In their new TV commercial, Cecil’s objective was to make consumers aware that Cecil Atkission Motors sold tires. That objective was the sandbox for the creative development of the commercial.
We knew we needed to create a concept and a script, but before we could get to work, we established our roles. Normally, Sawyer and I researched and brainstormed ideas on our own before presenting our findings to each other, then landed on the best option.
But we decided this development system was clunky. Sometimes the ideas were quickly mergeable, but more often than not, we were not on the same page, which required time-consuming conversations to sort out. We wanted an efficient solution that played to our strengths.
On a return drive from a shoot in Houston, we discussed a system we liked and used the Cecil television commercial as our experiment. Sawyer handled the first step and created a concept to fit the marketing message. Framed as a question, his idea was simply,
“What if we connect tires to shoes? Tires for your vehicle being like shoes for your feet.”
It was an excellent start. By connecting tires to shoes, we were broadening our audience reach and giving ourselves a visual anchor through which we could introduce other selling points in the commercial. Sawyer finished the creative boundaries of the commercial by choosing a spokesperson walk and talk style.
As the screenwriter, I had my ingredients. I had the location in the main Cecil Atkission store, the concept of shoes to tires, and a single spokesperson talking to the viewer as she walked through the store.
The script went through many iterations, but the opening line never changed,
“Ever since there were feet, there were shoes. And ever since there were cars, there’s been tires.”
Besides the minor issue of ascertaining the anthropological integrity of the opening statement, we had a larger problem on our hands.
Every project is an opportunity for growth. As the talent director, one of my responsibilities was to come prepared to answer character questions from our actress, Olivia Nice. I knew my script but failed to think through Olivia’s perspective as she delivered her lines.
Sawyer had the opening scene lit, the camera was ready, sound was rolling, and I was just about to call “action!” on the first setup of the day when Olivia asked, “Who am I talking to, and why would I say, ‘Ever since there were feet, there’s been shoes.’?”
Huh. Why would she say that?
It may seem like a silly question to some, but I’ve acted before, and I understood exactly where Olivia was coming from. Sure, a pro can come out and deliver a line without much concern for motivation and make it feel natural, and Olivia is capable of doing just that. But when trying to establish the tone of the commercial at the outset, knowing her motivation was necessary for consistency.
I thought about it for a second and created a scenario. “Pretend you’re talking to a friend in New York who designs shoes for a living. Y’all are chatting. Catching up. She starts complaining about coming up with design ideas. She’s reaching the end of her rope and feels there’s nothing left to try. You are acknowledging the truth and encouraging your friend to lighten up by saying, ‘Ever since there were feet, there were shoes.’”
It seemed to work. Olivia settled her voice into a conversational and familiar tone and delivered the line like she was talking to a friend. It was a subtle and immediate introduction to our “tires are like shoes” concept.
In post-production, we leaned into the phone call scenario by inserting the friend's voice on the phone. There’s a just audible, “Hello? Hello? Who are you talking to?” on the other line as the Hero turns to speak to the audience and hangs up the phone on her friend. This wasn’t planned, but it enhanced the world's reality and cleverly added levity.
Have you ever had one of those days at work where everything, including minor things you’ve done a thousand times, seemed to go perfectly wrong at just the right moment? That was our shoot day.
As issues piled up, the schedule for the day tightened. For example, that morning, one of our mics wouldn’t work, then at lunch, the client requested a script change, and in the afternoon, a cable stopped working along with key camera functions. After each problem, we kept looking at each other, saying, “What is going on?!”
To be honest, production is often a series of things going wrong, learning how to be light on your feet and responding decisively.
Sawyer was well-prepared and knew his shotlist intimately. As a result, he quickly reassessed setups and assigned new locations to speed up the day. Our assistant, Victoria Bacon, and Olivia responded with poise, professionalism, and much-needed laughter. We finished on time, released our actress to drive home, and wrapped up the set.
That’s a Wrap
After the shoot day, Sawyer and I got in the car for the two-hour drive back to Austin from Kerrville. We were exhausted in every conceivable way. It felt like surviving a train wreck you can’t jump from as they do so neatly in the movies.
We pulled up to our favorite tex-mex place in Fredericksburg and pounded chips and salsa, enchiladas, and sweet tea. There was more than a bit of stress eating from two boys who grew up in the hill country eating tex-mex every Sunday after church.
It was almost 9 pm, and the place was closing soon. We discussed the shoot day and outlined steps to improve production efficiency. Our biggest takeaway was ensuring future shoots have the proper crew, even if it means pushing our client to spend a little more money on the front end.
We were worn out and stuffed, but we waddled out to the car and drove home, wondering if the footage would be as rough as it was to shoot it.
To our pleasant surprise, we got into the edit the following morning to discover something that looked like a professional commercial. And not just professional, but fun and entertaining. We sent the edit to a local post-production house (shout out to Stuck On On!) for a full sound design and loved how our TV commercial came to life.
Sawyer delivered the commercial to Cecil Atkission for their service director and vice president to watch, and they loved the result. It was on brand, engaging, and polished.
We sat back and laughed at how it felt to shoot the commercial. We were grateful to have a product with which our client was thrilled.
I thought about how much video production comes down to quick thinking and problem-solving.
But it wasn’t being light on our feet that made the project successful. It was our team, and it was us. We kept a positive attitude and never became impatient or exasperated. Even though accidents happened, our experience and leadership as a duo kept the shoot day from becoming a negative experience.
We’re Your Team
Look, the truth is that accidents are going to happen on set occasionally. Mistakes are going to be made, even by professionals. The real measure of a production team is what the response will be when those mistakes are made.
We believe in taking responsibility, respecting people, and being gracious in our speech and conduct.
If you’re interested in working with a video production company that pretends like issues never arise and everything is always perfect, we aren’t your team. But if you want a couple of guys to lead your project who have gotten over themselves and at the same time passionately love what we do, then let us know. After all, we’re here for you.
Author: Caleb McKnight