Thurber, 27 , was a recent USC film grad in 2000 when he decided to make a digital video short "to make me and ten of my friends laugh." Thurber had submitted the idea to Propaganda Films, and the company backed the shoot with the intention of running it on online film site Atom Films. When the internet bubble -- and Propaganda -- burst, Thurber took the film to production company Hypnotic Films (headed by Dave Bartis and director Doug Liman, director of Go and The Bourne Identity) which shopped it to The Arnell Group. Arnell embraced the concept, as did Micky Pant, worldwide marketing head at Reebok. The agency, without a concrete plan for how the project would end up, ponied up the production money for the director to reshoot the film last summer. "It's not how commercials are made," says Thurber. "There was no creative director, I wrote and directed it. We had great producers. We'd send cuts to Arnell and to Reebok and they'd give us notes. It was much more like how features are made." Since the director had never shot a commercial, he was paired with editor Jason Painter of Los Angeles-based Swietlik Editorial, who was enlisted to cut four short films, a group of :30s, a 60-second theatrical trailer spot and several :15s. Thurber gives props to the editor for helping him through the trials of 30- and 60-second storytelling. "I was only seeing what wasn't there as opposed to what was there," he says.
The director cast ex-New York Giant and one-time pro-wrestler The Mighty Rasta to play Terry Tate. And while Thurber says the actor was sweet and charismatic on set ("kids loved him, grandmas loved him, everyone loved him"), the Rasta did actually bring the pain that the campaign so convincingly captures. "Everyone thought it was CG," laughs Thurber, who says the blows were all captured in camera. The cast was a mix of stunt people and actor friends who were willing to take huge hits from the 6'6", 300 pound Rasta. The film was finished in August, and while Arnell and Pant were pleased with the results, they held off on running the campaign during the regular season. Painter says it wasn't until Christmas that he found out that Reebok planned to break the campaign during the Super Bowl. Thurber and Painter both recount an episode that may have been the deciding factor: Reebok's Pant, the project's biggest fan, screened the film at a worldwide meeting of 400 Reebok staffers. As Pant began to address the crowd, he took a cellphone call on stage. Mid-sentence, Terry Tate rushed from backstage and leveled the marketing chief and taunted him for talking on his cell, drawing wild cheers from the crowd. "It's been beyond my wildest dreams, as you might imagine," Thurber says. But more lies ahead for the director. Thurber recently signed with FM Rocks for commercials representation and has sold a script for a feature called Underdogs to Dreamworks. The film also has the backing of comedian Ben Stiller, who will produce and likely star in the tale of "adult dodgeball." -Teressa Iezzi