Although it can feel like a bit of a dirty word, "branded content" can provide independent filmmakers with an opportunity to excel outside of our comfort zones—and make some money to finance our own work. If you accept the task (and the challenge), there may be some artistic flourishes to showcase behind the for-hire endeavor. If you find yourself able to make the project distinctly your own (working within the guidelines enforced by a major company), then that's the sign of ultimate creative leadership. 

As previously mentioned on last week's Indie Film Weekly, Walmart played a unique part in last night's Oscar telecast—not necessarily in the ceremony itself, but in a few of the creative commercials that accompanied it. Enlisting the authority of three female filmmakers who have each been Oscar-nominated (Nancy Meyers, Melissa McCarthy, and 2018 Oscar nominee Dee Rees), each director was given sixty seconds to make a short film that only very loosely tied into Walmart's corporate mandate.

Each short begins with an appearance by Walmart’s blue shipping box, and from there, all bets are off. Take a look at the three filmmakers' work below.

Dee Rees

As her latest feature, Mudbound, was nominated for four Academy Awards last night—including a nomination for her personally as co-writer of its adapted screenplay—Dee Rees' short went head-on with its adoration of playful sci-fi meant to capture a child's vast imagination.

Co-starring Olympic Gold Medal Boxer Claressa Shields (the subject of the recent documentary T-Rex), the short stars Mudbound co-star (and two-time 2018 Oscar nominee) Mary J. Blige and was shot by 2018 Oscar nominee (also from Mudbound) Rachel Morrison. Not recommended for our youngest readers who strongly reject parent-enforced bedtimes. 

Nancy Meyers

Trust me: you had our attention at "Hans Zimmer's acting debut." A 2018 Oscar nominee for Dunkirk, the great composer stars as a great composer (himself?) struggling to come up with the perfect theme for a scene he's working on. What could possibly put an end to the man's frustrating creative drought?

Nancy Meyers' film actually finds a pretty funny way to incorporate the Walmart blue box in the short as a matter of circumstance rather than artistic inspiration; it's used as a matter-of-fact prop by members of Zimmer's real-life collaborators. Seeing Zimmer smile is a joy unto itself. 

Melissa McCarthy

Like Blige, Keala Settle both performed at the Oscars (singing the nominated song, "This is Me" from the film, The Greatest Showman) and appeared on one of its Walmart-branded commercials. Disregarding the fact that no one should ever touch a box left unattended on a subway platform, Settle plays a woman who dives into said box and is transported to a middle-school talent show. She whispers inspiration to a nervous girl who's about to sing a song (Sia's "Bird Set Free"), and from there director Melissa McCarthy shows us just how far positive reinforcement can take us.

This is the most uplifting of the three shorts and the one most reliant on the power of that peculiar blue box. This is not McCarthy's first time behind the camera; she directed four episodes of Mike & Molly, her hit TV show.

Which of the three shorts was your favorite? How do you feel about the Walmart-inspired idea overall? Let us know in the comments below.