Local Filmmaker Says Motorola Ripped Off His Short Film for Super Bowl Ad

Categories: Film and TV
Michael Sarrow Directing Picture RZ.jpg
Michael Sarrow in action.
Independent filmmaker and University of Miami alum Michael Sarrow wants us to feel connected. He also wants us to decide for ourselves whether or not a Motorola ad run during the Super Bowl is just a bit too similar to his short film, "Do Not Disconnect."

Sarrow studied screenwriting at the University of Florida and then attended a film directing workshop that changed his mind about his possible role in Hollywood. He got his hands dirty at UM's master's program and then threw all his stuff into his car and booked it to Los Angeles. In L.A., Sarrow worked for a production company that represented big name directors and cinematographers.


During his stint with the company he pitched his idea for "Do Not Disconnect." The company didn't bite, and Sparrow went on to fund the production himself. The short was shot in 2009. In 2011, during Super Bowl XLV, a Motorola commercial titled Empower the People was aired. Sarrow says the similarities between the two are too similar to ignore.

There are some who agree and some who say that a future when people are all plugged in to electronic devices and there is no human contact is not an entirely original concept, and could easily have been conceived by more than one individual. Below you can see both versions and read our interview with the filmmaker. You be the judge.

Michael Sarrow's short film, Do Not Disconnect:


New Times: How did you get the idea for Do Not Disconnect?

Michael Sarrow: The original concept came to me when I saw a young, teenage Goth couple. They were holding hands, but, unusually, they were plugged into their white headphones and not paying any attention to each other whatsoever. I really wanted to make a film about them. I took the film further into a future where everybody was like that. That young couple became the older couple in my film, and they represent the last bastion of human contact.

How similar is it in your opinion to Empower the People, the Motorola ad that ran during the Super Bowl?

While I make no claims of inventing a dystopian environment, I believe the concept of a world where everyone is plugged into headphones with zero human interaction is the same. The biggest offender, to me, is the ending. The sequence of the boy coaxing the girl out of her headphones is nearly identical, down to the wordless ending. If that represents a ten-second sequence out of Motorola's 50 seconds of live-action footage, that's a large chunk.

Motorola's Super Bowl commercial, Empower the People:

What went through your mind when you first saw the ad?

When I first saw the ad, I had already received text messages from others who had seen it. I was really disappointed to see our idea to be screening on the largest stage in American television at the Super Bowl.

Are you taking these companies to court?

I have no intentions of taking Motorola nor Anomaly New York to court. My wish is for both works to screen in the court of public opinion.

Do you feel that while you were pitching and casting your project, it is likely that someone came across your concept and ripped it off?

I can't address the likelihood or probability of such a thing. It's a possibility.

How do you feel about the response you have been getting? Is it mostly negative or positive? 

We've received a lot of support as well as some vitriol, due to the anonymity and level of discourse on the internet. I think a lot of people are defensive and wish to believe that we don't live in a world where ideas are taken. I don't want to downplay the amount of support we've gotten. Still, some people do claim that the two works are completely different. Others say that they are the same but that the concept is "obvious." The observation that a lot of people are listening to iPods is obvious. Extrapolating that to an entire universe devoid of interaction hadn't been done before. I believe it's the type of concept that seems obvious in retrospect, only after someone has conceived of it. Ultimately, as an indie filmmaker who made a short film available for free screening, my only true desire is for people to enjoy the work.

With the world so connected today, do you think that artists are more at risk of having their ideas or work stolen?

There are so many shorts out there, due to the ease of digital production, that coincidentally ideas will be replicated. Also, someone can hear a premise and repeat it months later, thinking it is their own. Ideas can be taken and then tweaked just enough to avoid litigation. And, of course, regardless of my film, ideas can be plagiarized. When any of these situations occur, it's easier than ever to see the original work due to our connections online.

What would you like to tell our readers?
 
Please understand what it might be like to be an independent filmmaker with a self-funded project, only to see your idea played out to over a hundred million people in an attempt to sell an electronics device. I only ask that people watch both works to see the similarities. And, needless to say, if you enjoy the film, please share both the film and this story with others. 
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6 comments
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Movie Fan
Movie Fan

I would so take them to court. The problem is that they have 24/7 suits representing them.But even famous directors usually settle out of court, not to face the negative attention it would bring. They are almost alike in everything. The only difference is that Motorola has $ backing it up, so it's a financial David & Goliath case. Anyone saying there is no similarity should get checked out. Even the main character's make-up is the same. The girls look alike, too. This was very interesting to read. I hope Sallow has better luck in his next project.

Rich
Rich

I agree with Mr. Right - No similarity but a blatant attempt at publicity. As a side note, that video was so long and boring that I kept hitting fast forward. You took about 7 minutes to convey the same message that Motorola did in one minute.

Jay
Jay

It's a short film moron not a commercial, of course the amount of time is going to be different. I think the concept is similar and if someone stole your idea I feel your pain.

Mr-right
Mr-right

Not even close to being the same... but I think you want the publicity for your crappy independent short film. Try making it on your own without the media attention to your scam.

Good Films Lover
Good Films Lover

Sallow is a very talented creative individual. If he wanted attention, he would have sued.Common sense. But of course, you did not even see the similarities. How could you be expected to appreciate anything?

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