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Hot Spots: Cutting Commercials

Editors showcase creative cuts that tell moving, evocative and unexpected stories for Hyundai, Lenovo, Advil, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and The Bush Foundation.

By Christine Bunish

editing commercials

Edit house: Cut+Run/Los Angeles
Editor: Jay Nelson

Cut+Runís work for Hyundai.
Cut+Run’s work for Hyundai.

The storyline: Jeff Bridges’s voiceover urges viewers to relax, forget everything they’ve been told about compact cars and focus on the TV screen, which fills with kaleidoscopic images composed of fast-talking salesmen, gas pumps, shapely legs, car seats and wheels that ultimately turn into bursts of light. Bridges snaps his finger to release viewers from their trance and introduces them to Hyundai’s 40 mpg Elantra.

Why the spot’s on my reel: “It shows a level of thinking you don’t see in the typical spot. You have to be comfortable working in that genre of psychedelic, hypnotic imagery; it expresses a certain degree of design you have to have in you that comes from a lot of study – I was a painter – and an understanding of the tools.”

The biggest creative challenge: “This was the apex of a larger Hyundai campaign for the Super Bowl. In the offline realm, it was hard to create anything like what you’re going to see in the finished spot. At first, we were building a structure and manufacturing all the imagery from scratch. I built the music bed and used the narrative of the voiceover to create the pace then massaged the imagery over a two-month period as [director] StyleWar shot what he wanted to see in the designs and flow. Nico Knudson, the 3D animator, was the guy who really poured the syrup on the waffles. It was a creative thrill ride for me!”

The biggest technical challenge: “Nico [Knudson] is one of the greatest 3D artists I’ve ever seen – he worked so quickly that he was able to create a lot of kaleidoscopic effects within minutes. Technically that made everything easy for me. I placed live-action imagery into the structure of the spot, and Nico would then bring them to kaleidoscopic life. We went back and forth evolving the spot that way. Managing the transitions from scene to scene and finding a visual relationship between motion and composition was creatively challenging. But when we had to make script or timing changes that became technically challenging as we were working with so many different technology platforms. It was a joy to see images emerge out of 3D, go into my Final Cut system and seamlessly blend into shape. I was lucky to have been a part of the StyleWar process for those two months.”

Input from other creatives: “The agency had some pretty large brains when they came up with a concept as radical as this one. Incorporating the agency’s vision into the final product took a great deal of input from everybody – I was just one of the soldiers on the front line.”

Why the spot works: “There’s no other automotive spot that can compare to this. It was an original idea from the get go and stands out among all the [car spots with] sheet metal and really awesome skids.”

Beyond broadcast: The spot also ran on the web.
Advertiser: Hyundai
Campaign/spot: “Deprogramming”
Ad agency: Innocean Americas/Huntington Beach, Calif.
Production company/city: Smuggler/Los Angeles
Director: Oskar Holmedal (aka StyleWar)
DP: Matty Libatique
DP/car shoot: Paul Laufer
Colorist: Stefan Sonnenfeld, Company 3/Santa Monica
3D animator: Nico Knudson (aka StyleWar)
Online editing/VFX: Flame artist Bill Higgins, The Mill/Santa Monica
Sound mixer: John Bolen, Play/Santa Monica
Acquisition format/camera: ARRI ALEXA
Editing system: Apple Final Cut Pro
Awards: Winner, AICE 2011 “Design” category

Edit house: Pleasant Post/New York City
Editor: Will Znidaric

Pleasant Post spot for Lenovo.
Pleasant Post spot for Lenovo.

The storyline: Lots of people work outside the office, but not everybody is the daring Do Devil who uses his Lenovo ThinkPad tablet to review a PowerPoint document while he’s dangling from a bungee cord attached to a skycrane in downtown LA.

Why the spot’s on my reel: “It’s a single spot with a lot of different editing styles happening. The story has a slow, steady build up and a very deliberate pace, then we reveal the jump and dial up the action. There’s a nice energy to the spot, a real pop and flow with a great story arc and rhythm changes. A lot of different layers make it work.”

The biggest creative challenge: “I had to figure how to heighten the tension of how literally high up the Do Devil was on the skycrane – the viewer had to feel that anticipation as he stepped toward the edge, then the jump and bounce had to have enough energy, vitality and realism to be compelling. I could have taken a straightforward approach, but ended up pushing things with speed ramps and changes and jump cuts to create a sensation of excitement.”

The biggest technical challenge: “We tried to integrate the screen technology practically, but that didn’t work – the stunt jumper got ill and wasn’t able to do all the jumps we planned. We were able to use some POV shots as clean background plates and shoot some greenscreen and tablet screen action later and composite it in. By integrating the greenscreen and tablet screen action with the actual bungee jump footage we made it feel seamless. POV shots over the shoulder of the jumper helped sell the idea that this was really happening.”

