Vic Palumbo

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Though only 36, Vic Palumbo is pretty much a veteran in this business, having worked in production for about 17 years. It helps that the Wieden & Kennedy producer had his career figured out before he graduated from Northeastern University in Boston. The one-time business major was going through some confusion when a run-in with a producer from Grey set him on track. "At the time I'd been thinking to myself, 'Is this what the rest of my life's going to be like, working in a bank somewhere?' And then I saw these people who do business but are creative. They're not in three-piece suits. They go on the road, they go on shoots and have a lot of fun. I saw this outlet as a producer, where you kind of manage the budgets and the schedules but at the same time you're creating an end product." Palumbo immediately switched to a communications major and went to work as a PA in spots and as a postproduction assistant in L.A. on the TV show Northern Exposure. The rest is a history of career-building stops in advertising that follow him all over the country.

Physically mapping where Palumbo's advertising jobs have taken him would produce a bunch of zigzags. He got his first taste of full-time producing ads in Boston at boutique agency Houston Effler (now folded into Arnold Communications). Then came three years at J. Walter Thompson/N.Y., where a huge campaign for Trident, as well as that classic Lipton Brisk spot starring a stop-motion Sly Stallone, taught him a thing or two about animation. More important, JWT schooled him in international production. Between the language adaptations, shooting in Prague and Paris, and even coordinating the puppet-making for Brisk (at London-based Loose Moose), "there was no substitute for the global experience you get at a place like Thompson," he says. "Producing for other countries, from the difference in hours to language, you learn how to fend for yourself. Now I feel like I can go anywhere in the world. I knew if I was going to continue to be a producer these were the different pieces I was going to need to fill in," he explains. As a senior producer at Hill Holliday, he worked on Michel Gondry's "Flatworld," for AMD microchips, which at the time was the biggest single spot he'd worked on. The massive effects masterpiece features a 3-D girl who lives in a 2-D world and involved working with Paris effects shop Buf and coordinating shoots of animals and more than 100 actors on bluescreen.

About three years ago, Palumbo moved to Portland to work on wonder-client Nike at Wieden & Kennedy. His Nike spots include the award-winning "Driving Range," which features weekend golfers and Tiger Woods swinging in harmony to "The Blue Danube," and "Hackeysack," from the same golf campaign, in which Woods jauntily bounces a golf ball on his wedge and gives it a final whack into the distance without missing a beat. The spot was shot effects-free and on-the-fly during downtime on the set and took no more than five takes and 10 minutes.

Then came "Freestyle." Palumbo probably has lockjaw from talking about the sound-effects commercial that's good enough to be a hit music video, but the experience illustrates the formula he follows for success. Palumbo assembled a team of all-stars, including HSI director Paul Hunter, Endless Noise musician Jeff Elmassian and Rock Paper Scissors editor Adam Pertofsky, all of whom he chose for their ability to be open-minded and allow for some freestyling of their own. "The personalities of the people on the shoot are very important to me," Palumbo notes. "Part of my job is to make sure everybody in this group has input, has the chance to be heard - somehow, the end product is like a combination of everyone's individual vision. If everybody's willing to be collaborative and open, that creates a space for the spot to evolve into something more."

He remembers the moment it all started coming together, when director Hunter gave some impromptu suggestions to the Clippers' Darius Miles and Lamar Odom. "Paul said, 'Let's put both of you guys together and you can kind of play off each other and pass the ball.' We saw how they started naturally moving to this rhythm, doing stuff in time. It was a similar feeling to what happened with Tiger on 'Hackeysack.' These guys started having a great time. We were kind of like, 'We're on to something.' There was that little bit of a magical feeling, but you didn't want to jinx it, and you'd start looking around wondering, 'Are people seeing the same thing?' " Eventually, of course, audiences did.

"Good ideas can come from anywhere," he emphasizes. "They don't just come from the director or the CD, but everyone on the team. Just because someone's a writer doesn't mean that he doesn't have a good idea of what the visual should be. On every take and every shoot, you never know where the magic lies, and you have to be open to letting it in."

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