Element79's Hurry-up Offense, or How to Make a Super Bowl Commercial in Four Days

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Pre-Super Bowl production is usually wild and wooly, but especially so in the case of Chicago's Element79, which took an idea and executed it for the big show in under four days. Watch the spot, a tribute to the achievements of African-American coaches Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, here, then read chief creative officer Dennis Ryan's timeline and account of the wild ride. -Ed.

Monday, January 29th
"So this past Monday morning around 11am, I dropped by the office of Phil Gant, a group creative director with the 'been there/done that' resume of a lifelong adman (ECD BBDO Chicago & Detroit, principle of Intersect Urban) that I hired to handle our Retail accounts. Among other small talk, I mentioned a project the agency was working on should Colts QB/Gatorade spokesman Peyton Manning win the Super Bowl. That's when Phil said "I've got an idea for a Super Bowl spot."

"His idea was basically to show a variety of people watching the game on TV...a variety of black people. We'd then super "Who's Winning" followed shortly by "Who Cares?" and then "This is History" as we see Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. A nice simple spot commemorating another barrier broken. As Phil put it, 'I think things like this matter to people.'"

11:05: Ryan vamps the spot to Management Director Lisa Groot, who immediately calls Ann Mukherjee, VP Marketing, Corn Division at Frito Lay.
11:08: Ann calls back with CMO Jaya Kumar on the phone. Ryan vamps again, Jaya approves.
11:15: Production starts
11:30: Creative Director Scott Smith—an accomplished filmmaker outside of his 9-5 ad job—learns he must drop everything for his first Super Bowl spot...as a director, not an art director.
11:45: Executive producer Cheryl Lindquist gets on board, recruits associate producers Brandy Jenkins and Matt Abramson.
Noon: Ryan actually types the script.
3pm: The Chicago Story Company (STORY) signs on to help with production (assemble the crew, DP, etc). Executive Producer Mark Androw and line producer Mary Ann Dezulkis quickly assemble crew of thirty-five.
3pm: Tenner, Paskal, Rudnicke casting signed on. They promise forty people, which an hour later became 100 and by the next morning's session was a pool of 150 people.

Tuesday, January 30th
10:30am: Casting starts
1pm: Begin pursuing CBS play-by-play talent Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.
3pm: Editor Kim Salter, her assistant Heather Bartholomae and producer Kristin Branstetter from the Whitehouse arrive to discuss finish details, back out schedule from ship.
4pm: Joel Corelitz, composer and owner of new company Underscore Music is recruited to score the spot.
7pm: The cast is approved and location options are narrowed down for the next morning's scout.

Wednesday, January 31st
2am: Storyboard artist Matt Paoletti delivers final frames via e-mail.
4am: Ryan finishes assembling board for client, to gain internal, legal, NFL and network approval.
7am: Meeting at Story Productions to begin location scout in South Side: convenience stores, churches, bungalows.
Noon: Auditioning local VO should Nantz and Simms fall through.
Evening: Coordinating shooting day, client schedules.

Thursday, February 1
5am: Call time at convenience store on far South Side (111th Street).
Morning: Shoot in church with outstanding DP Pete Biagi. Nantz and Simms signed, phone patch from CBS truck in Miami.
10am: Client Brian Graybill arrives on set. Later that day in Dallas, bad weather keeps Mukherjee from getting to Chicago. Brian will stay with team through rest of process.
All day: Assets from the two state-of-the-art Arriflex D-20 cameras messengered to Kim at Whitehouse for loading. With digital HD footage was inputed directly to edit. Of six Arri D-20's in North America, two were through Fletcher Chicago. This spot also marks e79's HD debut.
8pm: Shoot wraps.
Midnight: Agency and client arrive at Whitehouse to review initial cut.

Friday, February 2
12-4am: Revisions to cut. Corelitz begins tweaking music scores to picture.
4am: Cut locks, EDL to Film Workers, picture to Dave Kaduk, audio engineer at Studio 79. Smith and Brandy Jenkins handle supers with Rob Churchill and color correction with Lynette Duensing.
7am: Final music locked.
8am: Kaduk posts final mix to Filmworkers, they retrack and Vivexx to DG Systems, the dub house.
9am: CBS's shipping deadline

Even after the deadline there was work to do, and the agency was on the edge of its seat until the broadcast.

"Account executives Cece Gobdel, Kate Wiseman, Rachel Stoll and Lauren Campbell worked the phones late into Friday night and early Saturday morning to nail down all the details of NFL approval, network approval, coach approval and all sorts of other approvals that popped up like some demonic game of legal whack-a-mole. On Friday night, they stayed at the office until 11pm, returning at 7am Saturday to keep working the problem: a long stretch they dubbed their "Element 79 Super Bowl Slumber Party," chasing down agents at press conferences, network lawyers enjoying a party on a boat in Biscayne Bay, and clients who were juggling their own approval chainsaws."

Saturday, February 3, afternoon: A CBS production assistant does the final insertion into the broadcast pods only twenty minutes before the uplink to Miami.

Sunday, February 4: Game time:

"So when the broadcast began and our 'floater' position in the first quarter didn't materialize, I figured they went back to their two-minute warning position in the second quarter. Things were still looking great. Our announcer Jim Nantz made good on his promise to set up our spot by once again, specifically referencing the Lovie/Tony achievement to keep it fresh in viewers' minds. Then the next pod of commercials ran without our spot. But they did show the second consumer-generated Doritos ad.

And my heart plummeted to my shoes. The woman who conformed the spot back in New York on Saturday afternoon conformed the wrong one. The two-minute warning came and went without our spot and suddenly, a week's worth of above and beyond effort was rapidly swirling down the drain.

I called Lisa's cell and she cut me off with an abrupt "We're on it, OMD is on it, we're working it from every angle."

Feeling rather nauseous, I wandered around the basement a bit. On the screen, the Bears were driving as the half wound down. They called a time-out.

And suddenly, in a situation where they'd normally stay on the field, CBS cut to a commercial. Our commercial, and only our commercial. Then they went right back to the game.

That is how close we came to losing it all, but somehow, with the combined efforts of dozens of deeply-committed team players, we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat."

Case closed? Not quite yet.

Tuesday, February 6: 2:24pm: CBS faxes official approval of the spot.

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