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Hot Spots: Cutting Commercials

By Michael Fickes

Editors showcase creative cuts that tell hip, humorous and moving stories for Mountain Dew, Dos Equis, Thera-Gesic, Volkswagen, DirecTV and the University of Minnesota.

Cutting Commercials

Edit house: 3008, Dallas
Editor: Brent Herrington

Advertiser: Mission Pharmaceutical’s Thera-Gesic
Campaign/spot: Home Remedies: “Goat’s Tears,” :10, :15, :30 and :60 versions
Ad agency: Moroch/Dallas
Where to see the spot: www.3008.com (Brent Herrington general reel)
Production Company: STORY, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles
Director: David Popescu
DP: Peter Simonite
Colorist: Rick Stephenson, The Filmworkers Club, Dallas
Online editor: Mark Sullivan, 3008, Dallas
Sound mixer: Matt Cimino, 3008, Dallas
Acquisition format/camera: 16mm film
Editing systems: Avid Media Composer, Avid Nitris DX
Awards: Short-listed for Cannes, TV/Pharmaceutical category; nominated AICE Best in Dallas

Goat and Woman
Playing Violin to Goat
Having Tea
Woman with Goat at Graveside
Goats are not easily moved to tears
despite cut onions and sad songs.

The storyline: An ancient and hilarious spokeswoman hawks goat’s tears as a pain-relieving balm. But goats don’t cry easily. Onions, a scary mask and bad singing produce no tears. But when she shows a goat its mother’s grave – bingo!

Why the spot’s on my reel: “The assignment was to make a humorous 15-second spot, but at the shoot, the talent’s performance inspired the director and creatives to shoot a lot of extra set-ups,” says editor Brent Herrington, a partner in 3008. “The footage inspired me to cut a :60. The work inspired the client to ask for four cuts from short to long. The idea, the humor, the talent and the production team came together perfectly during the shoot and the edit in a way that rarely happens.”

The biggest creative challenge: “To get the most out of the spokeswoman’s tremendous performance. When you cut commercials day in and day out, your instinct is to tell a slick story. But this footage called for something different. Finding the right idea was the challenge. In the end, I used a loose, kind of airy, documentary style that let the performance play.”

The biggest technical challenge: “The technical challenge followed from the creative challenge: keep the story in the documentary world. Some of the techniques included degrading the film a bit and adding grain. The cuts are purposely abrupt, maybe even crude. If the camera framing of a scene was off a bit, we didn’t push in to correct it. In a way, the technical challenge was to resist the urge to edit technically.”

Edit Brent Herrington
Editor Brent Herrington, a partner in 3008.

Input from other creatives: “At the shoot, the agency creatives and the director collaborated and created extra set ups. In the editorial room, all of us – the agency creatives and the director through e-mail – worked and re-worked the spot constantly. In fact, we pulled it out of the online finishing room to flip two scenes. The scene we pushed back toward the end seemed funnier to us, and we wanted to be sure the humor built to a crescendo.”

Why the spot works: “First and foremost, the casting. Sally Tindall was great. She made each scene of the spot great with a dead-on performance every time.”

Beyond broadcast: The spot ran on the Mission Pharmaceutical website and YouTube and as a print campaign.

Edit house: Chrome, Santa Monica
Editor: Hal Honigsberg

Advertiser: Mountain Dew’s White Out
Spot: “Here’s To The Loud,” :30
Ad agency: Motive/Denver
Where to see the spot: www.mountaindew.com/#/ads/, click on White Out.
Production company: Joneses, New York City and Los Angeles
Director/DP: Vincent Laforet
Colorist/online editor: Rob Doolittle, Elephant Post, Santa Monica
Sound mixers: Andrew and Paul Vastola, Rocky Mountain Recorders, Denver
Music composer: Michael “Smidi” Smith, Glue Audio, Los Angeles; Hugh Barton, executive producer; Sean Holt, creative director; Ryan Amen, producer
Acquisition format/cameras: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Flip video camcorders
Editing system: Avid Media Composer Mojo DX

Skateboarder with Mtn Dew
“Here’s To The Loud” was transferred in
black and white; only the bottles appear in color.

