Director Jody Hill of Caviar is about to close the book on Kenny Powers, the character he conceived in a baby pool with actor/writer Danny McBride for the HBO series Eastbound and Down, and who appeared in a series of risque efforts for K-Swiss, out of 72andSunny.
Hill recently completed K-Swiss' "magnum fucking opus" for Blades, the final installment of the campaign (which also included a cut of this KP-cartoon bonzana we just debuted), and he's in the midst of the final season of Eastbound and Down.
Here, the director reflects on the unique agency-brand-creator collaboration that allowed K-Swiss's unforgettable piece of commercial magic to happen--and why it's not likely to happen again. He also shares the story on another interesting brand-meets-Kenny moment, Korean carmaker KIA's appearance in the last episode of Eastbound and Down, as well as what else is in his cinematic future, including a film featuring another talented commercials director, Randy Krallman.
Creativity: So two major Kenny Powers vehicles are coming to a close. Can you tell us about your thoughts on ending each? Whose idea was it to put Kenny Powers in a Steve Jobs-like black turtleneck?
Jody Hill: It's sad to see both things go but without death, life wouldn't mean as much. We've had a good run with both things and a lot of that goes to our friends at 72andSunny. The black turtleneck was all them. I can safely say that the ending of the K-Swiss campaign and the ending of Eastbound and Down are nothing alike.
C: Did the campaign end as you would have liked it to? In an ideal world, how would it have come to a close?JH: The campaign ends perfectly with Kenny Powers on the moon and in a hot tub full of Martian babes. I think that's about as big as you can get and I feel like it's true to the character as well.
C: You've shot other commercials before, but this particular partnership with K-Swiss and 72andSunny-- because it so closely involved the Kenny Powers character--must have been markedly different. Can you tell us about the pluses and minuses of such a collaboration in terms of working with an agency?
JH: 72andSunny is a great agency and Matt [Murphy] and Glenn [Cole] are really funny creative guys. They really opened up the door and let us come in and trash the place. We agreed to do the campaign if they wouldn't censor us and for the most part that was true. I have never had that experience in commercials before and I seriously doubt if I ever will again. You can really draw a parallel between how much freedom you get to how good the agency is. It's almost like they know it's good so they don't feel the need to micromanage.
C: Do you think other brands could stand to benefit from this sort of partnership? What sort of agency does it take to create something like this?
JH: An agency has to have balls and they have to be able to trust the talent they hire. I don't think everyone can get away with it because you have to know that your scripts and ideas are tight. The commercials I have worked on that suck the most are the ones where they try to control the campaign the most. It's really refreshing to work with the guys at 72andSunny. When they have ideas, they usually make the spots better and that's rare.
C: Having the brand/K-Swiss aspect come into it--how did that affect your creative process, on the good side, and the bad side?
JH: It was a really positive experience because David [Nichols] the CEO of K-Swiss was a really cool guy who wasn't afraid to take chances. Sure we had to sell the shoes, but that just provided us a subject to bounce jokes off of.
C: Throughout the campaign, how did you prevent Kenny's character from getting cleaned up or dumbed down? Was there anything Kenny would have done in real life (on the show) that he couldn't do on K-Swiss?
JH: Danny and I set that up in the beginning of the campaign. Kenny being himself was part of the deal or we wouldn't do it. Obviously Kenny couldn't snort coke off a K-Swiss while a hooker holds it between her tits, but beyond that, we got to do pretty much whatever we wanted.
C: What sort of feedback did HBO have on Kenny's character, as it pertained to the K-Swiss campaign? What were the challenges in bringing both brands together?
JH: I'm not aware that they had any feedback other than they thought it was funny.
C: Did working on the K-Swiss campaign affect your creation process on Eastbound and Down—in terms of character development, any other decisions you made on set? JH: Not really, but we didn't write these spots so our main contribution was to just show up and try to be funny. On the show, Danny and I write everything and produce the show so that's a whole thing. This was kind of like just the playtime.
Can you tell us your favorite moments of the campaign?
JH: During the MFCEO campaign, there was a fountain made of Kenny Powers holding a trident and peeing in a mermaid's mouth. The water was the pee. It was so offensive that the NFL banned it so it never made the cut. That has to be my favorite thing, not just of the campaign, but ever in life.
C: Can you describe what your partnership with Danny McBride is like? What's your collaboration like?
JH: Danny and I feed off of each other. He's the only guy I trust on my jokes. He has his strengths and I have mine, but the product that comes about is something better and different than either one of us could come up with on our own. Usually it involves trying to make each other laugh and saying the most fucked up things we can come up with. Danny is my best buddy and the funniest guy in the world so he brings a lot to the table. It's easy to imagine him saying lines when you're looking at him.
C: On the last episode of Eastbound and Down, Kia plays an interesting role. Can you tell us a little about working the brand into the script? Was that product placement? How did you choose Kia to become involved? Any challenges in how this played out?
JH: It definitely wasn't product placement. We never do product placement in the show. Sometimes we write in products that we want to use as story points or jokes, but we never accept money to use products in our shows or movies. Kia was nice enough to let us use their name after we had written it into the script. We simply wrote that Ashley Schaffer [Will Ferrell's character] has gone from owning a BMW dealership to a Kia dealership, and they were cool with that. I personally never had any discussions with Kia, but one of our producers did, and Kia was super cool and didn't ask us to change any of our content. If they would have we probably wouldn't have used them.
What are you working on now, advertising-wise?
JH: Nothing in the pipe line right now. I'll probably do something when I'm finished editing Eastbound.
C: What about in the film world? You're producing Bullies, also starring Danny McBride. But I also noticed that Randy Krallman has signed on to direct. He's a favorite of ours--how did he get on board?
JH: I'm making a film at Warner Brothers that hasn't been announced yet. We were a fan of Randy's work and when we met him, we knew we had found a kindred spirit. Randy is a really smart guy and he's not some phony.
C: Anything else you're working on that we can look forward to?
JH: Danny and I just shot a Tenacious D video with Jack [Black] and Kyle [Gass]. It should be pretty funny.