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How These Ex-NFL Pros Plan to Return to the Super Bowl


Farm League’s director Tim Wheeler on filming Eli Manning, Mark Sanchez and other former footballers for Verizon’s big game social campaign, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

How These Ex-NFL Pros Plan to Return to the Super Bowl

In partnership with American telecommunications company Verizon, Farm League’s director Tim Wheeler teamed up with four former NFL players to launch a series of new spots leading up to the Super Bowl. 

Showing how - even in retirement - the pursuit to make it to the Big Game never truly ends, Verizon developed a promotion to give 20 fans tickets to the Super Bowl for the next three years, enlisting the help of some ex-pros who know the pursuit of the Lombardi trophy better than anyone. Featuring Eli Manning, Emmanuel Sanders, Reggie Bush, and Mark Sanchez, the campaign, ‘Pick Me’, features 60-second spots from each athlete, making their bid to prospective winners on why they deserve to be a plus one for the next few Super Bowls.

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, Tim Wheeler discusses how the campaign was created and produced primarily in vertical framing with a social-first mindset, how he gets non-actor talent to feel at home in front of the camera, and what the most satisfying moment on set is. 

LBB> How involved were you in the development/creative process? What was your initial reaction to the campaign idea - and what visuals and ideas immediately sprang to mind?

Tim> The internal creative team at Verizon, led by [senior creative director, social] Melissa Avery and [creative director] Tofer Moran, were extremely collaborative with the development of the scripts. They brought me on very early in the process when they had a general idea of what they were looking for in the story and structure, plus a list of possible comedic scenes. I immediately thought it was a great concept, and on our first call together we started riffing on ideas of different scenes we could do with Eli [Manning]. That continued with the three of us just writing and refining more ideas until eventually, we had to pick the collective favourites on the list to go and shoot. 

LBB> The films are presented in a vertical format - why is that? What challenges and opportunities did this provide you and your production team?

Tim> The primary deliverable was for social in 9x16, so it was important for me to prioritise and intentionally compose the images for that format. There were a lot of visual gags and reveals, so how moments played within the frame was very important. The only challenge we found was having the talent standing next to a prop when both the person and object were necessary reads at once  - like Eli standing near a whiteboard. But once you wrapped your head around how we were filming the scenes and telling the story, it became second nature to adapt and find playful solutions. We started using the vertical framing to our advantage.

LBB> What was your equipment/tech set-up like for this production? 

Tim> We shot on the Alexa Mini with a couple of different zoom lenses. We chose zooms both for comedic effect (like when we would do snap zooms) and for efficiency (we were often crunched for time and wanted to move quickly). 

LBB> The films also have archive footage of the players on the field - did you select which clips to use? What was that process like?

Tim> The archival footage was meant to give a level of credibility to the story and to trick the audience at the onset into thinking they were maybe watching a documentary profile piece on the talent genuinely wanting to get back into the sport. We were given a handful of clips to choose from and really just tried to find shots that linked up best to what the voiceover was saying. 

LBB> How closely did you work with the editing and post teams on this campaign? What direction did you give the editor when combining the archive footage with the new footage and hitting all the comedic beats?

Tim> The editors on this project were super collaborative and had great instincts. Having an editorial background, I can go down the rabbit hole of wanting to try a lot of stuff, so I often start by just telling the editor to go with their gut. There is a script to work with, try to follow that, and then deviate as you feel fit. Once they present a cut, itʻs a matter of reacting to whatʻs working best. In this case, it was trying out different jokes and seeing which ones everyone collectively thought were landing best in tandem with the others. Considering how subjective comedy is, we were all luckily on the same page. 

LBB> What was it like directing NFL legends? Are these highly successful athletes the ultimate professionals? How did their acting abilities and styles vary? 

Tim> I know it sounds like bullshit, but all four of these athletes could not have been any nicer or easier to work with. Once they understood the tone of the spots, they were all in, and almost all of them started improving after a couple of takes. I like to keep things professional but loose on set for the people in front of the camera, especially when dealing with comedy. The more fun everyone is having with it, the looser the talent becomes and the more engaged they become with the material.

My favourite moments were the ones when the players improvised something. Eli dropping the football, the smile he gives when heʻs watching his own football highlights - those were moments he just came up with. Mark Sanchez reading the bedtime story - he just made up that take on his own after doing a couple of scripted versions. Once you can get everyone on board with the tone of the humour, I love to give them space to try some stuff out - first played more straight and then a bit more over the top - starting close to the script and then expanding as the nerves wear away and they can sink into the fun of it.

LBB> What during production gave you the most satisfaction?

Tim> I loved - and it happened a handful of times - when I would walk everyone through the next scene and they would laugh at what I was telling them. Not only was it encouraging that they thought it was funny, but every smile or laugh they gave got them more engaged in the process. Like when I would throw out an alt line and they would just smile, and then not only say the alt line but also add a little improv of their own to it. The most satisfying part of working with talent, especially non-actors, is having them fully engaged and committing to include something of themselves to the work. True collaboration is when the work always turns out the best and with the most personality, and viewers can tell everyone is truly enjoying the process. 

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Farm League, Mon, 06 Mar 2023 16:17:00 GMT