The storyline: Launching White Out, a new Mountain Dew flavor selected by fans, the youth-oriented spot features professionally-photographed portraits of four leaders of the White Out fan movement plus self-portraits shot by fans themselves.

Why the spot’s on my reel: “I like the sincerity of the real people in the spot,” says editor Hal Honigsberg. “Every scene was a sincere moment. They weren’t easy to find. I had to sort through eight hours of footage, find the moments and make them into a story. I like the look of the spot, too. We shot in color and then roto’d around the bottles and transferred everything but the bottles in black and white. Only the bottle is in color.”

Skateboarder with Mtn Dew

The biggest creative challenge: “About half the footage was shot by consumers on Flip cameras. A professional shot the rest on a Canon 5D Mark II camera in High Definition. So the quality varied tremendously. Making it look like it fit together was challenging. We had to degrade the quality of the professional images and add grain over the entire spot, dialing it in and out to make a consistent look. We also keyed on the White Out name and added a white-out look to some of the scenes, again for consistency.”

Skateboarder with Mtn Dew

The biggest technical challenge: “Using Avid’s new AMA (Avid Media Access) to ingest the footage without any transcoding. Older Avid technology converts footage to a proprietary format in real time. That would have taken eight hours, probably over two days. The agency supplied a hard drive with 740 clips to ingest with AMA. The process was fraught with technical challenges and took a while to figure out.”

Skateboarder with Mtn Dew
Chrome editor Hal Honigsberg.

Input from other creatives: “I cut in Denver and collaborated by phone and e-mail with the director who was in LA. We put together a cut that moved very rapidly. But as we talked about it with the agency and the client, we decided to re-pace it, slow it down and romance the moments. So we did a second cut that made it more about connecting with people than generating excitement. That cut worked great. We all loved it.”

Why the spot works: “The real-people moments we found give it a feeling of sincerity and immediacy.”

Beyond broadcast: A :60 was made specifically for the Mountain Dew website.

Edit house: Cut+Run, Los Angeles
Lead editor: Eve Ashwell

Advertiser: Volkswagen (VW)
Campaign/spots: Jetta launch; “Dream Team” and “Moonlighting,” :30s and :60s
Ad agency: Deutsch/Los Angeles
Where to see the spots: www.vimeo.com/17336340; www.vimeo.com/17336078
Production company: Epoch/Rattling Stick, New York City and London
Director: Daniel Kleinman
DP: Stuart Graham
Colorist: Stefan Sonnenfeld, Company 3, Los Angeles
Online editor/VFX lead: Giles Cheetham, The Mill, Los Angeles
Sound mixing: Jeff Payne, eleven, Santa Monica
Music: Licensed “Are You Ready?” by RPA & The United Nations of Sound (Richard Ashcroft) for “Dream Team” and “Another Day, Another Dollar” by the late Wynn Stewart for “Moonlighting”
Sound design: 740 Sound Design, Los Angeles; Eddie Kim for “Dream Team,” Andrew Tracy for “Moonlighting,” Scott Ganary, executive producer
Acquisition format/camera: 35mm film, RED
Editing system: Avid Media Composer

Volkswagen engineers and designers labor to create the new Jetta.
Volkswagen engineers and designers labor to create the new Jetta.

The storyline: “Dream Team” chronicles the labors of the engineers and designers creating the all-new Jetta, followed by their utter, and funny, disappointment when the car’s low price seems to belittle their efforts. In “Moonlighting” a young man takes dozens of odd jobs to earn money for a Jetta, only to discover that its low price means he can buy two.

A young man works myriad odd jobs
A young man works myriad odd jobs
A young man works myriad odd jobs
to earn money for a new VW Jetta.

