Behind the Freakout

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Crispin Porter + Bogusky's latest online adventure for Burger King forces viewers to contemplate the unthinkable: a world without Whoppers. In a web film and series of spots kicking to the site,, CP+B and Smuggler director Henry-Alex Rubin captured the reactions of real Burger King customers who were denied their beloved burger. While the campaign provides entertaining answers to one question —"What if there were no Whoppers?" —it raises others. Were all those people really real? How did the agency and director capture those reactions? Did anyone just say "Oh, OK, I'll have the chicken then"? Here, Rubin gives us the behind the counter perspective on the shoot.

Where did this all take place and how long did you keep it up?

HAR: It was two stores in Las Vegas. We had to use two stores because basically the word would get out so we had to move. What happened was, after people left the store (after being told there were no Whoppers) you'd have to go and grab them and get releases. Once a few people were onto you, you had to move. We were at the first BK for two days and the second one two more days–and a day in between to figure out how to make everything better.

What were the biggest challenges of getting the reactions?

HAR: It was by far the most logistically complex shoot I've ever been on. It wasn't just reality TV, it was tricking real customers with fake BK employees who we had to train to use the machines and how to work the systems. There's a whole complex assembly line of people back there and (actors) had to integrate into a real working bk staff making chicken sandwiches and fries. There was one woman (a BK employee) who was so deadpan we ended up hiring her as part of our fake bk staff. She delivered the line so well. All the other real staff would tend to giggle and I'd demote them to the back.

Meanwhile we were trying to bring the really interesting customers into play. You'd get some great characters—there'd be a guy who would come in and it would look like he's been up all night and he's wearing a velvet fedora and then he steps up and he just wants a chicken filet. Then there were certain people you wanted to avoid who looked too crazy and you knew they wouldn't take the joke too well. The manager knew a lot of the customers and knew who were locals and knew who had good sense of humor and who didn't–I was getting live commentary from the manager. I was also dressed up as manager in training. I would stand around the front a lot to pick out the people who would maybe be OK on camera. Probably one of the most logistically difficult things was not being found out. How do you run after the people who were outraged without another customer seeing you? That was a huge logistical challenge. Also, the BK employee machine is so efficient. When someone would order a Whopper I would have to call it out and say, "OK, this guy in the orange shirt he's a target." When we were doing the series where we replaced people's burgers, on the first day, usually by the time I got message across that the person was a target, he'd already gotten his correct order because the BK assembly line was so lightning fast. I had to ask them to please slow the process down so we could find someone and decide if they were right. Because if we went after someone who wasn't right I could spoil 20 minutes of shoot time and it meant you couldn't go after anyone else. It was delicate work.

But there was so much to it. I could make a six part documentary about it. You should approach everything that way—when everything, every little nook and cranny is interesting and could be a doc in itself. Crispin was open to exploring anything out side of the main story.

Were you worried about pissing off customers? Did anyone freak out a little too much?

HAR: Oh yeah. There was a guy who almost ran over a PA. When we tried to give him the other burger (in the series that features BK employees serving other chains' well known sandwiches in place of a requested Whopper) he threw the burger at my actor's head and went out and jumped into his 4x4. PAs were falling over themselves trying to get to him to tell him but he started speeding out of the parking lot and a PA had to literally dive out of the way. There was a handful who obviously had other stuff going on and we couldn't use them. But mostly everyone took it in stride.

We had a whole support system there to give people BK rewards afterwards. At the drive-thru people tended to scream harder—I guess they felt they were more anonymous. But when they drove up we apologized profusely—I would do it, or Drew my producer would. We wanted to make sure they understood tit was an experiment and gave them tons of Burger King food. It wasn't meant to be mean spirited; we didn't want to make people look bad. I was impressed that BK went for it. They were really good sports. That's what shocked me the most about working with Crispin—it was amazing how much trust there was from the client.

Was everyone really real?

HAR: Crispin wanted to do it with all real people. Going in, I said that that's dangerous; I said why don't we get some plants. I didn't tell my actors they were plants because I didn't want the performances to change. But I did send in fake people to be outraged. But we had a philosophical discussion and said we really got the best reactions from real people so we cut out everyone who was fake. It was my insurance policy. I didn't know – I had to see it to believe it.

Was anyone just not bothered?

HAR: Yeah, some people weren't. Mostly women were like OK sure I'll get the chicken. But we did get a lot of lectures – like who's responsible, this is really stupid. People have really strong opinions on fast food, I learned.

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