Sally Hotchkiss_Executive producer_McCann-Erickson/N.Y._Mastercard "The Dog Trilogy"

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Sally Hotchkiss has spent the last six years overseeing production on the Mastercard "Priceless" campaign, from the inaugural classic featuring a boy and father at a baseball game, to recent turns like "Dogs Behaving Badly" and "Guitar." Since then, she's no doubt learned to roll with the punches of producing, pulling off major productions with ease while maintaining a sunny disposition, to boot. Case in point-during this year's Oscar ceremonies, she and the agency debuted "The Dog Trilogy," an unabashedly heart-wrenching story about a dog who gets separated from his owners during a road trip, unfolding over the course of three commercials. That meant a lot of production to cover in just three weeks. "The first step was just trying to figure out the tonality," Hotchkiss explains. Given the Oscar rollout, the agency wanted the spots to be big, gorgeous cinema, which made quite easy their decision to go with Independent Media features and commercials director Scott Hicks. "He was my top choice, by virtue of that fact that we wanted it to be a movie. We wanted to have that warmth and sincerity and he nailed the emotion." For example, Hotchkiss recalls that casting the lead character of Badger the dog wasn't easy at first, but she relied heavily on the director's instincts. Hicks was particularly drawn to one dog named Toby, a scruffy brown-patched mutt with floppy, folded ears. "The dog wasn't perfect," Hotchkiss recalls. "But Scott wanted the dog to be a Charlie Chaplin-esque character, the little tramp. Scott also liked him because he was so graphic, with his colors and the way his head is shaped. We weren't completely sold on him, but during the casting session the dog could do everything on command. It was truly shocking, better than any actor in a way." Planning the itinerary was the next step. The dog's trip begins in the Redwood Forest and goes through cities like Las Vegas, Colorado and Kansas before he reunites with his family in Missouri. In total, there were three destinations per spot, leading to a lot of travel, exclusively by car, to various West Coast locales. Shooting took six days, over the course of two weeks. But most challenging was the post. "We had three commercials we needed to finish-rough cuts, transfer, edit." Then, the music, which the music producer Mike Boris orchestrated in three days (see pg.44)."It was nuts, plus what sandbagged us were all these little holidays that kept popping up in between." The experience on the surface was seemingly rife with logistical complexities, but Hotchkiss recounts it with an easygoing lilt that belies what must be nerves of steel. In reality, "every time I do a commercial I'm worried about this and that, making sure it turns out well-it's my angst," she claims. "But a lot of the time it's my job to make everyone comfortable and make sure they realize they're going to get every shot they need."