The Spot: Fish Out of Water

A sustainable sushi restaurant crafts a sweeping meditation in miniature on the tragedy of today's fishing practices

Headshot of Tim Nudd

IDEA: After hearing Kristofor Lofgren speak on a panel about sustainability, Joe Sabia wanted to help him tell his story. Lofgren, 26, is the founder of Bamboo Sushi in Portland, Ore., the world's first certified sustainable sushi restaurant. Sabia, a digital artist and filmmaker, proposed making a short film for Bamboo that would be much broader than a simple ad—it would be an expansive visual journey telling the story of today's global fishing practices and why they need to change. "I explicitly said this should not be a story about Bamboo Sushi. This should be a story from Bamboo Sushi—the story of how we currently get our fish; the story of how we should be getting our fish," Sabia said. The finished piece, "The Story of Sushi," all shot with miniature models, is an exquisite four-minute meditation—both dire warning and call to action—on a tragedy that might yet be redeemed.

COPYWRITING: Sabia interviewed Lofgren for three hours, gathering 15 pages of notes that provided a rough outline for the story. The spot begins in a sushi restaurant, travels to the boats, docks and warehouses of the fishing industry, and eventually to Bamboo Sushi. The first two minutes lay out the industry's problems; the last two offer solutions. Sabia used miniature models to evoke a feeling of simplicity. "You have a simple story, with a simple message, using a simple art form," he said. "But the visual also creates a dreamy, visceral experience. You know it's fake, but everything feels so real and familiar. You feel like you've been in this world before. You understand what this world is about." The original idea was to put the miniatures on a sushi conveyor belt and have the scenes float by, but Sabia felt the models deserved a more close-up treatment.

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber visited Montauk, N.Y., to get a up-close look at commercial fishing, then built eight dioramas over five months in their Brooklyn apartment. Most are 1:43 scale, though the restaurant scenes are 1:12. (Sabia's hand drops a Bamboo Sushi sign into the final frame to give a sense of the scale.) Nix and Gerber designed the sets but bought many of the resin figurines. (They had to saw off the legs of about half of them and modify the torsos to make them seated rather than standing, grind away unwanted elements and repaint them, Gerber said.) Director Vincent Peone and his team shot for 12 hours one Saturday, using a RED camera with a special snorkel lens—an extension arm with optics only 1.5 inches in diameter that can get the big camera into small spaces. He also narrowed the shutter angle to help match the scale of the models.

TALENT: Sabia wanted Lofgren to do the voiceover, but after hearing a scratch track, decided Lofgren "shouldn't quit his restaurateur day job." Then he found Jim Donaldson, a narrator with a deep, salty voice. "Having the story told by a weathered sea captain almost afforded a certain unmistakable wisdom," said Sabia. "[It's] a voice that speaks from life experience and a voice that's not too jaded to yearn for a better world."

SOUND: Michael Thurber's score is sobering and nostalgic in the first half, symphonic and elegant in the second. Matt McCorkle added the sounds of birds, creaking boats and ocean waves for texture.

MEDIA: The spot lives on Vimeo and may be entered in film festivals. "Getting people to the restaurant was never the No. 1 priority," Sabia said. "They wanted to drive awareness. Will that lead to sales later? Maybe. But you can't put a dollar amount on connecting your brand to a message like this."



Client: Bamboo Sushi

Created by Four Story Treehouse,

Writer/editor/producer: Joe Sabia

Director: Vincent Peone

Set design and visuals: Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber

Music: Michael Thurber

See the rest of the credits at

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.