Norry Niven Completes Promo Spot for Bel Air, Peacock’s New Series Sequel | Post Finished at Thousand Foot Squid
Does a 250 pound throne sink? Nope.
Norry Niven with Thousand Foot Squid recently completed a production for the new Peacock series sequel to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which starred Will Smith, and who is now the Executive Producer of the current series, entitled Bel Air. Starring Jabari Banks, the new show tackles the more serious and dark issues facing the present day African-American community. The spot was shot entirely underwater, which posed its share of challenges. We caught up with Norry just as he had finished up this new work.
AdChat DFW: Norry, what have you been up to?
Norry: We have been scrambling because we’ve got this promotional spot for the new series Bel Air that we just finished up at 3:00 AM on Thanksgiving Eve, that will air on NBC on Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and on all the football games that day, cutting it close!
AdChat DFW: It looks amazing, tell us more about it.
Norry: As you know, I’ve been creating/directing promos off and on for Fox, NBC, Showtime and HBO for my entire career. One of my executive friends at Showtime moved over to Peacock, which is NBC’s new arm, and had approached me about another project earlier this year that didn’t happen. What did happen was I got to meet his team, and they got to know me and my creative process. And, they had this project come up and its their biggest launch ever for the network, with an enormous amount of pressure on them to do something really cool. No pressure, haha!
The series came from of a director/filmmaker that created a fake, trailer for a reboot of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but they dropped the Fresh Air. It’s just called Bel Air. It had millions of views on YouTube and then Will Smith saw it he’s like ‘OK, we’re doing it.’ But it’s not just a reboot , but a rethink and much more serious one. This version deals with current issues of the African-American community such as police brutality and social injustice. It’s not the 1990’s Fresh Prince version, a much more honest, more serious, and much more dramatic.
AdChat DFW: Did you get to see the pilot?
Norry: I did get to see the pilot. It’s really strong, people are going to love it, nothing like what one might expect. On the promo we came up with creative using an underwater/surreal device. For me, promos shouldn’t feel clip driven but on their own, their own art piece. I always tell our clients, you have to imagine this is going to hang on a wall in a museum. The spirit and the content of the series are in there, but it needs to hold up twenty years from now. You need to be able to go back to the painting and still feel the wow, and have it still be cool. So that’s what we did.
After they saw our creative, they went back and said we need to incorporate that scene into the pilot. Which they did. They reshot a dreamlike world underwater into the pilot, which I think is wonderful, but I’m absolutely honored they did that. Art imitates art…
AdChat DFW: How did you go about shooting underwater?
Norry: For us we had to find an incredibly deep tank and train Jabari Banks, the series star, to work underwater, because he’s not a diver. A fun side story, the producers did extensive casting and then when he got the part, they called him on Zoom and he thought we was going to do a re-read and have to audition again. But when he gets on the call, he thinks it’s with the casting director and suddenly Will Smith’s face shows and he says, “You got the part, man.” And this sweet kid is just blown away. Jabari is such a great actor and spirt that he had the fortitude to allow me to put him in a twenty foot deep water tank for an entire day. It was a lot of physical effort. He had to be trained to use hand signals to let us know when he was running out of oxygen.
AdChat DFW: What was the crew like?
Norry: Our cinematographer was with one of my best friends, incredibly talented, LA based, Bongani Mlambo, and the underwater work was through Jenny Baumert’s amazing eye, she’s the best underwater cinematographer on the planet and worked closely with Bongani.
AdChat DFW: That’s got to be a super specific skill set to shoot underwater.
Norry: Things move super slowly when you’re underwater. Little things become super difficult. Jenny worked with us via hand signals, I was able to direct Jabari, the camera and lighting via underwater loud speakers. Of course, we had four or five scuba divers underwater with Jabari for safety and he had hand signals too. In addition to that, we had a second set where we shot another promo the same day, believe it or not. It was just a long, long day, but all good.
AdChat DFW: Where did you do the post-production?
Norry: We were able to edit this in-house at Thousand Foot Squid. Edwin Harris, King Hollis and Dave Burton combined forces with Michael Jensen doing color. Some of the finishing was with a whole other team in LA and New York called Opsis, they’re feature VFX oriented, they just finished a Michael Bay film. You can see from the work that it’s very, high-end very feature film looking work. That process started six weeks ago and is going to continue until we make final delivery on all the elements. You can imagine, with ATVs in the spot, we shot references for them, but ultimately, those elements had to be built in 3d, because we couldn’t put an actual ATV in a pool. So, you see some ATV sinking to the bottom of the pool, fuzzy dice and basketballs are floating and basketball trophies and all of those elements from the series are in these scenes.
AdChat DFW: And when will the series be released?
Norry: In January, but the teasers will be all over YouTube and everywhere between now and the series premier.
AdChat DFW: Can you share a fun thing that happened on the shoot?
Norry: Sure, you know the phrase best made plans? Anytime you’re doing something that’s not normal for a film shoot, meaning you’re underwater, or you’re using a new motion control rig you’re apt to get behind. So you warn everyone about that. I warn the clients, I warn the crew and tell them, ‘Hey, this is a new thing, and it could slow us down, just letting you know.’ So sure enough, the idea of having the prince’s throne underwater seemed like a no-brainer because the thing may have weighed 250 pounds. It was super heavy, but when we put it in the pool, it floated. So we had to literally destroy it and fill it full of rust- proof shop bags to weight it down to the bottom of the pool. Stuff like that happens. You think it’s a no brainer, but it’s the little things that happen from the lenses to the lighting. It all changes once you get underwater. It reminds me of Mike Tyson’s quote, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
AdChat DFW: Are you excited to do most of the post-production at Thousand Foot Squid?
Norry: Definitely. I’ve been a little absent because of projects like this and our other really bigger projects are kind of coming to fruition, but it’s so nice to be able to post this at Thousand Foot Squid, with our three edit bays over there. It’s been a true luxury. A lifelong dream come true. We’ve always had post and were the first in Texas to have an AVID back in the (late 1900’s…as the melinnyeals say…).
AdChat DFW: With bringing projects like this to Dallas, do you think you are changing the perception and production legitimacy of Dallas for the New York and LA film communities?
Norry: Yes, and to be clear, we’re not competing for the Texas work or the Southwest work. This is national work that we’re bringing in from New York and LA where we’re ingesting a higher quality content from both coasts as opposed to bidding against our friends on their regional work. We’re not out to do that. We’re out to do something really unique to this market, which I think makes it more fun to be in Dallas. Let’s all just be excited that we’re getting these opportunities to put Texas in a global spotlight.
AdChat DFW: That’s a very important point because it’s the nature of the beast that there is always going to be competition, and that’s the free market, but you are about bringing new and exciting projects to DFW, not poaching on existing work here.
Norry: Yes, and I believe this will do really well for Peacock and for the Bel Air series, early reviews of the first promo from Variety have been great.
AdChat DFW: What’s next on the agenda?
Norry: Ultimately, I’m looking forward to the Pro Max awards in June, which is the Oscars for promotions. We’ve won best of show several times at that competition and we’re excited about this year. I think we have a good chance of doing well.
But BIG PICTURE, I have a pretty cool surprise coming up that I can’t wait to announce that includes AMBLIN and our stage complex has continued to mature, big announcements there too…the stage facility has been a driving component to some of our other opportunities and will no doubt be a huge plus for film production, education and post-production in the great state of Texas.
AdChat DFW: We’ll be thinking good thoughts for you and thanks so much for this interview!
Norry: Of course, always a pleasure, more cool news coming up soon!
Watch this spot!