Input from other creatives: “We worked closely with our sister company EP*Vision early on about how best to acquire material for the VFX. And we worked together with the agency creatives to shape the rhythm and the story. It was my first time with this creative team, but we quickly realized we were all on the same page and had a lot of fun experimenting with different approaches to get to that place of mutual happiness.”

Why the spot works: “A large part of what makes this spot stand out and be so effective is that it’s so unexpected. People typically use a tablet in very corporate environments – you can think of the most unexpected places to use it and go further and you still won’t get to a bungee jump! We knew we were working on something unique.”

Beyond broadcast: 15-second broadcast teasers for the spot ended with a URL for the YouTube site especially created to showcase the entire commercial from the set up through the stunt.
Advertiser: Lenovo
Campaign/spots: Do Devil campaign, “Do Devil Bungee,” “Do Devil Demolition,” “Do Devil Dirtbike”
Ad agency: Saatchi & Saatchi/New York City
Where to see the spot: www.youtube.com/user/LenovoVision
Production company: Limey/Los Angeles
Director: Scott Weintraub
DP: Morgan Susser
Colorist: Tristan Kneshke, Pleasant Post
VFX lead designer: Maryam Parwana, EP*Vision/New York City
Online editor: Bill Saunders, Pleasant Post
Sound mixer: Tim Korn, Pleasant Post
Acquisition format/camera: RED Digital Cinema’s RED One
Editing system: Apple Final Cut Pro

Edit house: ShootersNYC
Editor: Anthony Marinelli

Advil spot from ShootersNYC.
Advil spot from ShootersNYC.

The storyline: A mom suffering from sinus congestion is trying to read nursery rhymes to her daughter at bedtime when a character clad in a Mucus T-shirt appears to tell her to stop blaming him for her nasal condition and seek a remedy in new Advil Congestion Relief.

Why the spot’s on my reel: “I like the overall feel of it – the storytelling and humor, the performances and chemistry of the mother, little girl and the Mucus character. It’s funny and kind of quirky.”

The biggest creative challenge: “Shooters also handled the production aspects of the spot. So instead of just getting a storyboard, I got to talk to [director] Peter [Odiorne] and the production team and feel part of the process even though I wasn’t on set. Being integrated into production made post that much more seamless.”

The biggest technical challenge: “There weren’t any extreme technical challenges. I used split screens to get matches between some takes, we stabilized the opening dolly shot and put a glow on the type in the product animation to match the voiceover placement.”

Input from other creatives: “Everyone loved the spot the minute they saw the rough cut. Very little changed in the structure of the spot – it was just a matter of holding onto the product shot longer or finding an alternate take here and there.”

Why the spot works: “Because it doesn’t hit you over the head with sell. Although there are a lot of product mentions and the Mucus character talks clinically about sinus congestion, the storytelling aspects of the spot mask a hard sell and make it charming.”

Beyond broadcast: A version of “Bedtime Story” runs on the web.
Advertiser: Advil Congestion Relief
Campaign/spot: “Bedtime Story”
Ad agency: Grey Worldwide/New York City
Where to see the spot: www.shootersnyc.com
Production company: ShootersNYC
Director: Peter Odiorne, Sleeping Tree Films/Ardmore, Pennsylvania
DP: Andy Lilien
Colorist: Lenny Mastrandrea, Nice Shoes/New York City
Conform: Smoke artist Rob Graham, ShootersNYC
Audio post: Inhouse at Grey Worldwide
Acquisition format/camera: Sony PMW-F3 CineAlta camera
Editing system: Apple Final Cut Pro

Edit house: Wild(child) Editorial/New York City
Lead editor: Antoine Mills

Wild(child) Editorial spot for New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Wild(child) Editorial spot for New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

The storyline: Real people recount their remarkable medical triumphs against the odds thanks to the highly skilled doctors at New York-Presbyterian and the personal connections they make with their patients.

Why the spots are on my reel: “It’s rare for a commercial editor to have an opportunity to cut unscripted, real people in spots with this level of authenticity and emotion – and have an opportunity to take a documentary-style approach to editing. The campaign sets itself apart from traditional spots and brings diversity to my reel.”

The biggest creative challenge: “Getting the story, the point of view across in 60 seconds without being too ‘ad-y’ or too pushy. I wove these stories together with a minimum amount of edits to keep the flow and genuine feel as each person shared their experience, so it was all about choosing key live-action moments and finding the right place to gracefully cut to a title card. And, although the stories varied, I had to maintain a certain cadence throughout the five spots in the campaign.”

