Monday, October 24, 2016
  • Friday, Jun. 22, 2007
Top Spot of the Week: Director Phil Morrison Takes Half-Hearted Approach For Dunkin' Donuts

Dunkin' Donuts generally targets an adult demographic. But the coffee and donut chain needed Boston-based agency Hill Holliday to sell its new SoBe Energy Coolatta--a cold, slushy, cherry citrus-flavored drink--to a much younger crowd. Think 18-year-old boys.

Hill Holliday group creative directors Tim Cawling and Kevin Daley, copywriter and art director, respectively, were up for the challenge. "We thought, 'Wow. We get to let loose and regress,'" Cawling related with a laugh.

The result is the :50 "In Half." Directed by Phil Morrison of bicoastal Epoch Films, this boisterous Top Spot of the Week finds teenage boys rocking out to a pump-your-fist-in-the-air metal anthem (appropriately titled "Rip Stuff") and celebrating their ability to rip all kinds of stuff in half. It starts simply with a boy tearing a phone book in half with his bare hands. As the spot progresses, we see the kids have halved everything from mattresses to a canoe to a car.

Infused with a sense of fun, the spot gleefully mocks the sort of going-to-the-extreme media aimed at teens these days. According to Cawley, a humorous tone was a must. "Being Dunkin' Donuts with our pink and orange logo, we couldn't come in and be like, 'Forget Mountain Dew!' We couldn't do that seriously with any credibility. We were never going to kick more ass than all these brands they already love," Cawley reasoned. "So the way to do it was to let a little air out of the balloon. We couldn't be cooler, but we could definitely be the class clown."

Right on track
Once the idea for "In Half" was formed, Cawley and his colleagues at Hill Holliday turned to composer/mixer Mike Secher of Soundtrack, Boston, for music. "They wanted it to be super heavy, basically metal but more of a modern metal not a cliché '80s metal," Secher recalled.

Secher played all of the instruments on the track with the exception of drums (Secher's friend Alex Logan kept the beat) and delivered the Cookie Monster-meets-Metallica vocal. "You don't always get a chance to rock that hard in a TV commercial," Secher reflected. "I was like, 'I'm not going to wuss out on this thing. I'm going to do what I think is right for the genre.' "

Everyone, including the director, embraced Secher's track. "The genius of this commercial lies to such an overwhelming degree in the music, which I can take zero credit for," Morrison said.

One might not initially think of Morrison, whose recent work includes the quietly smart Mac vs. PC guy spots for Apple out of TBWA\Chiat\Day, San Francisco, for "In Half." "If you look at Phil's reel, it's a lot of minimal irony storytelling, smart guy humor, and you wouldn't look at him and go, 'He's a big crazy metal video guy,'"said Cawling, who has worked with Morrison in the past. "But I know him well enough to take the leap--I knew he would get into it because it's so different than anything on his reel."

Morrison was game, and he and DP Benoit Debie shot "In Half" on location in suburban Los Angeles as well as Malibu Canyon.

For each setup, Morrison blasted "Rip Stuff" and instructed the actors to rock out to the song.

"The two kids who stand in front of the [field of] mattresses--they are my favorites," Morrison said. "I would love a spot that was just a single take of those kids lip synching the song because they cracked me up." (Morrison is referring specifically to the mono-monikered Comodity and Ryan McCabe.)

In addition to getting natural performances out of the talent, Cawling also credited Morrison with broadening the content of the spot--for instance, it was Morrison's idea, Cawling noted, to shoot a series of halved items in front of a green background. These items, which include a fan, a gnome and a dumbbell, appear in rapid succession near the top of the spot, with editor Dan Maloney of The Whitehouse, New York, syncing the appearance of the items with the beat of the accompanying drum solo.

Homage to Bernstein
"The [items we shot] against green were absolutely, 100 percent ripped off style-wise from Adam Bernstein," Morrison said. A fellow director, who once was repped for spots by Epoch Films, Bernstein is known for music videos he did in the 1990s for acts ranging from They Might Be Giants to the B52s. These days, Bernstein directs TV shows such as 30 Rock and Scrubs.

"He was the guy who encouraged me to be a director more than anybody else when I was first starting out, and those things in half against the green are completely ripped off from his style of music videos in the early '90s," Morrison explained. "They're completely in honor of him."

One has to ask how Morrison and company ripped a car in half. "There is this one place in L.A. that has a 14-foot band saw that you can put anything through," Cawling said.

Great care went into the halving of the items that appear in the spot. "We didn't want anything to look mangled or shredded. It's not a call to arms to riot in the street," Cawling said. "It's just a goofy, fun, 'Hey, go a little crazy' spot."

Was "In Half" as much fun to work on as it is to watch? "I remember when we were in the middle of shooting the scene with the canoe by a nice little pond on Malibu Canyon, and we were blasting this song, and I turned to Phil, and I said, 'Phil, this is what I was put on this Earth to communicate,'"Cawling replied, laughing.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Agency: Hill Holliday Kevin Moehlenkamp, executive creative director; Tim Cawley, group creative director/copywriter; Kevin Daley, group creative director/art director; Alex Vainstein, producer. Production Company: Epoch FIlms, NY Office Phil Morrison, director; Doug Halbert, executive producer; Marc Marrie, line producer; Benoit Debie, DP. Editorial: The Whitehouse Dan Maloney, editor; Fabiola Newman, Jeff Jay, assistant editors; JoJo Scheerer, editorial producer. Postproduction: Smoke & Mirrors NY,The Mill New York Nick Tanner, Flame artist; Paul O'Beirne, producer.,Fergus McCall, colorist; Alex Maxwell, assistant colorist; Angela Botta, telecine producer. Music: Soundtrack Recording Group Mike Secher, composer. Audio: Soundtrack Recording Group Mike Secher, mixer.