Why the spots are on my reel: “The understated humor and the balance between the narrative and the comedy,” says lead editor Eve Ashwell. “It all works together to pay off the tagline: ‘Great. For the price of good.’”

The biggest creative challenge: “In ‘Moonlighting,’ the challenge was finding the right balance between the odd jobs taken on by the hero – rodeo clown, mascot for a fast-food restaurant, nude model, punching dummy and others – with the twist at the end when he finds he did more work than necessary. The ‘Dream Team’ challenge involved making sure the narrative about engineering and design enabled the viewer to appreciate the difficulties and intricacies of the day-and-night design work without compromising the humor of the pay-off.”

The biggest technical challenge: “’Dream Team’ posed several technical challenges. It was shot on one 35mm film camera and three RED cameras, which shot lots of footage of the time-lapse aging process. Managing that footage was challenging. The spot also uses complex effects, and I tried to pass shots through to the effects artists as early as possible to ensure that they had time to do their work.”

Cut+Run’s Eve Ashwell was lead editor on
VW’s “Dream Team” and “Moonlighting.”

Input from other creatives: “Director Daniel Kleinman and I began collaborating at the shoot, where the edit actually started. It was important to get a head start because of the many special effects, in-camera and in post, necessary for ‘Dream Team.’ It was also useful to me to talk to the director and the effects artist during the shoot and develop an understanding of their visions for the project. About two weeks into the project, I asked another Cut+Run editor, Frank Effron, to become involved to try and ease the workload. Both spots had to be edited simultaneously to meet the deadline, so his involvement was a great help.”

Why the spots work: “The wonderful mix of comedy and narrative. The reactions from the ‘Moonlighting’ hero and the ‘Dream Team’ are exaggerated, yet believable given what they go through.”

Edit house: Splice, Minneapolis
Editor: Chad Nelson

Advertiser: University of Minnesota
Campaign/spots: Driven To Discover; “Amplatz,” “Empty,”“Smarter Grid,” :30s
Ad agency: OLSON/Minneapolis
Where to see the spots: www.ocointeractive.com/pressportal/081210/UMN
Production company: Barry Kimm Productions, Minneapolis
Director: Barry Kimm
DP: Jeff Stonehouse
Colorist/online editor: Michael Sandness, Splice
VFX lead: Mark Youngren; VFX artists Brian Olson, Chris Averbeck, Splice
Sound mixers: David J. Russ and Kelly Pieklo, Splice for “Empty” and “Smarter Grid;” Bryan Hanna, Modern Music, Minneapolis for “Amplatz”
Music composer: Alex Berglund, Echo Boys, Minneapolis
Acquisition format/camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Editing system: Apple Final Cut Pro

Dr. Mattias Persson, Plant Pathology
Plant pathologist Dr. Mattias Persson battles
wheat rust disease in “Empty.”

The storylines: The long-running documentary-style campaign chronicles research conducted by professors and other faculty at the University of Minnesota. This year’s researchers are battling wheat rust disease, engineering a smart electrical grid and searching for cures at a children’s hospital.

Why the spots are on my reel: “I believe in the campaign’s message,” says editor Chad Nelson. “I believe in research and people moving forward as a society and making life better. I also like the idea that we’re telling these stories with the real people who are doing the real work and not actors.”

Energy VFX spark “Smarter Grid.”

The biggest creative challenge: “Making sure that the real people – academics – in the spots don’t come across as cold. In ‘Empty’ for example, Dr. Mattias Persson, in the department of plant pathology, tells his story [about stopping wheat rust disease] as the voiceover. One sequence that stands out for me follows images of empty, dilapidated farm structures. Then the footage cuts to Mattias in an amber wheat field in late afternoon while his voiceover says that saving wheat can prevent global famine. The spot cuts from him to a combine harvester at work to his hand caressing several grains of wheat. It’s a sequence that shows how important the research is to him.”

