BTS: Miller, Lewandowski on new UCM spot

Last Friday, a brave and emotional new spot for the University of Chicago Medicine broke on regional TV. Crafted by independent, digitally driven, creative agency Schafer Condon Carter, the minute-long spot, directed by Sandro Miller, powerfully captures the raw emotions that patients and families feel when confronted with a life-threatening diagnosis.

Titled ‘Not Fair,’ the campaign also draws upon the dedication, support and hope the doctors, nurses and first responders have to project in order to help us heal. The ‘Not Fair’ commercial uses an impactful soundtrack of the song Survivor (written by Beyonce during her time with Destiny’s Child) performed by the Chicago Mass Choir, set to visuals of the many unfair moments that take place within hospitals and the University of Chicago Medicine Care Team’s fearless commitment to solving them. The spot is our Reel Ad of the Week.

Directed by a cancer survivor himself (8 years free), famed Photographer turned Director Miller, along with his production team at LA-based Bottle Rocket, faced their own challenges as they had to shoot multiple locations, multiple cast members in a pandemic. The result is quite stunning. Watch below:

ALSO READ: ‘Chicago Med’ has begun production on Season 6

We had a chance to sit and speak about the creative with Sandro Miller, his Executive Producer Tim Ward, SCC’s Chief Human Insights Officer Suzanne Martineau and Utopic Editor Craig Lewandowski.

This is a very inspiring and powerful spot, gentleman.

Tim: Agreed. The group at SCC did an amazing job with the development of this campaign and the marketing team at the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM) were terrific in letting Sandro run with it—it addition to providing us with everything we needed to pull it off—especially in these most challenging times. 

What inspired you to take the project?

Sandro: What inspired me to take on the project was first and foremost the idea.  If a board comes across our desk these days and it doesn’t have a moving, emotional, and clear idea that relays a message that I am in line with, I don’t take on the project. This project was about hope, resilience and fighting for your life—and about a team of doctors that are all the very best in their fields and will do everything in their power to get you to the other side.    

Sandro, we know you beat cancer, do you feel like any of that fight drove the way you approached the spot?

By coincidence I was treated at UoC Medicine for a stage 4 cancer I went through. I fought this battle for my life. I remember so clearly those days of feeling that I may not make it another week. I remember the tears, the pain and the hardship it caused my loved ones.

The vignettes I created for this spot were all flashbacks of my time at UCM battling for my life. Driving emotion out of my talent was just recollecting my days going thru my “NOT FAIR” moments.

My heart was all-in to achieve a very emotional piece for UoC Medicine, one that would tug at the hearts of our viewers and leave people feeling very empathic for these people going through the most difficult time of their lives.

Suzanne, the creative of course always starts with the agency. How did Schafer approach the strategy for UChicago?

Suzanne: Our goal with this campaign was to help people feel that UChicago Medicine is a different kind of place. It’s an academic medical center – and that can sound cold. But what it means is that you’ve got amazing researchers and physicians driven to find new approaches to some of the most daunting medical issues people face every day.

The insight that inspired us is that sickness isn’t fair – and when you’re sick, you want a team willing to challenge the status quo to make a difference in your life. We interviewed a number of physicians and researchers – including Dean Kenneth Polonsky – and they all made it clear that doing things like they’ve always been done isn’t what happens at UChicago.”

We had fun briefing our creative teams with a ‘commercial’ we cut together out of all the other healthcare stuff out there. If we were going to get people feeling the UChicago Medicine difference, we knew we had to create bold, innovative work that would cut through the clutter and sea of sameness that is healthcare advertising.

So we said, ‘UChicago Medicine isn’t status quo, our campaign can’t be either.’ That ‘commercial’ was our ‘what not to do.’

Also, the SCC team passed along these requested edits to the Reel Chicago online story:

We’re in the middle of a pandemic…take us through the production process, Tim. You have a lot of cast members and locations. Practical or green screen?

Tim: In all my years in this business this may be the most unusual production.  We were awarded the job back in January and on schedule to start shooting mid-March. We had cast, chosen the locations, blocked the shots etc.—we were ready to go. Then COVID-19 shut us down.

Like the rest of the industry we went into this abyss of unknowns. We had three other awarded jobs die and I was certain the UCM job would either go away or be reduced.  So, I have to commend the gang at SCC for their pursuit in keeping this job alive and creative intact. 

As things started to open up a bit in July, we were able to produce a couple of jobs at Sandro’s studio which enabled us to practice our COVID protocols on a smaller scale prior to moving on to the shoot at the hospital.

Look, shooting at a working hospital already presents many delicate situations to produce around—then add COVID-19 protocols and the process becomes ten times more challenging. Once we got the green light to shoot at the hospital we had to move fast—we were all anxious that we would be shut down again with a potential spike in COVID. 

In a very short turnaround we needed to recast close to 50% then had to get 52 principle actors, over 20 real UCM doctors/staff, 30 plus crew, including two full camera units that all had to be COVID tested within a week.

When we now step back and look at what we were able to pull-off through all the strict COVID protocols we mandated—it is truly amazing. In over just 4 days of shooting at the hospital, we staged over 50 setups and captured close to 80 practical scenes.

