capar spent his earliest childhood years on the road with his parents. They were pro-democracy activists in Poland who ended up on the wrong side of the Soviet-backed regime and fled the country with two bags and a young child. After passing through Sweden and Denmark, they stayed in a refugee transit camp in West Germany where Capar’s earliest childhood memories were formed.

“Although it might sound strange, looking back they are mostly positive memories apart from occasional run ins with local childhood bullies,” said Capar.  “I remember lots of families and children in that camp, some from as far away as Albania and Turkey. They were all cautiously hoping for a better tomorrow and trying their best to make the best of today. It was a real transient place, with one family suddenly being granted visas to New Zealand, another to the U.S, another to the UK. Eventually we got granted our own visas to Canada.” 

Those early years of his life shaped a realistic and nuanced view of the human condition and gave Capar a sense of cautious optimism. That extraordinary outlook greatly impacts all his work as an industry leading director of commercials. He does not simply work to promote a product; he tells a story that can connect with his audience at an emotional level. This is evident with his stellar work for major international brands, such as Becel, Danone, Gerber, and Lysol, to name a few. His more recent life experiences and being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis have only added to his perspective on life and humanity, as he has started making films for a charity called Shift.ms who prioritize helping the recently diagnosed. He has built a reputation around the world as a specialist in emotional storytelling within commercials, which he jokes is “just a fancy way of saying the commercials make people cry.”

Capar has been making commercials of this nature for years and is often approached by renowned ad agencies as their first choice in major campaigns. It all started in 2015 when Capar was approached by Edelman, who had Tylenol as a major client.  The idea was a longer form commercial inspired by the Robert Munch’s classic I’ll Love you Forever. The spot was called “Like Mom Does” and shows a mother caring for her sick child throughout the years, with the roles finally being reversed when the child becomes an adult.

“Every mother has read this timeless and classic story to her child at some point. With the role reversal, both in the commercial and the original story, it is very moving,” said Capar. “After its release, I had a film producer contact me from Nigeria to tell me how much the spot had impacted him.  It was my first piece of work that really transcended borders.”

When it came to shooting the commercial, there was one specific area that was causing trouble – casting. There were a lot of discussions regarding who the “Tylenol Mom” would be. The agency and client had your classic, saccharine, smiley mom in mind, whereas Capar had his sights on a very promising actress/musician named Kaelen Ohm. The film had a passage of time element to it, with the mother getting older as the story progresses. Ohm was in her early thirties and the client simply wasn’t sold on the idea that she could be “aged” convincingly. Capar then hired the best makeup artist in the city and showed test results. They still weren’t convinced, but he was not going to back down. Eventually, after much deliberation, Tylenol decided to trust Capar’s vision. Ohm was cast and Capar directed her to a tear-jerking performance.  

“Even though it was stressful at the time, looking back, the whole casting fiasco was a great experience. It taught me to trust my gut instinct.  They hired me for a reason – to bring a fresh perspective. Ad agencies and clients will always fall back on what they know in moments of uncertainty to mitigate risk, so it’s your job, as the director, to stay strong and push forward for what you know will bring the best results, without being rude or unreasonable,” Capar detailed.

Capar led the team while making this commercial and brought an authenticity to it that makes the piece stand out from so many other cookie-cutter commercials that viewers often ignore.  As a longer form commercial it went out online and received coverage from industry specific trade publications like Strategy but also casual websites such as Little Things. When the clients at Tylenol saw the film, they insisted that it be placed across all markets, not just Canada as originally intended. It amassed 1.4 million views on YouTube, which was a record for Tylenol at the time, and their first viral hit. All of this could not have been possible without Capar’s unique and extraordinary perspective as a director.    

“I’m proud of the fact that it was both a commercial success, but also a popular success. Industry experts loved it, but so did everyday people in different parts of the world,” Capar concluded. “My goal is to make films that really stand out, that are memorable. Not just for creative experts, but also for the end customer. The unspoken truth is that everyday people generally don’t like advertising. They feel its preachy, or cheesy or, disconnected from their lives, or just downright dumb. I want to change that. Some of the highest praise I’ve received didn’t just come from the creative press or experts at an award ceremony, but from everyday people, like my now elderly parents. When I have a commercial that does 1.4 million views on YouTube, makes it to the top of Reddit, or that causes my inbox to be flooded with flattering emails, that’s just as valuable as an industry award to me.”  

Photo by Kendra Welham 

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