How a director can help your TV spot

This is a very graphic example. You might want to avert your gaze.

Years ago, I was working on the tail end of the Wassup! campaign. The ads featured a group of New Jersey guys in a seedy bar. This was right at the height of the Sopranos TV show.

But that wasn’t the inspiration for it. That came from the fact that my partner Justin Reardon was from New Jersey. And the New Jersey “how ya doin” is very funny to say.

So i figured let’s do that. and let’s get one of the directors of the Sopranos to do it. And we did. And it worked out great. The spots were beloved by the public and were great fun to shoot. A really great cast from New York theater actors and stand ups.

What could go wrong?

Well, I started to lean a bit too heavily on the talents of our director and the cast he had chosen. He did the Sopranos! I let him do whatever he wanted to do and it always worked out.

And then we sold this idea for Superbowl 2002. It was one of three potential superbowl spots we shot.

And the underlying idea was kind of funny: Texan doesn’t understand that New Jersey greeting is rhetorical.

And i kind of figured that we could wing this one like the last ones we’d done. the cast and director were great, so we could improv anything.

But we had trouble finding our Texan. So the director went back into the casting and plucked a recently retired air force colonel from Tennessee to play our guy. He’d just started acting.

I was at a complete loss as to how to make the idea work with this actor. Luckily I had total creative freedom. It just had to be really funny.

So i talked to the director. And recommended that i talk to the actor. and i did.

I said to him “how you doin'” and he started saying he was fine and how the airport was so big and the people were so nice. and that made me laugh. so i wrote it down.

we were shooting a bunch of commercials simultaneously, and to be honest, i didn’t fancy this idea’s chances much in the super bowl. it seemed too quiet.

as the shoot date approached i started to fret about my lack of ideas as to how to actually write the ad we were going to shoot in a matter of days. i had no clue.

so i called the director, a bit desperate at this point. i told him i liked the actor’s response to my questions and he said “why don’t we just do the ‘three thing’?”. The comedy principle where you do the exact same thing over and the third time it’s funny.

and that’s what we did.

The spot scored through the roof in the testing to decide what went on the super bowl, Budweiser had five minutes of commercial time in the game. but they produced way more spots than they needed and put the best ones in the big game. the ones that got the biggest laughs in testing went on the game. that was the only criterion: laughs.

And our ad had the good fortune to air right after U2 had just killed it in the half time show. it was ranked number 7 in the USA Today super bowl ad poll everyone used to obsess about winning. Nobody was more surprised than me!

Oh yeah, it was nominated for an Emmy too.

the director was Allen Coulter. He’s currently with Station Films.

7 responses to “How a director can help your TV spot

  1. A good story. It was good when you blogged about it back in July too, but it’s a funny ad, so it happily stands up to a second telling :)

  2. ha. i just realized that dan. i prefer to think of it as a the very FIRST re-telling of the story. this was actually sparked by talking with said director yesterday. hope to work with him again soon. perhaps that will lead to a new blog post.

  3. This is not “how a director can help your tv spot”.
    More like “how talking to the actor can help your tv spot”.

  4. tommy, well it was the director’s idea. not mine. like i said i was a bit mystified as to how to make it work. and all the things that ultimately did work were suggestions of the director. it was an unusual case. i would have handled it differently today.

  5. Vinny,
    Terrific spot – everything about it works.
    Made my day.

  6. Always loved that ad. We hired Allen to shoot a couple of our’s off the strength of it, and I have to say he was really good with re-structuring those too. And he wore a hat not unlike your Texan’s.

    • glad you liked it mark. he’s a master.

      i knew it would all work out. it always does. just sometimes you have to shut up and let the solution work itself out.

      what did allen shoot for you guys? and no way did he wear a cowboy hat! really?

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