Director and actor Jon Favreau is most recognizable for blockbuster films in recent years like "Iron Man" and "Iron Man 2." But he's also a comedic talent behind the lens and in front of it, evident in films like the Will Ferrell vehicle "Elf" as well as the indie classic "Swingers," among others.
This year, he sat in the director's chair for the Super Bowl, on Samsung and 72andSunny L.A.'s teaser and two-minute spots. The films pull out the comedic big guns and feature Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen tossing around ideas and vying to be the "next big thing" before a Samsung exec played by Bob Odenkirk. In the midst of finishing up his guest-directing gig on one of the final episodes of "The Office," Favreau stepped out of the edit bay to speak to Creativity about his experience shooting for the big game.
Creativity: What attracted you to this job? You've done spots before, but what was interesting about this opportunity?
Mr. Favreau: It was nice because it was Seth and Paul and I know both of them. There was some looseness to the script and improvisation was encouraged and that's my background. It felt good to have a creative partnership in conceiving the piece, to work from the scripted material and then build out from that.
The Super Bowl is the only time people go to the bathroom during the game and come back to watch the commercials -- the only time when the commercials are the content. I had been involved more with Super Bowl spots more from when the Iron Man movies were [being promoted] in the Super Bowl. I had the experience of working on it from an editorial standpoint, approving the cuts, being involved as a filmmaker, working with the people at Paramount to do that. But this time was different because there were a lot of different explorations in the concept. We brought in Bob Odenkirk, who's also a lot of fun and who I've known since Chicago, for like 20 years, so to bring these types of creative people to the backdrop of the Super Bowl commercials was exciting. It's kind of an offbeat, unexpected choice and I thought it was a really cool opportunity.
Creativity: As a director what's the key to working with all that talent? It's totally different from a typical commercial shoot with commercial actors.
Mr. Favreau: I think it was about finding a group of people where there was going to be an organic process, about creating something that appears effortless and spontaneous, contrasting all of the huge productions surrounding us, in our ad slot. And, with the exception of LeBron James, who I didn't know before, I knew all those guys, they were coming in as I was coming in. That aspect was not challenging at all; it was quite the contrary. It was effortless and fun.
Creativity: How much did you depart from the actual script?
Mr. Favreau: For the teaser, we were planning on doing something when they were pitching different ideas, and as we were putting together our own ideas and trying to improvise around the script, we were informed that we couldn't say the word Super Bowl, which we didn't know. And so we built a whole little run joking about that, creating a comedy bit that turned into the teaser spot. That wasn't something we planned, but 72andSunny enjoyed it. It was in the same tone as the actual spot and they found a way to use it even though we couldn't use it on the actual Super Bowl.
And you'll see there's a lot of looseness. Although the basic premise and the scripted material was there creating the structure, we definitely went back and forth and they put it in their own words. We would call in things between takes and from the sidelines, much like we would on a comedy film. You follow a story but then you allow some deviation to see if things could be discovered in the moment. So I think it reflects what was planned ,but a lot of the best moments were discovered moments. And because we ran multiple cameras at the same time, we could use whatever we discovered on the day.
Creativity: Can you talk a little bit about the difference working in spots versus features, for you?
Mr. Favreau: I think that Samsung and 72andSunny had come with a very ambitious idea, with a nice block of time and then additional content, a longer cut. They created a work space that really emulated more what it felt like on a film. But by the same token, there were very specific things that had to be said or not said, or a balance of the way the product was featured. Although 72andSunny and Samsung had worked together clearly before and had a very good creative rapport, we were new to the game so we would constantly check in with each other to make sure although the spot felt loose, we were hitting all the points the spot needed to hit.
But I have to say that what I enjoyed about working with the agency and the client was that they were really concerned with creating entertaining content. That seemed to be the priority. And if the spot had a certain tone and certain entertainment value, that would reflect well on the brand. I really appreciated their confidence.
Creativity: What are your thoughts about a lot of the work being teased online, or running online beforehand?
Mr. Favreau: The Super Bowl's always been a place where people brought their A game to commercials, and people always paid attention, there was always a lot of water-cooler talk about it. But now with social media it becomes a real-time experience. That there are teasers to commercials is kind of mind-bending in a way. The commercials are becoming as much of an event as the sport. I love the conversation that it starts. I love that there's an interaction between the viewers and the content creators. And that's something I've experienced certainly working on super hero movies. Whether it's Comic-Con or Twitter, there's always been a back and forth between the creatives -- the people generating the content, and the people who are consuming it. Everybody has something to say about it, everybody has a vested interest in it. I think the Super Bowl has become a greater event thanks to social media.
Creativity: Do you have a favorite Super Bowl ad?
Mr. Favreau: I don't know. I think the one that I remember the most is the 1984 Orwell Apple ad, with Ridley Scott. That was going back quite a few years, right? That was the year I was graduating high school and I remember seeing that and it felt different from everything else I saw. That's the earliest and most specific memory I have of a Super Bowl ad.