Rondell Wescott was leaving a CrossFit class at 7 a.m. on January 15 when the first text arrived.
“Your commercial made the morning news on GMA [Good Morning America].”
By the time he made it home and turned on the TV, the ad was the talk of all the morning shows and messages were flooding in from excited colleagues. By 10 a.m., the commercial was trending nationwide on Twitter – barely 24 hours after it debuted on YouTube. Wescott took a deep breath as he realized that he’d reached a professional milestone.
“Well, a career goal of mine has been to produce a commercial that goes viral. That was accomplished as of yesterday,” he tweeted.
The new ad, for razor company Gillette, had already been viewed more than five million times, and sparked widespread reaction to its call to end “toxic masculinity” in the modern #MeToo era.
Speaking out against a “boys will be boys” mentality, the commercial drew high praise and harsh criticism for its updated take on the brand’s 30-year-old tagline, “The best a man can get.” Many supported the ad’s progressive vision, while others perceived it as male-bashing. More than a dozen celebrities and thought leaders – ranging from Bernice King, Chrissy Tiegen, Maria Shriver, and Arianna Huffington to Piers Morgan and Meghan McCain – also chimed in on the controversy.
To Wescott, a 2003 TV/video production alum of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, the visceral responses weren’t a surprise.
“When I first saw the script, I knew that it was going to cause conversation,” he said. “But that was the intention; we wanted men to look at what was happening in society and ask whether this was the best we could be.”
The project began in early 2018 as the creative team at Grey New York, Gillette’s advertising agency, worked for eight months to settle on a concept and finalize the script. Then Wescott stepped in to bring that vision to life. As vice president and integrated producer for Townhouse, the production agency that collaborates with Grey, he led a three-month effort to find a director, cast the commercial, shoot it, and complete post-production.
It was a huge undertaking with 56 principal actors and 75 extras chosen from three weeks of casting in three countries, a four-day shoot in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a month of intense editing. The result was a one minute, 48-second short film entitled “We Believe” that took on bullying and sexual harassment, some of the country’s biggest hot-button cultural issues. Gillette also announced plans to donate $1 million annually for the next three years to nonprofits that help boys and men achieve their personal best.
“When the ad first came out, it was misconstrued by some, but our message still stands,” he said. “It’s really about self-reflection, and what men can do to help other men and boys so that the next generation benefits.”
Wescott says he has been overwhelmed by the film’s reach, which includes a combined 66+ million views on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and more than 3,000 global media mentions. At its peak, the ad was the #1 trending topic on Twitter nationally, and Gillette was the third highest search term on Google in the U.S. within a day of its launch.
“Without a doubt, this was the single most challenging production of my career; not one thing about it was easy,” said Wescott, who has produced several earlier ads for Gillette, as well as for other national brands including ExxonMobil, Chobani, and Avis. “It was a huge group effort, and I’m so proud of the work we did and what it stands for.”
Growing up in Philadelphia, Wescott’s interest in television and production work began in middle school as a fan of HBO First Look, which offered behind-the-scenes views of upcoming feature films. “I still remember watching an episode on Last Action Hero with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and seeing them use a green screen, and being really interested in and excited about how that worked.”
At Hofstra, he majored in TV/video production, spending long hours building sets for shows and learning camera techniques, and was among the class of students who produced the very first Thursday Nite Live televised sketch comedy show. He even found time to sing tenor in the Hofstra Gospel Ensemble.
He also found valuable mentors in professors Nancy Kaplan, Randy Hillebrand, Doug Morrow, Dennis Mazzocco, and especially Peter Gershon.
“Those five are what I’d call gems,” said Wescott, who now lives in Brooklyn and plans to open his own company, named DellCott Productions, one day soon. “They were my television professors from freshman to senior year, and taught me all of the production knowledge that I’ve brought with me into the real world. I would definitely attribute my success to what I learned at Hofstra.”
Peter Gershon was in California accompanying students on the annual “Hofstra in LA” networking trip when he heard of Wescott’s involvement with the ad. “The Herbert School dean, the associate dean, and I were so proud to be at our annual reception and announce to a room of 70 West Coast alums, parents, prospective students, and our own current students that it was a graduate of our program whose work had gone viral,” he said. Just a day earlier, the students had visited the studios of NBC News, where they met Alicia Hastey, an associate producer and 2014 alum who was producing a story about Wescott’s commercial for NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.
“Rondell was a terrific student, very polished, and as an alum, he has been phenomenally wonderful,” Gershon added, noting that Wescott has returned several times to talk with classes and has donated tools such as an animatic storyboard that he used on a past campaign.
Wescott’s close ties with the University include serving as the current vice president of the Black and Hispanic Alumni Association and as historian/parliamentarian of the Hofstra Alumni Organization. He hopes to be on campus several times during the spring semester.
“He is what we could only hope our graduates turn out to be: talented, respected, accomplished,” Gershon said, “a person who is a member of a greater community and who gives back, one terrific person.”
Watch Gillette’s “We Believe” commercial: