A Short Film For Chipotle: The Scarecrow

How & Why Chipotle made a short film about a Scarecrow in a dystopia

The Scarecrowis a Short Film directed by Limbert Fabian and Brandon Oldenburg for Chipotle. Never airing on television, “The Scarecrow” was designed to be a viral film. The film is meant to associate Chipotle with fresh ingredients and sustainable farming while distancing the brand from the industrial farming often associated with large food corporations.

Chipotle takes a look at foods place in culture and the morality of where and how it is obtained, considering its own responsibility.

The film opens with Scarecrow standing in front of a faded factory façade, which advertises Crow Food Incorporated. A door slides open and Scarecrow enters the factory. He walks down a hallway picking up tools for his work including a metallic crow which sits on his shoulder. He steps out of the hallway onto a conveyor belt where he stands in line with other scarecrows. We see more of the factory, where food is being produced as mechanical crows watch from above. We see people getting the food straight from the factory conveyor belt and eating it. Scarecrow is guided by the crow on his shoulder to repair various parts of the factory. As Scarecrow does he sees some of the negative side of Crow Food Incorporated’s food production. Upon finishing for the day, Scarecrow returns home to a lush, small farm. He picks a chili pepper from a bush. He then gathers various vegetables from his farm and drives into town where he cooks a meal. He waves a crow away as people move towards his booth.

The Scarecrowborrows a structure frequently used in dystopic narratives. The short film uses the structure utilized in many films which talk negatively about corporations. It has a large organization seemingly run by unfeeling drones. It is a cold environment with machines and conveyor belts with a large group of drone-like people, unaware of the mechanical nature of something which seems ordinary to them. In these narratives a character, typically a protagonist, awakens to the mechanical nature of their world and attempts a rebellion. These features can be found in a variety of films, books, video games, and television shows (e.g. iRobot, The Matrix, 1984, Metropolis, We Happy Few).

There are certain things the film gains by using this structure. To understand them you must first inspect the characters. There are three primary groups of characters in the film: the scarecrows, the crows, and the general populace.

A scarecrow is traditionally used to protect crops from birds who might steal or harm them. A scarecrow is a simple old fashioned method of protecting a potential harvest . Crows can steal and damage a farmer’s crop and have narratively been used to represent cold and evil forces. Obviously, scarecrows and crows are diametrically opposed (hence the name scarecrow).

Chipotle most clearly align themselves with Scarecrow in a single shot, during the turning point of the film. A single chili pepper is picked fresh from a bush, its shape likely recognizable to Chipotle patrons.

In the film Scarecrow, the protagonist of the film, represents Chipotle. Traditionally, a scarecrow is a guardian of sorts, used to keep crows from accessing/harming a farmer’s crop. By presenting themselves as the scarecrow, Chipotle present themselves as protectors of food and as old fashioned in their methods of food production.

The system pulls scarecrows along

The other scarecrows within the film are meant to represent other restaurants and food corporations who have given in to the mechanical nature of food production. Like the protagonist in the film, all scarecrows share a purpose of protecting food. The other scarecrows have chosen to accept the mechanical system, ignoring their initial purpose. It’s easier this way. The system literally pulls them along. The protagonist on the other hand has chosen to rebel. This rebellion serves as a representation of Chipotle’s rededication to their goal of “cultivating a better world” and their refusal to become a passive part of food production.

The Crows represent the apathy which causes food companies to produce food through industrial means. The reason they are mechanical rather than real crows is to reflect the lifelessness which can be connected to apathy. Additionally, the crows being depicted as machinations connects them to the mechanical aspect of industrial farming and the frequent placement of the crows on the scarecrows’ shoulders evokes the imagery of ‘the devil on the shoulder’. Given that crows and scarecrows are naturally opposed, the film seems to say apathy and food production are naturally opposed.

The consumers, shown briefly in the film, are shown waiting in line to get food from Crow Food, blissfully unaware of what is happening right behind the walls of the factory. This seems to say that behind big food corporations are practices that consumers may not approve of but they don’t know it. The film is meant to speak to anyone who eats (everyone). It is essentially telling consumers to be cognisant of where their food is coming from and how it is made.

By inserting these characters into its dystopian structure Chipotle is able to say a lot about its aspirations and the use of industrialized farming. Chipotle is presented as a rebel in an industry where it would be easier to remain the same. The short film is in some ways throwing down the gauntlet, suggesting that perhaps Chipotle’s rebellion can lead to a greater change in the way we produce food on a large scale, much like how often in dystopian films a single act of rebellion can lead to a world of change.

The film uses 3D animation to tell its dystopian story. Most of the items, characters, and buildings within the film are composed of simple shapes. The film primarily uses bright but de-saturated colours in combination with neutrals, with a tint of pale brown in every frame, like a layer of dirt covering everything. These colors are primarily used in the first two acts of the films. Later, following the protagonist taking action, (picking the vegetables)bright saturated colours are used. The visuals of the film are aesthetically pleasing but do relatively little to inform the narrative. The music of the film does more of the heavy lifting.

The first two acts use desaturated colors and brown tones
The third act has more saturated colors with fewer brown tones and more diverse colors

The film makes use of a slow, melodic, custom made cover of “Pure Imagination” as its soundscape. This song is of course borrowed from the classic film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The scene in which “Pure imagination” was originally presented informs the story of “The Scarecrow. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory “Pure Imagination” is sung during a scene in which children and their family members explore a particular room in the factory. They see weird and wondrous creations , from giant gumballs, to rivers of chocolate, to trees made of candy cane. These things are clearly all unnatural, but are presented as amazing. “The Scarecrow” twists this approach. It takes the song and adds synthetic instruments and makes the song more somber than the original. This references the idea of a factory where unnatural food is made but instead presents it as a negative thing. It utilizes a singer whose style of singing resembles an older style , but its instruments are newer, primarily composed of synthesizers and other technological instruments. This gives the music a ominous, somber, cold tone until we approach the end. When the Chipotle pepper is picked the music changes. Gone are the computerized instruments now replaced with old fashioned woodwinds and strings. At the conclusion of the film we hear hints of the electronic instruments an indication that the fight is not yet won. The music like the colors used in the film are used to contrast industrial farming and sustainable farming.

In addition to the music, some images draw parallels between Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

“The Scarecrow” acts as a mission statement of sorts. It characterizes industrial farming as an inhumane and unhealthy means of food production while advocating for sustainable farming. As a result, “The Scarecrow” presents industrial farming in a way that disparages the large corporations that use it, while elevating Chipotle for not. Additionally, it associates Chipotle with fresh and healthy food. Chipotle has addressed these ideas before. In previous branded content, Chipotle has used animation which contrasts independent farming, and industrial farming, focusing in large part on environmental and animal treatment, like “The Scarecrow” does.

The universe of the film is extended through a game that viewers are encouraged to download, which is called The Scarecrow, in which you play as the Scarecrow protagonist, freeing animals and planting food . This allows the viewer to enter the story of the film and become a part in shaping it. Along the way, the game educates the player about food production. Upon completion of the game you earn a free purchase from Chipotle. This is a small first step the consumer is encouraged to take to help “cultivate a better world”.

Stills from the game The Scarecrow

The short film acts as a message not only to the patrons of the Chipotle brand but also to the food industry. They are most clearly addressed via the various advertisements within the film. At various points in the film we see various billboards advertising “all- natural food”. In one scene in particular we see many billboards reading “Eat Crow” meant to be an advertisement for Crow Foods Incorporated, the fictional company created within the film . The colloquial phrase ‘Eat Crow’ is essentially said to someone after they have strongly stood by a position which is wrong. It is similar to the phrase ‘eat your words’. Chipotle is pushing for other brands to admit their wrongdoing and move forward. Chipotle is pushing for people to eat their food but more than that they are pushing for a change in the industry.