Science is Real…and It’s Real Funny, Watch Hilarious Climate Change Spots Directed by Norry Niven’s UTA Film Class
What happens when you deny the existence of gravity, physics and electricity?
You get three hilarious spots about the denial of global warming. Kevin Sutton with Whiskey Bacon Club, Norry Niven with Lucky21 and Keith James with Republic Editorial, teamed up to help UTA film students direct these simple yet incredibly smart spots. Adchat had the opportunity to interview Kevin, Norry and Keith, about the concept, production and editorial. These spots may make global warming naysayers think twice.
AdChat DFW: How did these spots come about?
Kevin Sutton: This all happened because Norry Niven, who teaches film making at UTA, asked a number of creative directors in town if they had any scripts they wanted shot because he wanted to get his class something to shoot. I sent him the scripts and he loved them. The Sierra Club Dallas, a grassroots environmental organization, loved them too. But, it wasn’t until Norry came looking for scripts that it all really came to life.
AdChat DFW: Where did you come up with the idea for the spots?
Kevin Sutton: The whole idea is around the fact that some people are saying climate science is not real. So, I thought if climate science isn’t real, is other science real? You can’t just pick and choose the science you want to believe in so that was the idea behind it. It was as real as gravity, as real as physics, and as real as getting hit by a train.
AdChat DFW: Who was responsible for the editorial?
Kevin Sutton: I was talking to Keith James at Republic Editorial and he said he would never speak to me again if I didn’t let him cut these.
Keith James: When Kevin talked me through the spots the concept was so simple, and frankly those are the best type of spots to work, and the execution of the spots with the three ideas of physics, gravity and electricity really hit home. Working with Kevin and Norry and the students really made it exciting. Norry always elevates anything he touches.
Norry Niven: I think Keith really nailed it by letting the editorial linger out to :42 because it just worked with the timing of the graphics. And they are all exactly :42 long. The graphics and sound design are fantastic. They didn’t need music, it just worked.
AdChat DFW: Who acted as the production company?
Kevin Sutton: Norry and his students were really the production company. I did these through Whiskey Bacon Club, a new content creation company that’s teaming creatives with a production partner and going directly to clients to give them the same high-level thinking they’d get from an agency, but for a lot less because it’s all turn-key. This was Whiskey Bacon Club’s first effort, by the way.
AdChat DFW: Who did the special effects?
Keith James: From a technical standpoint, the electricity effect was done by our motion effects sister company Infinite Fiction. In the gravity spot, Norry did a great job to figure out the best location to shoot what practically would have been a very dangerous shot. We were on the top of the parking lot, looking up at a hotel, and Norry and his student crew did a perfect job of matching angles and eye lines which is always the tricky thing in green screen. When we were shooting the plates with Oliver, one of the two actors featured in the spots, he was actually only up on the second floor, yelling up at the closed window above him, and people going into the hotel were really puzzled at what was going on.
AdChat DFW: How did you pull off the hand going by Oliver’s head showing Troy’s character falling?
Keith James: The nuance of the hands going by Oliver was just a snippet I found. I froze it and keyed it in with a little puppet move on it. That made his drop off the roof so much more believable. The key to this campaign was it was so simple and relatively easy to execute. The dialogue was essentially the same in all three spots, just changed out a bit for each scenario, so editing was also simple because the structure was already there, you just had to find the best takes.
AdChat DFW: How did you cast the talent?
Norry Niven: Troy Grant with Four Day Weekend is a good friend, and I basically bought him coffee and asked him to act in the spots. I knew he would be perfect. I don’t know if you know this, but these scripts had already been circulated by a casting director I know in L.A. There was a lot of interest from Seinfeld, the SNL cast, Key and Peele and many others. But in the end of the day it made perfect sense to use local talent who we all knew would nail it.
AdChat DFW: The main character walks off a building, gets hit by a train and licks an electrical wire…how did you decide to handle the dark comedy?
