Now that independent films have winnowed their way into the mainstream, advertisers are getting into the act with artsy ads for Gap, Virgin Atlantic, and more

Now that independent films have winnowed their way into the mainstream, advertisers are getting into the act. Two reasons why: It’s both hip and cost-effective. ”An indie flick is done on a smaller budget, so more people can afford to emulate it,” says Jerry Cronin, a creative director at Wieden & Kennedy. Here’s a look at three commercials with art-house-film influences:

(1) ESPN Stanley Cup Play-offs: You betcha it looks like Fargo as two Canadian troopers, bundled in fur-lined police parkas and earflapped caps, shuffle Marge Gunderson-like across a frozen landscape surveying the scattered corpses of hockey players (lost in the battle for the Stanley Cup), all the while speaking in the nasal tones of the Far North. ”We’ve got ourselves a bit of malfeasance, eh?” says one. ”Yah,” comes the reply. Despite the obvious similarities, Cronin, the ad’s creative director, claims the spot was not a nod to the Coen brothers’ film. ”Some people have said that, but that wasn’t the intention, to be honest,” he says. Yah, sure.

(2) Gap Easy Fit Jeans: David Arquette (Scream) and Lukas Haas (Boys) go from selling their bodies as male prostitutes in the indie film johns to selling jeans as fun-lovin’ trumpet and keyboard players in one of a series of ads; other spots feature LL Cool J and Welcome to the Dollhouse‘s Eric Mabius. The Gap’s in-house ad team, trying to put together a mix of lesser-known and mainstream faces, originally planned to have Arquette appear solo but added Haas when they found out the johns costars had formed a band. As for the pair’s unlikely transition from hookers to hawkers, Arquette isn’t too concerned about unnerving Gap goers: ”More people saw the commercial than probably ever saw johns.”

(3) Virgin Atlantic: In his trademark storytelling fashion, monologuist Spalding Gray sits at a plain wooden desk giving a relaxed account of Virgin’s service, as a series of kinetic images flash around him a la the film version of Gray’s Anatomy. Douglas Sloan, the ad’s creative director, conceived the idea of using Gray to sell the airline’s anticorporate culture after watching him in Swimming to Cambodia. ”Spalding comes across as a normal, smart, artsy person,” he says. ”All that fit into the profile of Virgin.” Gray, who received approximately $20,000 in airfare along with his fee, needed persistent coaxing to agree to the spot for CMG Communications after turning down numerous other offers. ”The thing that got me into it was when the vice president of Virgin took three ferries to come to my house [on Long Island] with the writer,” he says. ”It was such personal attention.” Gray adds that he’s pleased with his first on-camera commercial appearance: ”It has a wonderful flair to it that’s between commercial and art.”