When George Halvorson, Campbell Mithun’s deputy creative officer, told me he had just pitched this year’s H&R Block Super Bowl commercial to Willie Nelson while riding on Willie’s infamous magic bus, I knew cutting this spot was going to be one wild ride. When director Bryan Buckley of Hungry Man boarded the magic bus, it was sure to be one hilarious, wild ride.
After editing the 2002 H&R Block Super Bowl spot with the Coen Brothers — a dark and wry parody of the tax code writing process — I quickly realized this year’s concept with Willie Nelson was profoundly different. Although both commercials would portray a comic nightmare, this would be the only similarity between the two spots. Whereas last year’s storyline was more linear, this year’s offered an open road of editing possibilities. Conceptually, there were many levels of humor to this commercial. As an editor, my goal was to establish the most fitting editorial approach that would create a greater storyline and support the comedic timing that Buckley and the agency had intended. Buckley shot 25,000 feet of multicamera film. Once the dailies arrived, the bus took off on a joy ride that lasted 24/7 without slowing down. Further, Willie’s improvisational spin on much of his performance put the bus into fifth gear.
H&R Block "Willie"
The most important theme throughout the entire editorial process quickly became obvious: less is more. There was a lot of ground to cover in 30 seconds, so Bryan and I felt it was crucial to keep the story simple. The less is more theme continued throughout the logo design, sound design and color correction. Buckley captured various funny bits for the opening of the commercial where Willie is being offered a shaving cream endorsement deal. There were many other great moments in the accountant’s office where he informs Willie that he owes $30 million in back taxes. Although it was editorially alluring to use more footage here, it was important to move quickly through the opening setup in order to allow enough time for the big punch line — Willie’s shaving cream commercial.
It was also essential to separate the general public humor from industry humor. For example, some of the performances from "Joe Ad Guy” in the opening scenes were hilarious to those of us in the edit bay, but would have meant little to Super Bowl viewers who are not in the advertising industry. But Campbell Mithun’s concept provided an ideal opportunity to embellish upon the fact that viewers enjoy seeing behind the scenes. Editorially, I applied visual as well as audio cues to create the production ambience. The first time we take the viewer behind the scenes, there’s a quick cut of a PA holding a slate, transitioning us from the accountant’s office — or the real world — into Willie’s shaving cream commercial. As short as this cut is, it is a fundamental element of the story. Audio cues of "action” and "cut” were utilized to serve as both transitional elements and as a behind-the-scenes reminder. Although at times we felt like we were on a tour bus rather than a magic bus, the stops along the way only fueled the creative process.