SPECIAL REPORT: Agency Producers and Art Buyers

Without these go-getters, those great ideas would be nothing but ideas. Creativity gets the dish from some of advertising's most nimble television and print production maestros.

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Volvo "Video Game"
Daniel Fried
Broadcast Producer
Volvo "Video Game"

It's not unusual for agency folks to be caught spending too much time on their video game consoles. In the case of Messner producer Daniel Fried, his reputation for being something of a game freak actually turned out to be a big plus for the agency's new "Pop Culture" campaign for Volvo, which attempts to bring the brand into the embrace of a hipper, younger set. While one spot takes its cues from the music video world, via clips maven Dave Meyers, the second, produced by Fried, takes an even more innovative turn, straight into the video game universe of the upcoming Xbox game RalliSport Challenge 2, which features, among other vehicles, the Volvo S40.

The spot follows a red model as it swerves through various landscapes -- looking, feeling, and sounding like a real racing game, as if someone forgot to switch the monitor back from game mode. That's because instead of tapping an effects house to create the spot, Fried went directly to video game gurus to recreate the footage for the commercials format. "It was a completely unique way of producing a commercial," Fried notes. "I really didn't know going in, how I was going to approach it." Fried originally got in touch with Dice, the creators of the game on which the spot is based. Too busy getting the new title on the shelves, they referred him to another gaming company, Seattle-based Valkyrie Entertainment, which ultimately signed on to the project.

Unlike traditional effects or animation, creating the footage wasn't a frame by frame process. Basically, Valkyrie directors Joakim Wejdemar and Luke Anderson held marathon sessions playing the game, recording every move digitally and then sending those out as dailies to Fried and Mad Mad Judy editor Steve Hamilton. However, the footage featured the decal-decorated blue car from the actual game, while the client wanted a logo-free red model for the spot. Luckily, giving the car a new paint job was almost as simple as pushing a button. "Because we were dealing with a video game environment, they were able to just inject the new car into the video game engine so that it just literally replaced the car without having to change all the scenery or do any rotoscoping," Fried explains. "Most of the spot is game footage. The only difference from the game is that we remodeled the car from the ground up."

Only a few scenes had to be created from scratch: one, the unavoidable product shot that highlights the car's interior and ultra-slim center stack and the unavoidable Volvo "safety" shot, in which a driver emerges from the car completely unharmed, even after some serious flips and tumbles. Achieving the latter clearly illuminated the disconnect between the gaming and advertising world. "The communication process was certainly different," Fried recalls. "I had to clarify very basic terminology because sometimes a word in our business meant something entirely different in theirs. For the driver scene, we'd been talking forever about how the great thing about that scene is that it's seamless. When we said there wouldn't be any cuts, they took that to mean there wasn't going to be a cut in the action, that the action would continue but we could cut to a different angle." There were other nail-biting moments, like when in the 11th hour, Fried got a call from Valkyrie saying that the race track they had recorded "broke." "We had absolutely no understanding of what that meant," Fried now laughs. "We got on the phone, 'Can we fix it?' To this day I couldn't tell you exactly what happened, but they went back in, found the same tracks, played the game again. They couldn't get the exact moves but they knew where on the track they needed to be and how to get the same angles. They're good enough gamers that they were able to recreate almost identically the shots that we needed." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Mastercard "The Dog Trilogy"
Sally Hotchkiss
Executive Producer
Mastercard "The Dog Trilogy"

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. "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." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Dr Pepper "Be You"
Josh Rabinowitz
Executive Music Producer
Young & Rubicam/N.Y.
Dr Pepper "Be You" Campaign

Soon after the birth of his daughter two years ago, Y&R/N.Y. executive music producer Josh Rabinowitz was off and running. Frazzled and still wearing his hospital ID bracelet, he sped off to New York's Sony Studios at 1:00 am to catch up with LL Cool J to record a rap track for the Dr Pepper "Be You" campaign. Such a scenario has been all too common in Rabinowitz's three years overseeing the music production on the series, which has showcased recording artists performing the campaign's "Taste of Individuality" theme as it morphs into hip hop, salsa, '50s pop and country music variations.

Unlike other sodapop pop fests, this one hinges on all-star salutes in which current artists give props to musical pioneers. That means Rabinowitz has had to maneuver his way around not one, but two sets of busy schedules. LL Cool J performed his spots duet with rap forefathers Run-DMC, with whom the producer also clocked memorable studio time (Dr Pepper was Jam Master J's final recording before his death). Other pairings include Cyndi Lauper and Anastacia and most recently, country crooners LeAnn Rimes and Reba McIntyre. Although the job jets him cross-country to L.A., Miami and Nashville, travel is hardly the problem for N.Y. native Rabinowitz, who actually spent a lot of time on the road with his own band The Second Step after graduating in poli sci and music from Tufts and The New England Conservatory. The real trouble kicks in with the tunes. After pow-wowing with the creative director (in the last three years, Howard Kaplan) on the musicality of lyrics, Rabinowitz checks in with the composers at Crushing, who sculpt the song into the appropriate genre. Once the demos pass the labyrinthine agency/client approval process, Rabinowitz presents them to the artist, often only to have them knocked down. This happened on the campaign's launch with the Black Eyed Peas and then the next year with LL Cool J. "He said, 'I'm not gonna do this,'" Rabinowitz recalls. "'No offense to anyone, but I want to do it my way. I want the cool shit that's happening now.'"