Norry Niven: The comedy was really Coyote/Roadrunner, it’s that humor. You know no real harm is coming to this guy.
Kevin Sutton: Anytime you get a guy getting hit by a train, falling off a building or licking an electrical cord, it’s funny.
Keith James: That was my main concern because there were so many ways the attitudes could be acted. He was killed in each of the spots. Was he over confident, aloof or nervous? We figured out the more aloof the better. Once we found that tone it brought everything together. And to keep it funny throughout all his deaths, we made sure that on all three spots, you hear what happens to Troy, but never see it.
Adchat DFW: Norry, you are a very accomplished director in your own right. How did decide which of your students directed each spot?
Norry Niven: It was a real-world experience; the students had to submit treatments and pitch me their concept for the spots and the best three were chosen to direct the spots. During the pre-production, the students learned firsthand how do everything, from the first call with Kevin to location scouting, storyboards, casting and everything that goes into a shoot. It was an eye-opening experience for the class. Check that box. Great cause, check that box. Great creative, check that box. I’m in 100%.
The class as a group scouted locations on one Saturday with me. Francis McIntyre, a location scout I use, pre-scouted for us so that we could have all three locations in close proximity to each other. We knew it had to be close to downtown because we needed a twenty-story building and then be able to get to the other two locations quickly. And you know we had twenty people and an “agency village.”
Kevin Sutton: He is doing these students such a great service. And this isn’t the only thing these kids shot. If I were a film student at UTA, I would consider myself to be very lucky.
AdChat DFW: How did you shoot all three in one day?
Norry Niven: We had to…which is insane, including all locations, permits, police, cameras, grip trucks, camera gear. For the most part everything was donated but there were still quite a few other expenses. I basically blew my entire semester salary one day, but it was worth it, because the spots are stand out and I’m very proud of them.
AdChat DFW: Norry, what inspired you for this project?
Norry Niven: Teaching this film class at UTA has been a very rewarding although time consuming endeavor. I looked at Spike Lee’s NYU film class, and their work is being seen on a lot of student reels for competition, so I though our scrappy little group would be able to do the same. I recruited some of my ad agency friends and asked for philanthropic creative boards that would help charitable organizations or at least a cause.
AdChat DFW: Did you have a favorite part of the shoot?
Norry Niven: My favorite part of the shoot was the process of working with actors. It was also fun teaching student how to fly a 20X diffusion frame, where to put the stand, figure out how much sunlight we have left plus adding styling and wardrobe. But my favorite is getting in the heads of the actors.
AdChat DFW: Are you happy with the outcome of these spots and where will they air?
Norry Niven: It’s kind of hard to imagine even if we had a million dollars that we would have done anything differently because I don’t think we would have. The spots live on the Sierra Club’s local site but we’re hoping to get some traction on the national organization too.
AdChat DFW: What do you hope these spots will accomplish?
Kevin Sutton: We’re not going to change the minds of climate deniers in a hundred years. That was never the point. But by showing the foolishness of their thinking, and the damage it is doing, I hoped to motive people who have been a bit apathetic about it to say, enough is enough, let’s quit letting this small minority of deniers get their way.
Watch spots here…
Produced by Norry Niven for UTA Film!
Agency: Whiskey Bacon Club
Written by: Kevin Sutton
Director: Aaron Payton
DP: Kevin Autry
Director: Hien Dinh
DP: Kevin Autry
Director: Jessica Flores
DP: George Acuna
Post: Republic Editorial/Infinite Fiction
Editor: Keith James
Online /Color/VFX: Nick Mueth and Greg Beninger
Mix: Hayes Smith
Actors: Troy Grant, Oliver Tull
Crew: Rahim Handy, Megan Koym, Ian Mundie, Joel Kenyon, Shane John, Kenny Nguyen, Deirdre Odonnell, Jeremy Black, Zain Abiden
Locations: Francis McIntyre
Grip Truck Driver/Key Grip: Tori O’Rourke
Insurance: Lucky 21
Grip Truck: Electric Light and Power