Game Changer

Posted on Jun 11, 2014

Felix Hernandez Seattle Mariners

On a glorious sun-splashed Seattle day I was where you often find yourself in the filmmaking business…in a room without windows color grading footage that was shot on a glorious, sun-splashed Seattle day.

While we were finessing colors about half a mile away, at Safeco Field, Felix Hernandez was finessing both sides of the plate on his way to a historically significant day; historical because he would face the minimum of 27 batters and significant because I had the good fortune of having a 5D in the back seat of my car that day.

By now anyone who is the least bit interested in filmmaking is no stranger to putting a “5” and a “D” together. Canon’s remarkable accident of streaming jpegs has had a profound effect on the business of moving imagery. If you prescribe to the idea that the best camera in the world is the camera you have with you, the Canon 5D might be the one you’d want.

King Felix had ruled the Tampa Bay Rays with an iron fist through five innings. Having finished the color grading session and eyeing the camera in the back seat, I parked the car to listen to the sixth. Felix struck out the side. Armed with a 24-105mm lens and a strap, I jogged to the ballpark and was sipping a beer on the concourse behind home plate by the time he took the mound to pitch the seventh. I wouldn’t finish the beer. The 5D is a powerful tool best operated with two hands.

And it is a game changer. The quality of imagery it spontaneously captured that day, thanks to a riveting performance by Felix Hernandez and some brilliant editing by Distillery contributor Brian Lee, turned into The Perfect Game. The commercial aired just five days later during the broadcast of Felix’s next start and accompanied him on his walk to the mound in front of 45,000 gold-clad fans.

Marne’s Moonshot

Posted on May 28, 2014

Museum of Flight All Macrina

The call came a couple of months after the shoot. Distillery production manager Eddie Adams had seen a precocious little redheaded girl drinking from a straw in a commercial for The Museum of Flight.

“Who shot this?” exclaimed Eddie. “I thought they loved what we did for them?”

Ummm…. we did, Eddie. We shot it while you were parking the crew.

Don’t blink. When you’re looking to make discoveries that may be better than the thing you had planned it is possible to film an entire commercial without your own crew even knowing it happened.

Marne, our client’s adorable 3-year-old niece, arrived at our lunch location right on time. I took a knee to get on her level, just as they might teach you to do in film school, and introduced myself. The attraction wasn’t mutual. The next thing I did they probably wouldn’t teach you to do in film school, but maybe they should. I immediately stood up, went over to my client and asked him to introduce me to Marne’s favorite person.

“That’s easy”, he pointed, “Nicole, her 15-year-old nanny”.

“Hello, Nicole”, I said, “Have you ever directed a television commercial?”

“No. I’m 15”, she said.

“Well, today’s the day,” I said.

Sitting in front of Marne, Nicole flawlessly directed her first commercial and was calling wrap before Eddie could even get the cars parked. This directing thing is easy.

– Ron Gross

The Cano Show

Posted on May 19, 2014

Sports Illustrated Robinson Cano Seattle Mariners

Distillery director Ron Gross recently celebrated his 20th year teaming up in the Arizona desert with esteemed EP Bill Hoare, owner of Blue Goose Productions, ad agency Copacino + Fujikado and the Seattle Mariners. The long running campaign of comedy executions featuring players and coaches has a much decorated history, most recently Gold and Silver nods at the 2014 ADDY’s. This year, with the arrival of Robinson Cano star power, SI writer Greg Bishop shadowed the making of Robinson’s first Mariners commercial. Here is his article, featured in the 03.31.14 Baseball Preview issue of Sports Illustrated.

Sports Illustrated: The Cano Show Article

Courting Chaos With Richard Sherman

Posted on May 13, 2014

Richard Sherman Swedish Cancer Institute Commercial

Our friends at Clatter & Din and Worker Bees called with a daunting proposition: match the supercharged atmosphere of the NFL Championship game and recreate Richard Sherman’s famous rant. And do so in two hours with a small crew and one extra. The first thing we told them was that it would be almost impossible to accomplish. The next thing we said was that we’d love to do it.

Filmmaking is often an exercise in control. This would be an exercise in chaos. Our main concern was creating the illusion for both the audience and Mr. Sherman that he was back in front of 67,000 crazed fans having just made the play of his life to send his team to the Super Bowl. Easy. Enter chaos.

Standing in an empty stadium with the resources for one extra, an Erin Andrews lookalike was the only thing we could give Richard that would place him, visually, back in that moment. So we decided to help him out by blinding him.

Half a dozen 1K’s were placed in front of him and triggered to fire randomly, popping off and on like so many strobes (if you are wondering why we didn’t simply use strobes, you have just hit on one of the few things to miss about shooting film). The effect was subtle to our lens, but for Richard it traded empty seats for the illusion of a dozen photographers frantically capturing the moment. Every time.

The next trick came to us courtesy of Eddie Murphy in “Trading Places”, the song “Roxanne” and some embarrassing karaoke moments: It is very difficult to speak normally when you have something screaming in your ears. We may not “see” 67,000 fans, but we could, and would, certainly “hear” them. Enter Distillery producer Libby Magnuson, an ex-Apple Genius bar genius, and her wireless ear buds. Armed with a loop of rabid, high decibel 12th man cheers and blessed with Richard’s signature dreadlocks, you couldn’t see the 67,000 fans OR the ear buds, but you could sure feel them in Richard’s performance. Every time.

The final touch of chaos was presented to us from heaven. Rain. And a lot of it. DP Jason Brown had the good instinct to chase away the first cloth sent to rescue his rain-splattered lens. Insanity, normally, but who gets to interrupt an emotional, spontaneous outburst to clean a lens? Later in the edit room, all takes without rain were summarily dismissed.

So chaos ensued, thanks to the courageous partnership offered us by creative director Larry Asher, who not only fielded questions from his clients we can only guess at, but also managed to rewrite his script on the spot with a wet, blinded, shouting All Pro cornerback.

And about that cornerback. Richard Sherman is a talented, earnest, hard-working man. Should you ever get the opportunity to work with him, just do it.

– Ron Gross / Director

Now Everyone Can Be An Astronaut

Posted on Feb 28, 2014


Our first work for the Museum of Flight set the bar pretty high at The Distillery.  The campaign is a template for what we feel we do best…create potent content for our clients.  Starting with a modest budget and the desire to create 3 spots, we took MOF Marketing Director Mike Bush and Senior Art Director Sherri Scott’s idea and exploded it into 8 commercial executions, 10 transit boards and an impressive 91% increase in Museum attendance after the campaign’s first week on-air.  With additional concepts from The Distillery, the work also produced Glow-in-the-Dark T-shirts, Coffee Mugs, Refrigerator magnets and a series of posters (shown here) for sale in the Museum’s Gift Shop.  That led to a 58% increase in profits.  Also featured is the work of Distillery member Ryan Gross as the “man in the suit.”  Ryan is responsible for giving us the dancing astronaut and can now claim to be followed by Buzz Aldrin.  The campaign was recognized with a Silver ADDY and was voted Campaign of the Year at the northwest Marketing Awards.