Início Tech Ben Proudfoot Debuts Short Doc on Marketer Ilon Specht

Ben Proudfoot Debuts Short Doc on Marketer Ilon Specht


In 1973, Ilon Specht used L’Oréal’s Preference hair color product as a vehicle for feminist empowerment. Amid the male-dominated advertising world, Specht coined one of the most memorable tag lines within beauty marketing while working as a copywriter at McCann-Erickson: “Because I’m Worth It.”

Specht, who passed away this spring, is the subject of a new short documentary directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Ben Proudfoot. “The Final Copy of Ilon Specht” premiered earlier this month at Tribeca X during the Tribeca Festival, which included a post-screening conversation with Proudfoot, Jane Fonda, Aja Naomi King and global president of L’Oréal Paris Delphine Viguier. After its New York debut, the film headed to Cannes, where it premiered on the main stage at Cannes Lions with a conversation between Proudfoot, Viguier and Andie MacDowell, a L’Oréal ambassador.

Shortly after landing in France, Proudfoot reflected on the New York’s premiere, which drew an audience that included a mix of Specht’s family, lifelong friends and former colleagues. 

“Your first and main goal is to make a film that captures the spirit of that person as they wish to be portrayed, and as those who knew them well might experience them,” says Proudfoot. “And so when somebody walks up to you and grabs your wrist and says, ‘I knew Ilon for 35 years’ or ‘I worked with Ilon for 20 years, and that film just really captures her’ — it doesn’t get much better than that as a filmmaker.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 10: Ben Proudfoot speaks onstage at The Final Copy Of Ilon Specht premiere At Tribeca X on June 10, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Traverse32)

Ben Proudfoot speaks onstage at “The Final Copy of Ilon Specht” premiere at Tribeca X. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Traverse32)

Getty Images for Traverse32

The two-time Oscar winner, who most recently took home a statuette this year for his short “The Last Repair Shop,” has built his career on short form docs. “The Final Copy of Ilon Specht” was born out of his “Almost Famous” video series produced for The New York Times, which highlighted under-recognized figures in history — oftentimes, women. Earlier this year a friend from production company Traverse32, which is associated with McCann, approached Proudfoot with the idea of telling Specht’s story, and ubiquitous marketing slogan, on video.

“‘Because You’re Worth It’ is one of those things that is just part of the [cultural] fabric; like ‘e pluribus unum’ at this point,” says Proudfoot of the now famous tag line, which was delivered through a female lens. “When I think about advertising tag lines writ large, you kind of think of the ‘Mad Men’ writing room where people are batting around ideas, looking for rhymes and onomatopoeia,” he adds. “What I found profound, as soon as I talked to Ilon and when I talked to her family, was that these words, ‘Because I’m Worth It,’ which later became ‘Because You’re Worth It,’ etc. — these actually spoke to who she was. And they were actually ideas that she lived by. It wasn’t just a flippant line.”

When Proudfoot approached Specht with his proposal earlier this year, he learned that she had recently moved back to New York from California for cancer treatment. “When I finally got her on the phone, she was so full of life and moxie and story and was so passionate about having a chance to tell her story her way, which she hadn’t really done on film before,” says Proudfoot. “And she caveated the whole thing by saying, I just have to let you know, I’m dying.”

That was around four months ago, shortly before Specht passed away on April 20, one day after her 81st birthday.

“It’s not the first time that I’ve been in a situation where someone wants to tell their story and they’re in the last chapter of their life. And I take it as a big responsibility,” says Proudfoot. “Sometimes you don’t know — in this case, we knew. It gives it all a lot of weight, right? It’s like, this is probably the last time she’s going to tell this story,” he adds. “And it’s a great human honor to be there and listen, and then to parse through that material and try to condense it down.”

A still from

A still from “The Final Copy of Ilon Specht.”

Courtesy

A still from “The Final Copy of Ilon Specht.”

The film features interviews with Specht from within her apartment at the Dakota, as well as archival imagery. Also prominently featured is Specht’s stepdaughter Alison Case, from her marriage to ad exec Eugene Case, who’s now a women’s, gender, and sexuality studies professor at Williams College.

Proudfoot credits L’Oréal and McCann for helping to quickly place the film at Tribeca and Cannes Lion shortly after its completion.

“Short documentaries are not always something that fit on the bill at major festivals, and so I think there’s been a lot of phone calls and cajoling and hours spent to make sure that this film gets seen, so that Ilon can be celebrated,” he says. “It’s also a testament that the same organizations that brought ‘Because You’re Worth It’ to the world are bringing this film to the world.”

Although no distribution plan has been announced, Proudfoot is eager to share the film widely in the near future.

“[So that] everybody, but especially women and girls and people in advertising, can meet Ilon and see what she did, and why she did it,” he says. “There’s something greater that’s being said, that’s way beyond economical selling of things.

“Frankly, I think if she had been given more opportunities in her career, there were 10 more [tag lines] where that came from,” he adds.

A still from “The Final Copy of Ilon Specht.”



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