Diné Flmmaker and Actors Worked Together on a ‘Spec Commercial’

“A spec is a ‘made-up’ commercial that filmmakers use to showcase their talent and potential. That is exactly what Diné filmmaker Christopher Nataanii Cegielski did when he created his New Balance spec called ‘For Any Run.’ A. Chavez, ICT

Colleen Biakeddy, who played the grandma, Cegielski and Micah Chee who portrays the grandson.

Excerpt: Behind the scenes: ‘Grandma! Sheep is running away’ Allyah Chavez, ICT

“The video is a product of the Commercial Directors Diversity Program, an organization that provides guidance, exposure and tools for minority directors who hope to work in the industry. Cegielski, 28, was selected out of more than 300 applicants to participate as a fellow of the program, the first Indigenous filmmaker. So over the course of six months, he attended workshops, shadowed industry employees and created mentorships. His final project: ‘For Any Run.’

For Cegielski, the story began with an idea of a Diné grandmother who chased her sheep and did flips. He worked for three months researching brands, writing scripts, putting together pitch decks, choosing a cast and even budgeting. In total, his one-minute commercial cost approximately $16,000.

In the initial phases the commercial advertised an ASICS shoe instead of New Balance. After further research, Cegielski observed that the tone of the ASICS brand was geared towards ‘serious’ athletes. He saw that New Balance had a more “playful” tone — and that it fit in line with his light-hearted and fun vision.

‘I had to think about everything the right way,’ Cegielski said. With this in mind, he says his goal was to create something that Indian Country could watch.

The commercial was shot in mid-August in Pinion, Arizona, where a large crew made up of actors, producers, directors and cameramen worked together. Photo by A. Banks.

‘For far too long there has been non-Native people making Native material,’ Cegielski said. “It’s always about oppression… I just wanted to change that.’

The commercial led him to meeting Diné actors Colleen Biakeddy, who played the grandma, and Micah Chee who portrays the grandson. In true Diné fashion, the trio discovered they all belong to the Ta’chii’nii, or Red Running Into Waterclan, after they met in person. The commercial was shot in mid-August over two days.

This was Biakeddy’s first acting role. But the fifty-year-old is not new to sheep herding. Her day starts with checking on her cattle near Big Mountain in Arizona, some 53 miles south of Kayenta…The role for her was important because of how it represents Diné grandmothers. She appreciated the attention to detail, noting that grandmothers in her community ‘really do’ cover their feet using tennis shoes, or whatever it takes to get work done…In case you wondered, Biakeddy did not do her own stunts (though she notes she had to do a somersault in her casting audition).

Her stunt double was Conrad Weitzel, a parkour athlete from Phoenix…The spec has now been seen throughout Indian Country, largely motivated by social media. The video on Instagram alone has been viewed more than 10,000 times since last Friday.”

Category: Culture, Films, Navajo