The biggest technical challenge: “These weren’t technical spots. They were shot in color, and we edited and finished in black and white to create a more emotive message and put the focus on the substance of each story. I set the tone and contrast for the black and white footage, and then the palette was reproduced by the colorist.”

Input from other creatives: “One of the closest relationships I have with a creative is with [agency creative director and the spots’ director] Peter Rabot. It’s rare to get to work closely with a director, and from an editor’s standpoint it’s a bonus. The director is hired to bring forth a vision and often, if he’s not available after the shoot, his vision gets somewhat transformed. So it was a pleasure to be in the cutting room with the person who conceived this campaign.”

Why the spots work: “Because they resonate with viewers on the most basic and genuine level. These people tell their stories with no interruptions, no voiceover, no complicated graphics and no nuances of color to soften them. They’re very stark and real. There’s almost a lack of advertising about them, and that’s what engages viewers. You can tell that these are everyday people sharing true stories that have impacted their lives – you couldn’t act these things, you just couldn’t.”

Beyond broadcast: Mills cut three-minute videos for the web so visitors to nyp.org could hear the patients continue their stories.
Advertiser: New York-Presbyterian Hospital
Campaign/spots: “Amazing Things” five-spot campaign
Ad agency: Munn Rabot/New York City
Where to see the spot: links.wildchildpost.com/public/nypdawn.html
Production company: Lost Highway Films/New York City
Director: Peter Rabot
DP: Maryse Alberti
Colorist: Ron Sciarratta, Company 3/New York City
Online editor: Greg Rubin, Wild(child) Editorial
Sound mixer: Jonathan Helfand, Penny Lane Studios/New York City
Acquisition format/camera: Three ARRI ALEXAs
Editing system: Avid Media Composer
Awards: Last year’s “Amazing Things” campaign, by the same team, was a CLIO finalist in the film/Healthcare category


Edit house: CRASH+SUES/Minneapolis
Editor: Carrie Shanahan

The Bush Foundation spot from CRASH+SUES.
The Bush Foundation spot from CRASH+SUES.

The storyline: How teachers have influenced and inspired today’s young professionals and the important role they are playing in forming the leaders of tomorrow who are still in their classrooms.

Why the spots are on my reel: “I love getting the opportunity to collaborate on work that can be a force for positive change in the community. Plus, I think the spots are well written and well produced and have that shiver factor – they touch you emotionally and trigger memories. I’m a teacher at Miami Ad School and have a two-year-old son, so this theme is important to me on various levels.”

The biggest creative challenge: “All of us at C+S were in on pre-pro, a luxury for which we will walk a mile. The team from Padilla Speer Beardsley and Quiet Island Films, along with Jeff Stonehouse who served as co-director and DP, were very open to our input in the concepting stage, and we were able to provide some suggestions on how best to shoot for the graphic blackboard/dry-erase board effects they were interested in achieving. It’s fun to talk about how to get the best product when the concept is not yet set in stone. Also, Jan Selby, the producer and co-director, cast all real people, including former teachers, and the results were fabulous.”

The biggest technical challenge: “Although Jeff had framed for the animated graphics we needed to add showing the teachers’ names handwritten on a blackboard and dry-erase board, [Flame artist] Adam [Celt] had to animate the type so it hovered over the characters in an intentionally fluid way, then track and composite the names into the footage – a process that took considerable time and finessing.”

Input from other creatives: “The agency was really open and easy to work with, and didn’t give us a lot notes for changes to make. These were not high-budget spots, but they were well crafted at every level.”

Why the spots work: “We knew from the get-go that they were going to have to have the lump-in-the-throat factor, that they were really going to need to remind you of a teacher from your past whom you’ve carried with you. I think through tight writing,
beautiful pictures and some nostalgic graphics they achieve it.”

Beyond broadcast: The spots ran on the web.
Advertiser: The Bush Foundation
Campaign/spots: “Mr. Adams,” “Mrs. Hanson”
Ad agency: Padilla Speer Beardsley/Minneapolis
Where to see the spots: crash-sues.com
Production company: Quiet Island Films/St. Paul
Directors: Jan Selby, Jeff Stonehouse
DP: Jeff Stonehouse
Graphics: Adam Celt, Alex Engelmann, CRASH+SUES
Online editor: Ryan Wheeler, CRASH+SUES
Sound mixer: Tyler Tholl, Echo Boys/Minneapolis
Acquisition format/camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Editing system: Apple Final Cut Pro
Awards: “Best Campaign,” Upper Midwest Emmy Awards

November 26, 2012