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Direct Response Marketing

Field Reports

1 Sep, 2003 By: Thomas Haire, Norm Goldring, Michael Kokernak Response


'Discovering' 2 Kids Spots

My company, Videa Inc., creates direct response projects and recently completed a package of spots for the Discovery Channel cable networks for two of its Discovery Kids products: a microscope and a metal detector.


Producing these spots illustrates that no matter how buttoned up a production can be, it's the unpredictable that keeps things interesting. The assignment for the spots (each product required a 30-second, 60-second and 120-second spot) came with a drop-dead production deadline just two months down the road.

I had originally presented spot concepts for five different products in the line. Discovery chose to proceed with the "Macro Microscope" and the "Real Metal Detector." Turning the rough scripts into DRTV spots was going to be a bit different from the standard job, because the image Discovery puts forth lines up more with a general consumer advertising approach than an aggressive DR approach.

Finding a treasure chest these children could carry was just one challenge for Videa as it filmed the Discovery spots.
Finding a treasure chest these children could carry was just one challenge for Videa as it filmed the Discovery spots.

The microscope spot shows children discovering everyday things that look completely different under the microscope. It ends with a child looking at something he can't identify; it turns out it's a piece of wrapping from a mummy - who, unbeknownst to the child, is standing right behind him. The mummy puts his hand on the child's shoulder and the spot closes frozen on the child's reaction.

The metal detector spot has children finding all sorts of things with the device, including a treasure chest dripping with coins and jewels. The spot ends with a pirate combing the beach with the metal detector, looking for his missing treasure.


Finding the Right Treasure Chest

The time constraints on the project had gotten even tighter after storyboarding. Discovery wanted the spots in time for the Christmas season, but it was already mid-October. Choosing the type of stock to shoot on and casting were smooth processes thanks to Videa's director of photography and post-production house, as well as previous actors who had worked in our spots.


I write, direct, edit and produce all of Videa's output. And in this case, because things were running so fast and we hadn't signed on wardrobe and props yet, I also got to play costume and prop department (at least for awhile). For production, the Houston area has some wonderful resources, and I found a costume rental place that makes lavish costumes for productions all over the world. They had both a pirate costume and a mummy costume. But finding a treasure chest proved to be a lot more difficult.

All the prop houses had a chest or two, but they weighed a ton. I needed something two kids could pick up and run away with. Sure enough, I stumbled upon a place that had not one or two, but 20 or 30, of them and buckets of coins and jewels to outfit them with.


Rain on the Parade?

Things were coming together for the shoot rather nicely, until it started raining during the week leading up to the shoot. One of the great things about shooting near the Gulf Coast is that you can catch great summer scenes while the rest of the country is getting ready to shovel snow. But that doesn't mean it can't rain, and it did for a solid week.

Discovery's metal detector has become a big hit with children.
Discovery's metal detector has become a big hit with children.


This was potentially very bad news. Our schedule was locked in stone, and there was no wiggle room for rainy days in the production, or for production delays in the client's schedule. Most of our principal shooting was to be done outdoors.

I could handle heavy clouds. I could handle drizzle. It wouldn't be fun, but with the right lighting, and tweaking in post, we could make it look like a sunny day. But rain you can't hide. I got up at 4 a.m. on the first shoot day, peeked through the blinds up at the sky, praying that I wouldn't see rain. I didn't. In fact, I didn't even see clouds. Somehow, it stayed that way for the entire shoot. Then it started raining again the day after we finished shooting.

The two-day shoot went beautifully. Humberto Jaime, assistant director, Scott Jones, director of photography, and I had worked out a very carefully considered shot list. We knew exactly how long we had for each set-up and made sure each flowed smoothly into the next. We rarely overshoot, generally getting what is needed in two takes. If you're ever on a shoot where you're seeing take after take go down, and set-ups look frantic to you, I guarantee you're looking at trouble.

Another consideration in doing spots like these is working with children. To minimize the variables on their performance - the stress on them and the risks to your shooting schedule - I write scripts so that child actors generally don't deliver a lot of lines, but have a lot of action under voiceover.


Sailing Through Post

The final stretch of any production is the edit. I started editing my own productions about five years ago. For the simpler DRTV spots I do, this works out great. But in this case, I would do a rough edit on my system, and let the team at Texas Video and Post load them into the Flame editing program and turn them into magic.


Besides the live action content shot, the spots feature product shots built from highly animated text and stop-action sequences. Together, these took several weeks to put together. But we ended up with some of the slickest-looking DRTV spots Videa has produced (to see the spots, log on to and search for "Macro Microscope" and "Metal Detector").

The Macro Microscope was one of five spot projects originally pitched by Videa to Discovery.
The Macro Microscope was one of five spot projects originally pitched by Videa to Discovery.

The clients raved when they saw the finished spots. "The spots really did our brand and the products credit," says Mark Wilkin, director of marketing for Discovery Communications. "Phone response was good, and online sales really took off - in fact, they're still strong. The push-through to retail was also very good. In fact, we've been running the spots in all our stores since the on-air schedule ended. We're very happy with them."

Another interesting note on this project - the whole process was completed without anyone from Discovery and I ever meeting in the flesh. It was all done over the phone, the Internet, and via Federal Express.

Wilkin had the guts to turn me loose on this project with no encumbrances, while shepherding it through Discovery at his end. To have a client to trust your judgment to that extent - to be given that much creative freedom - is a wonderful experience.

But, whatever happened with getting that five-ton truck back across the bridge? When I got to the bridge that night, it was still there. Somehow, the truck got across again. Three months later, a towering concrete span opened and replaced it. I'll miss it. But at least I didn't sink it.

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