The UCM marketing team and the entire UCM staff were remarkably helpful—there is no way we would have been able to accomplish this creative without their unflappable demeanor in such chaotic circumstances.

Sandro, can you touch on the color palette a little bit?  I find it very interesting

Sandro:The color palette was extremely important for me and choosing the best colorist for the job is so important. We went with NOLO and had expert colorist Matt Matusek apply my thoughts about the palette to the spot.

I really felt we needed to leave the up-front portion of the spot “Not Fair” a bit grittier and more natural in color, meaning leaving a bit of the bad, ugly color of fluorescence and mercury vapors shine through. Sometimes we created this bad color and sometimes we just let the lighting of the hospital shine through.

As the spot progress into more and more of a positive outcome, the light began to get a bit more cleaned up and colors of “FEEL GOOD” began to shine through. It was all about taking the viewer on a very short roller coaster ride of emotions in one minute.  

It’s rare that when we show the spot to someone for the first time that they don’t get choked up. That was our goal. 

Are these the kind of projects you’re looking for?

Tim: As an executive producer, I’m always trying to find those very rare creative opportunities for our directors. After all, the creative process is what inspired us to get into this business. When SCC first sent us these ideas, I immediately knew Sandro would be the perfect director to bring these stories to life.

With Sandro’s genuine compassion he would be able to direct and draw a truly believable performance from our talent. Plus Sandro’s attention to detail would make for very authentic moments.

What cameras did you shoot on? 

Sandro: We used two camera crews both shooting with the RED Helium 8K cameras with a full complement of high speed lenses. I love working with the RED cameras, they gave us the flexibility and range to move fast and deliver the look I’m after.

Sandro, coming from the world of being an amazing portrait photographer, does that affect how you frame your scenes? Some of them feel like moving portraits?

Sandro:I think this project that Schafer Condon Carter came to me with is the perfect fit for me. Fast paced, great performances, emotional and inspiring.  I really like to go deep into someone’s emotions and drive them to a perfect very believable performance.  

What makes this so difficult during Covid-19 is that I take people to a place that really hurts and is very painful or just the opposite a place where joy is overwhelming. These performances are really tough, and my talent needs to be nurtured back to reality.

With COVID-19, I cannot give to them the well-deserved hug and embrace they need and deserve after their performance.  A hug goes a long way when bringing back someone from an imagined family death or some other horrific scene that I create to get them to an incredibly believable performance.  I have been shooting portraits of celebrities, sport stars and everyday people for nearly 40 years.

The benefit from this is: a director that started his or her career as a photographer has a much more trained eye for detail and composition. Our eye moves around the frame quickly looking for tangents, obstacles coming out of people’s heads and so much more.

Framing someone up has become just a part of my consciousness, it’s an extension of my thought process, it comes so natural and painless for me. I understand light and wrap of light so well that because I understand this so well I can move quickly thru my composition.

I am able to spend much more time with the performance which ultimately will be the end all of a great spot. In a way yes, they are very much moving portraits but as you will see in our spots the camera and the performer are always moving to create a friction or a tension or to help with a transition to the next frame.

It is a huge moving piece of machinery that you need to have a sensational team to run the machine.

How involved were you in the editing process?

Tim: The SCC creatives and producer were terrific at involving Sandro throughout the entire editing process and maintaining his vision. Craig Lewandowski at Utopic is the editor and, as always, Craig did an amazing creative job editing these stories. I know you hear this all the time, but from the onset of this job it really was a collaborative process from everyone involved. 

Craig, don’t want to leave you out. What was the creative process like with Sandro?

Craig:I love working with Sandro. He’s so caring with his talent and it
shows in the film. These images are so moving. He has a way of getting
people to let their guard and truly feel the emotion. This was the most
excited I’ve been about a project in years. And then when I heard
Sandro was on board, I knew it was going to be special.”


CLIENT: University of Chicago Medicine

  • Senior Vice President, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Skip Hidlay
  • Executive Director, Marketing and Provider Communications, Gerald O’keefe
  • Director, Marketing & Communications, Heather Linder
  • Director, Marketing & Communications, Tiffany Santillan
  • Director, Marketing & Communications, Shana Liberman


  • Creative Director: Cristen Young
  • Senior Art Director: Charlie Tan Lim
  • Senior Copywriter: Hayes Cascia
  • Senior Producer: Kat Bizios
  • Account Director: Julie Merkin
  • Account Executive: Dallas Donahue
  • Account Director: Veronica Casey
  • Account Executive: Daphne Resulta
  • Executive Producer: Dennis Bannon
  • Chief Human Insights Officer: Suzanne Martineau


  • Director: Sandro Miller
  • EP: Tim Ward

EDIT: Utopic

  • Editor: Craig Lewandowski
  • EP: Heather Mitchell
  • Producer: Lauren Gray
  • Mix: Brian Leitner
  • VFX: Drew Wittler
  • Finish: Scott Ackerland

MUSIC : The Elements

COLOR : Nolo Digital Film

Colorist: Mike Matusek

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SOURCE: Bottle Rocket 360

Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @colinthewriter1