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Making Commercials: Ohio Lottery Steals The Scene

In a fun, stylish commercial, the Ohio Lottery re-makes Tom Cruise’s famous vault break-in from Mission Impossible

By Michael Fickes

Suspended from ceiling

The actress performing the “Heist” is suspended from the rotunda of the Carnegie Arts Center.
Photo by: Bob Gerding/©PPS Group

Remember the Mission Impossible scene in which Tom Cruise breaks into a CIA vault by diving from the ceiling wearing a harness? “Heist,” a 30-second commercial for the Ohio Lottery from Northlich/Cincinnati, re-created the famous sequence, with a few variations, for less than $100,000, a pretty good price in this day and age.

The intruder in this spot is a beautiful blonde thief, and the target is a Diamond Dazzler scratch-off lottery card guarded by a secure laser net capable of detecting any movement on the floor of the museum.

The shoot posed several challenges that Zack Resnicoff, a director, cinematographer and writer from New York City and Los Angeles (www.zackresnicoff.com), and DP Jeff Barklage of Cincinnati-based Barklage Cinematography (www.barklage.com) worked out during preproduction. The spot was produced by Deborah Price at The PPS Group in Covington, Kentucky. (Watch the spot in “Gallery” at www.cinbb.org.)

Shooting a scene.

DP Jeff Barklage (left) and director Zack Resnicoff shooting “Heist”.
Photo by: Bob Gerding/©PPS Group

Head First

First, the spot required a robust physical effort from the talented and agile actress who wore a special harness to dive from a stained-glass ceiling high above the floor of the Carnegie Arts Center in Covington.

Since the Arts Center could only schedule one nine-hour day for the shoot and to limit the discomfort for the actress, Resnicoff and Barklage tried to minimize the number of dives she had to make by shooting with two RED One cameras outfitted with Cooke prime and zoom lenses. Barklage ran a camera from a platform up near the stained-glass ceiling, and Resnicoff operated the other on the museum floor. “Even with the two cameras, we needed 18 takes,” Barklage recalls, and the actress felt the physical stress.

The spot opens as the thief, clad in a black body suit, dives headfirst toward the museum floor from the stained-glass rotunda high above. The actress wore a Hong Kong harness, which enabled her to alter her position from upside down to prone to straight up simply by bobbing her head.

The upper camera shot a lot of the initial dive footage using a Fisher dolly with a sliding glide mount that enabled the camera to slide four feet beyond the platform’s railing and capture dramatic shots straight down.

A cable from a motorized reel on a platform high up in the rotunda connected to the harness and lowered the actress to within inches of the floor. In the spot, her head bounces to a stop just above the laser net surrounding the display that houses the lottery card.

Plunging down

A vertiginous plunge from the museum rotunda.

She raises her head, swivels into a prone position and proceeds to cut a circle of glass from the case. “We used two pieces of Plexiglas: One was solid and one had a hole in it,” Barklage explains. “During a cut, we replaced the solid piece, and it looked as if she had cut out a circular piece of glass.”

In a brief, playful scene, the scene shifts to peer over a security officer’s shoulder at a bank of monitors. Just to the left of the monitor the guard happens to be examining, viewers can see the thief suspended beside the lottery card’s display case. As the officer shifts his head to look at the monitor with her image, the system switches to another view and she disappears. “We shot the various views for the security monitors against greenscreen and keyed them into the scene during post,” notes Barklage.

Lighting Effects Shine

After pretending to cut the glass, the thief pauses to admire the lottery card which Barklage lit using marine batteries connected to an inverter powering two 120-volt halogen display lamps. A shiny metallic coating on the Diamond Dazzler card reflects the light and gives the impression of a jewel reflecting light from its facets.

Finally, she reaches in and takes the card. With a bob of her head, she swivels until she is vertical with her head down, presses a button on her belt and begins to ascend. About half-way up, she stops. Still hanging upside down, she can’t resist taking a coin and scratching off the lottery card. When she discovers her winnings, she raises her eyebrows in a one-two move made funnier by her upside-down position.

But then she drops the coin. The alarm goes off, and the commercial ends. Viewers are left to wonder whether or not she escaped with her ill-gotten gains.

While the agency insisted on a daytime shoot to save money, the museum didn’t want its windows blacked out. Fortunately, one of the walls in the chamber had no windows, and that became the background wall.

Breaking into the display

The thief prepares to break into the Diamond Dazzler display.

Nevertheless, light still poured in from the stained-glass ceiling at the top of the dome.

“We put three crew members on the roof with an assortment of 20×20-foot silks, nets and solid materials,” Barklage reports. “They used the fabrics to control the light coming in. The day was cloudy at times and sunny at times, and we had to constantly change the fabrics. When a cloudbank approached, they would radio me. I used a spot meter to check the change and radioed instructions to them.”

For the interior lighting, Barklage supplemented existing tungsten lighting with additional tungsten fixtures to give the warm, golden interior palette characteristic of an older museum.

The network of purplish-pink laser beams protecting the floor of the museum was added in post, but to facilitate the animation Barklage ordered a gel that matched the laser color and blasted the floor around the display case with purplish-pink lights. “After the lasers were drawn in, it looked like the practical lighting was emanating from the lasers,” he explains. Preston Price of The PPS Group edited the spot and created the laser effects with Adobe After Effects.

Apart from the laser net, every effect in the spot was done in-camera and done quickly, like a thief stealing a lottery ticket in the middle of the night.

December 7, 2012