A huge-looking 3D model holds its own in
a wheat field in “Empty.”

The biggest technical challenge: “The word ‘because’ became a campaign theme highlighting the importance of the research story. It appears in each commercial as a practical or 3D model. In ‘Empty,’ the scene that calls for ‘because’ occurs in a sprawling wheat field with a combine harvesting in the distance. The huge proportions called for a huge-looking 3D model. We shot a plate with the combine and used Cinema 4D to build the model. Then we went over to After Effects for final design, lighting and compositing. The challenge was to make it look like it lived in the same world as the wheat field and the combine.”

Professor Massoud Amin
Professor Massoud Amin explains the
importance of a “Smarter Grid.”

Input from other creatives: “These are quick turnaround spots and so very collaborative. The creatives from the agency are in the room early in the edit. While I go through dailies and pick the selects, we discuss the feelings we want the stories to communicate. We work that way throughout the rough cut. Each spot uses original music. Because I have a musical background, I work with the composer [and] talk about the special moments in the spots where the music can accent the emotion.”

Splice editor Chad Nelson
Splice editor Chad Nelson cut the University of
Minnesota’s Driven To Discover campaign.

Why the spots work: “Because we find stories that can speak for themselves and let them. The Wall Street Journal asked a panel to rate the college and university commercials that run during televised football games and ‘Smarter Grid’ ranked first. The panelists said it conveyed messages about academics, research and diversity without beating viewers over the head.”

Beyond broadcast: The spots appear on the University website and YouTube; print ads and billboards use images from the spots as illustrations.

Edit house: now., New York City
Lead editor: Nelson Leonard

Advertiser: DirecTV
Campaign/spots: DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket; “Cheesehead,” “Cabbie,” “Waitress,” “Cops,” “Voodoo,” :30s
Ad agency: Deutsch/New York
Where to see the spots: www.youtube.com/directv then search for NFL Sunday Ticket plus the name of the commercial.
Production company: Station Film, New York and Los Angeles
Director: Harold Einstein
DP: Barry Markowitz
Colorist: Billy Gabor, Company 3, New York City
Online editing and VFX: Coda Visual Effects, New York City; Paul Agid, creative director and Flame artist; Toni DiMauro, Flame artist; Michael Nutt, designer
Sound mixer: Steve Rosen, Sonic Union, New York City
Music: Stock
Acquisition format: 35mm film
Editing systems: Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro

NY Cabbies
VFX were required to create this shot in DirecTV‚s “Cabbie.”

The storyline: The DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket service delivers every NFL game to a subscriber’s TV, smart phone or electronic tablet regardless of where they live. The campaign promoting the service shows fans who have moved or are traveling to other cities watching and rooting for their hometown teams. When the local fans catch them, though, it may be time for the ref to throw a flag.

Why the campaign’s on my reel: “Anyone who has ever followed an NFL team understands how completely wrapped up you can get in your team. The spots capture those feelings perfectly,” says lead editor and now. partner Nelson Leonard.

The biggest creative challenge: “Deciding what jokes to take out. In ‘Cabbie,’ for instance, a New York City cab driver and Giants fan with a Russian accent can’t stand it that his fare, a couple, is watching the [Dallas] Cowboys using their mobile phone connected to DirecTV. When they cheer a touchdown, he hits the brakes, and the couple smashes into the plastic barrier. ‘We’re here,’ growls the cabbie. The couple ends up standing in front of a vacant lot [and] an abandoned car. The bewildered wife asks: ‘This is Central Park?’ Funny moment. But to make it work, we had to take out another funny cut of the cabbie screeching off and shouting ‘Go Giants.’ We wanted to keep it all. But it looked too rushed, and you didn’t have enough time to appreciate the Central Park joke.”

