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Advertising Grad's Branded Content Racks up Awards

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Stills from Joey Iamartino-Larson’s “Glory and Reason.” Images courtesy of Joey Iamartino-Larson.

Skipping his Academy of Art University classes to spend four days at sea on a fishing boat paid off in a big way for recent School of Advertising graduate Joey Iamartino-Larson. Specializing in making short, documentary-style branded content films, Larson used the footage he captured of San Francisco fisherman John Miller and his crew to create two compelling pieces that have reeled in a slew of awards. He won in three categories—Documentary, Branded Content and Commercial—at this year’s NXT UP Fest. In addition, he took home a “Best in Show” prize at the Spring Show for “Glory and Reason,” his branded content piece for The North Face. “Glory and Reason” also earned him a Gold National Student Addy.

“I’m extremely grateful for the awards I’ve won over these last few months,” said the native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “Even though the Addy is a national award, winning at the Spring Show means the most to me. I remember as a freshman striving to get into it. But actually winning ‘Best in Show’ is something I couldn’t have imagined in a hundred years.”

Larson’s interest in branded content started around the time he enrolled at the Academy when the new form of  commercials was just beginning to take off. From the moment he stumbled on an engaging Johnnie Walker branded content piece while browsing YouTube, he knew he’d found his niche in the world of advertising.  

“It was amazing,” recalled Larson. “I started doing research and found out that instead of being limited to a 30-second commercial, you could make a 10-minute film that tells a story around a brand. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

He made his first branded content piece during a Young and Hungry class at the Academy. Like an actual ad agency, the course gives students the chance to work with real clients. Larson’s class was hired by the Western Folklife Center to help promote its annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. 

Since his family has strong blue collar roots and he’d spent a lot of time around cowboys in Calgary, Larson felt an immediate affinity with them. He approached his instructors, James Wojtowicz and Mark Edwards, about making a branded content piece about the cowboys. 

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Stills from Joey Iamartino-Larson’s “Glory and Reason.” Images courtesy of Joey Iamartino-Larson.

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Above and below: Stills from Joey Iamartino-Larson’s “Glory and Reason.” Images courtesy of Joey Iamartino-Larson.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to dive in and explore the whole realm of branded content, and they said, ‘Go for it,’” Larson remarked. 

The project fueled his desire to tell more stories about blue collar workers through film. “When I came to San Francisco, it seemed like I was surrounded by people in high tech,” he explained. “I got the idea to make a series about blue collar workers in the Bay Area because they’re easily forgotten these days.” 

He got his chance when he had to make a five-minute documentary for a class project earlier this year. Larson wanted to interview and film a fisherman because as a boy,  he’d enjoyed fishing with his father. Finding one took some work.  He contacted many restaurants along the waterfront, asking if  they knew any local fishermen who might be interested in participating in his documentary. Finally, a restaurant owner put Larson in touch with Miller.

The fisherman (who also writes poetry) invited him down to his boat. But as Larson began to interview him, Miller said he didn’t want to be filmed. “That was disappointing since I was supposed to be making a documentary,” Larson admitted. “But right away,  I could tell he was an amazing guy, so I did the interview anyway.” 

What was supposed to be a 15-minute talk turned into a three-hour conversation, the two of them drinking beers on the boat. By the end of their time together, Miller changed his mind about letting Larson film him. He told Larson he could film him and his crew while they prepared for the upcoming Dungeness crab season. Miller was so impressed with the resulting piece Larson created that he asked him to join him on the four-day fishing expedition that led to “Glory and Reason” as well as a separate documentary, “High Hopes Fisherman.” Larson incorporated subtle references to The North Face in his content after learning that Miller wore rugged clothing from the local company while working.

“I was so excited to be on the boat and have the opportunity to immerse myself in their lifestyle,” said Larson. “[School of Advertising Director Andrea Pimentel] and my teachers really encouraged me to go out and make these pieces.”

Pimentel could not be prouder of her former student. “Joey is so talented and always goes above and beyond at every step of a project,” she said. “Many students don’t have that level of dedication. Even once this project was done, and already exceptional, he went back and edited it again. He was constantly asking for feedback to make it even better.”

Since graduating, Larson’s combination of drive and talent helped him land a job with BOND, a full-service entertainment marketing agency in Los Angeles. “I’m very excited to start the next chapter of my book,” he said. Here at the Academy, we are just as excited to watch his story continue to unfold.

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Academy of Art University School of Advertising graduate Joey Iamartino-Larson. Photo courtesy of Joey Iamartino-Larson.