So the producer 180'd into the studio, this time with LL Cool J's famed programmers The Dream Team. Rabinowitz has also collaborated with hitmaking producers like Dan Duffy, for Rimes and McIntyre, and Corey Rooney for Thalia. "Corey Rooney's a big time record producer who probably gets hundreds of thousands per song," he notes. "But he had a different style from what I'm used to. He took two days to do something that might normally take a few hours with advertising music companies. Not to say I could do what he does, but it was an eye opener, and it came out great." Overall, "my biggest concern is making sure the artist and the client are both happy," Rabinowitz says. Not an enviable task, considering the bloated egos he must bump into. "Advertising in general is dealing with egos," he explains. "Creative people, clients. Recording artists certainly can be egotistical, but in general, they understand they're doing a Dr Pepper ad that will air on the Golden Globes or the football playoffs. It's huge. They want to make sure this thing works and it's good. And I think people realize that that's my interest as well." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Scion by State of Grace
David Murphy
Art Buyer and Senior Print Producer
ATTIK/San Francisco
Scion Print Campaign

If you haven't already noticed the growing presence of bizarre boxes on wheels known as Scions roaming the streets of L.A. or other tuner-infested neighborhoods, maybe you've paused before the cult vehicle's stunning advertising in magazine outserts or on billboards from coast to coast. The print ads feature the work of under-the-radar talents apparently taken by the Scion muse: street artists who use the car as a sheet metal forum for their graffiti stylings, and others who depict the car itself on the most unlikely canvases -- tattooed on a man's back, or shot in a police line-up. "Basically, the concept behind the campaign is 'Scion by,' which appears at the top of every ad, along with a different person or career," explains ATTIK art buyer and senior print producer David Murphy. "Scion as a brand is very into the personalization and customization of its cars so these ads are supposed to be different individuals' interpretations of Scion."

Highlighting that concept has meant that since the campaign launched last fall, Murphy has had to pull off several small miracles, given that the bulk of the work consists of the multi-faceted outserts, fold-out posters comprised of not one but up to 16 separate eye-popping creative treatments "by" not just photographers and illustrators, but also local tattoo artists like State of Grace, anime talents from UK-based Me Company and even real-life SoCal tuners. Murphy has also helped steer the works of fictional artists inspired by Scion -- beyond the police shooter, there's a thermal imaging specialist, the would-be installation artist who seems to take his cues from British shockstar Damien Hirst, submerging the Scion in a giant aquarium, and a paparazzo who shoots a day in the life of a Scion and its owners (who bear a striking resemblance to J. Lo and an NBA star). Murphy not only negotiates with up to three different artists per treatment; he also coordinates locations, casting, billing, and hiring of freelance creatives. Add to that the frequent trips to Dallas-based Williamson printers -- without careful press checks, the gritty, uncoated stock on which the outserts are printed seems like it could bleed the hell out of the richly detailed images. Oh, and did we mention? Murphy is also the Scion account manager. "I would say that this has been the most rewarding project to date in my career," Murphy notes, sounding a bit like he's taken the podium at the Oscars. "Each piece has had its challenging moments. I'm so proud of the designers that worked on them -- Simon Needham, Stan Zienka, Julian Quayle. I'm proud of the clients and their openness to let us do this kind of work, and I'm really proud of myself because these weren't simple things to do. They were really complicated and they came out beautifully." If it sounds at all like he's patting himself on the back, we're smacking it heartily with him. (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Infiniti's multi-textured approach
Rob Beckon
Art Buyer and Print Producer
Infiniti QX56 Print Campaign

Few photographers familiar with shooting cars also have extensive experience with still-life work, but it was TBWA/Chiat/Day art buyer Rob Beckon's job to find such a person for Infiniti's print campaign for the QX56. The three design-driven ads were to play off of the rich textures and surfaces found in the SUV -- wood, metal and leather -- and juxtapose the surfaces with interior and exterior shots of the vehicle. Production allowed for the textures to be photographed separately from the vehicle, enabling producers to hire two photographers, but Beckon and art director Andy Nodfors felt that it was important to find one photographer to do both shoots, keeping a unified style throughout the material. "It makes things more cohesive," says Beckon. "That one photographer knows what everything is going to look like, and he knows how to match the lighting. It's really ideal to have one person who knows the whole story."

The agency called in a small mountain of photographers' books, both American and European, but found German photographer Igor Panitz in a photo reference book. "He just has a really fresh but classic approach, and it's very luxurious and rich," says Beckon. "A lot of his work used texture." Panitz had never worked in the U.S. before, but he came complete with an all-American work ethic that made for an intense yet relaxed atmosphere on the set that contributed to a smooth five-day shoot. "We were very happy with his work, and he stayed true to his vision," says Beckon.

After two days in the studio, the shoot moved to the three locations chosen to complement the textures in Panitz' photographs and contrast with the vehicles. Beckon says that the chosen locations, all in the L.A. area, had strong architectural lines, including the Avalon hotel and some residential areas with modern architecture. When a producer or art buyer does a good job, the result is often invisible, but achieving the slickness of high end auto ads requires the presence of a large complement of people who make the car look perfect. Making sure that agency, client and photographer all get what they need in all of this, Beckon says, is "always a collaboration, never a dictatorship."(Melanie Shortman)

(This article appears in the April 2004 issue of Creativity.)

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