The biggest technical challenge: “’Cabbie’ opens on a New York City cab driver sitting on the hood of his cab talking about respect for New York City. Beside him, weeds were growing through the sidewalk and the grass was dead. You could see gray sky and billboards in the background. The client wanted to get rid of the billboards and add a New York City skyline in the background and landscaping in the foreground. We sent rough comps from an Avid to Coda [Visual Effects] along with stock photos, and we literally changed the location.”

Lead editor Nelson Leonard
Lead editor and now partner Nelson Leonard
cutting DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket campaign.

Input from other creatives: “I like to show rough ideas to a lot of people – the director, agency, client, even other editors [here] – early in an edit. I like to see how people respond: Do they laugh or just smile? I also solicit a lot of opinions: Which cut gets the biggest laugh?”

Why the spots work: “The idea that absolute fan loyalty is a little crazy is something every football fan can appreciate. The casting, writing, art direction and directing came together in just the right way to put across the idea.”

Beyond broadcast: The spots appear on DirecTV’s YouTube page.

Edit house: outside edit + design, New York City
Editor: Jeff Ferruzzo

Advertiser: Dos Equis (Dos XX) beer
Campaign/spots: The Most Interesting Man in the World: “Cliff Diver” and “Ice Fishing,” :30s
Ad agency: Euro RSCG/NY
Where to see the spots: www.dosequis.com
Production company: @radical.media, New York City
Director: Steve Miller
DP: Bryan Newman
Colorist: Tom Poole, Company 3, New York City
Online editor/VFX lead: Johnny Starace, outside edit + design, New York City
Sound mixer: Eric Thompson, Berwyn Audio, New York City
Music composer: Brett Fuchs, Berwyn Audio, New York City
Acquisition formats: 35mm and 16mm film
Editing system: Apple Final Cut Pro
Awards: Both spots were nominated for Hollywood Post Alliance (HPA) awards.

Dos Esquis
The Most Interesting Man in the World emerges from “Ice Fishing”; Right: The Most Interesting Man in the World concludes each Dos Equis spot with, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

The storylines: In “Cliff Diver,” the tongue-in-cheek Most Interesting Man in the World dives into the ocean as women at a party wave and admire him. Voiceover: “He is the life of parties he has never attended.” In “Ice Fishing,” he emerges from an Eskimo’s fishing hole, holding his catch in his bare hands. Voiceover: “He wouldn’t be afraid to show his feminine side – if he had one.” The Most Interesting Man doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does he prefers Dos Equis, telling viewers, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

Why the spots are on my reel: “Because of the creative – great writing and great storytelling – and also because of the success of the campaign,” says editor Jeff Ferruzzo, who is also a partner at outside edit + design. “The Most Interesting Man spots went from a regional effort a few years ago to a national campaign today, while increasing sales. I’m also proud that each of these commercials seems to become part of popular culture.”

The biggest creative challenge: “Making the footage of the man’s exploits seem like authentic clips from archives of old newsreels. When you study newsreel footage, you see that there is no continuity. No one thinks about what scenes come first and second. That means that I have the freedom to pick the moments that play off of the voiceover’s absurd statements without worrying about continuity. Of course, I do have to find the right moments.”

The biggest technical challenge: “Each commercial features four vignettes shot with two cameras, a 35mm or 16mm film camera, depending upon the story, and a 16mm Bolex shooting reversal film. Sometimes the footage is Super 8. The challenge is finding the right visual stories from a ton of materials and then fitting four completely different vignettes into 20 seconds.”

Jeff Ferruzzo, an editor and partner
in outside edit + design.

Input from other creatives: “Steve Miller, the director, encourages collaboration. He brings a ton of ideas to the shoot and solicits ideas from everyone. The original storyboards are a guide, but all of us are always working to make the vignettes better.”

Why the spots work: “Because of the idea behind the campaign, the visual concepts and the way the writing plays off of the visuals. When you think about it, the campaign uses a 60-year-old man who isn’t really selling beer to sell beer.”

Beyond broadcast: The spots run on the Dos Equis website (www.dosequis.com).

December 6, 2012