One of the best TV ads I’ve seen in a long time comes to us from Direct TV in a recent piece featuring a parody of a Russian oligarch. The :30 spot, produced by Grey Advertising Group, has officially gone viral on the web and in my head - exploding into innumerable views on Youtube and elsewhere.
(Actor Tim Murphy was actually kissing a metal stand)
Recently disembarked from the International Space Station? Here’s the spot:
With much of the Tube-consuming public addicted to the ad, the language-mangling Russian character’s opening line in the scene, “Opulence, I has it,” is rapidly penetrating our lexicon.
As an obsession, the more I watch, the more I want, so my only problem with the Direct TV commercial is there’s an absolute dearth of intel on the piece’s behind-the-scenes.
(Actor Murphy appeared at MTV VMAs in character as, “Gregor Chigal“)
I want to know every detail behind how that mini-giraffe came about, who the actor behind the Russian character is, and the scoop on the photo of the blue-shirted soccer players flanked by a man resembling an authentic oligarch, Roman Abramovich. (Incurably sick. I am.)
Thankfully, I was able to get in touch with the two-person creative team from which the entire production germinated: Jon Kallus and Luis Romero.
Jon and Lu were kind enough to submit to my series of queries about their stunning work.
Brooks: To start, please provide a quick sketch of your backgrounds and describe what your role in the spot was.
Jon: Lu and I are both in the creative dept. at Grey New York. Our roles/titles are Jon Kallus, writer/associate creative director, and Luis Romero, art director/creative director. We’ve been working together for a few months now, and we’re the creative team that came up with the concept, the characters, and the script for the spot.
Brooks: On the process of the spot coming together, what was the inspiration?
Jon: Our brief was to talk about the best offer of the year from DIRECTV: five months of their best tv package, free. So Lu and I began by asking ourselves who or what could say that in a fun and memorable way? DIRECTV–as a brand, and as a service–is a big, fun proposition, and their ultimate television package is a big deal, so there were no quiet or reserved characters in the mix.
Together, we came up with a billionaire oligarch in a ridiculously luxurious mansion. A super-confident dude who gets what he wants when he wants it. The type of person who is able to spend money freely, but is also a good business man.
Brooks: Are there multiple versions of the spot? How long did it take to shoot?
Jon: There’s really only one version. On one of the original YouTube postings, we created a different end tag to tell people he had a Facingbook page, but otherwise, the commercial is exactly the same. As for the length of the shoot, once the casting and location and wardrobe was set, it took a day to prep and light the house, and a day to shoot.
Brooks: What were the challenges of the lead role? Who is the actor and how and why was he cast?
Jon: Since we knew the character would be talking to us while surrounded by models in an over-the-top mansion, we wanted someone that would be believable in that type of environment–completely filled with swagger and confidence–but also someone you’d want to hear talking about their TV plan.
We felt like we’d know it when we saw it, so we cast for the role in multiple cities, with multiple rounds in each place. We were lucky to find an amazing actor named Tim Murphy.
Brooks: People I know are fascinated by the incredibly detailed set decoration… What was the thought process behind it and how did it evolve once the project got underway? Any fun anecdotes about how something was acquired or made? On the photo of the soccer players and third man, who are those folks in the shot and what’s the story about that photo making it into the ad?
Jon: I think the first script called it a “painfully luxurious sitting room,” which pretty much sums up what we were going for.
We had a lot of great conversations with our production team and director Tim Godsall about the entire spot, including what the house would look like, pretty early on in the process… there was definitely a photo of Versailles going back and forth at one point.
The team came back with some shots of this astonishing mansion in Bel-Air, and we all knew that was it. It looked pretty much exactly like what we’d had in mind when we wrote the script.
From the start, we all wanted to create these little moments that people would find with each additional viewing of the spot. The poker-playing dogs and the gold busts were in the original script, but others came out of working sessions with our director, Tim.
The photo with the champion soccer players–which by the way, is our oligarch alongside two extras–is just one example. I think the way we all saw it, our man would have a different set of pictures on his end table than you or we might. His favorite photos are of his possessions. Like his yacht, his jet, and the two best players on the team he owns.
Brooks: How on earth did you come up with the idea for the mini-giraffe? How did that all come together? What were the challenges of shooting that?
Jon: We asked ourselves, if we had unlimited money to spend, what would we get as a pet? The thought of a miniature giraffe made us both laugh. The giraffe was computer generated.
To build it, we worked with an incredible visual effects company called The Mill. They have an office in New York, so throughout we were able to head down to their studios to look at 3-D models of the skeleton and make comments like “I think the giraffe should be a she.”
A creative director from the Mill was at the shoot. Tim Murphy, the actor who plays the oligarch, had to lean over and act against a little metal stand with some reference dots stuck to it. The end result was just insanely great.
Everyone on set, in the edit suite, and at the Mill did such an extraordinary job.
Brooks: What was the inspiration for the dogs playing poker?
Jon: We are a bit obsessed with the actual dogs playing poker painting. It’s just the perfect articulation of what art can and should be. We figured that the oligarch would have seen it somewhere along the line, and shared our love for it. But while we might buy the poster, he, of course, would buy trained dogs to re-enact the scene live for his personal enjoyment, every single day.
Brooks: How did you decide what to have airing on the TV during the spot?
Jon: We had a list of films that were going to be featured on DIRECTV at the time the spot would be airing. When we saw “Twilight: The New Moon” on it, that film shot right to the top for us. What else would he be watching?
Brooks: Anything that was left out of the ad?
Jon: One character that we cast for, but who ultimately didn’t make it into the spot, was a silent xylophone player aggressively playing a silent platinum xylophone. To us, there was something both odd and compelling about the idea. Mostly odd.
Brooks: Will there be a sequel?
Jon: Actually, we have to say that only time will tell on that front.
Brooks: What’s the story behind having Tim Murphy (Russian oligarch actor) go to the MTV VMAs in character? (”as Gregor Chigal“)
Jon: That was indeed Tim Murphy you saw at the VMAs. His character told friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter that he would be there with his model companions on the white carpet, and he was. The character was also covered alongside all of the celebrities there. One style blog featured him above some other pretty famous names.
Brooks: Any stories about the reaction of the client or people in general to the spot?
Jon: Everyone’s been really pleased with it. The response from our clients has been super-positive from the very first script presentation. It’s been so great that folks have picked up on the spot and liked the character.
Local newscasts, sports radio hosts, and Tony Kornheiser, Michael Wilbon, and Tony Reali at PTI have all referenced it on the air. We’re also nearing 2 million YouTube views across all the different versions of the spot, not including the fan remixes and parodies that are out there, too.
It definitely takes an entire team to make a spot, and many thanks are due to the amazing marketing team at DIRECTV and everyone at Grey: our executive creative director, our producer, the account team, project manager, and the music department, plus everyone at Biscuit Filmworks, Arcade Edit, and The Mill.
I would’ve been surprised if the story of the work that went into the spot wasn’t almost as good as the ad itself. (I wasn’t. Brilliant.)
Okay kids, how ’bout a Facebook group petitioning an appearance of the “silent xylophone player aggressively playing a silent platinum xylophone” in the sequel?