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Into the Library with Bryan Buckley


Hungry Man’s co-founder and director Bryan Buckley discusses becoming “the Super Bowl guy” and shares 10 career highlights, including his impactful gun reform work with Change the Ref and some big game classics

Into the Library with Bryan Buckley

'The Creative Library' is LBB’s exciting new launch. It’s been months - years, probably - in the making and we reckon our re-tooled archive will change the way you work, whether you’re a company looking to store and share your work, or a marketer or creative looking for new partners or inspiration for your latest project.

This isn’t a dusty old archive. It’s an easy-to-search, paywall-free library where all our members can store and share all of their reels and creative work.

To coincide, we’re also launching a new regular feature called ‘Into the Library’ where we catch up with the industry’s most influential directors and creatives to talk about their career highlights, past and present. Think of it as a reel showcase with a big dollop of personality. We interview directors and top creatives about their favourite commercials and music videos from their catalogues to find out how these works shaped them.

Today, we’re excited to continue this exploration into the world’s best creative minds with the ‘King of the Super Bowl’ himself and co-founder of Hungry Man, Bryan Buckley.

March For Our Lives - Generation Lockdown

My introduction into this world was with March For Our Lives - in itself, that was a pretty crazy experience - mainly because the client is [a group of] kids. These are kids that, by virtue of a horrible situation, were thrown into something. [The] Parkland [school shooting] became this lightning rod that gave birth to a lot of the movement against guns in the country. March For Our Lives was so particular, making sure that we had clearances on everything. The reason being, that they're under fire like nothing else. Once the spot was released, the number of attacks from the right on these kids was never-ending. 

Change the Ref - NRA Children’s Museum

A year and a half later, Manuel and Patricia [Oliver, Change the Ref founders] came into my life via Leo Burnett. In many ways, they’re more radical than March For Our Lives - mainly because their whole lives have been destroyed. Every moment of their lives has been compromised by the loss of their kid. I just love that they're willing to take swings and do things that other people aren't, because they realise they have to do this.

The parents of Uvalde [victims] have joined them, so we wanted to get them to be part of this NRA Children's Museum and have their kids' stuff exhibited there, along with their voice. And there's a growing movement - a lot of them come from lower-income and middle-income families so they can't take a day off work to fight the fight, and they’ve got to still worry about their other kids… They don't have funding, they don't have anyone behind them - and then they don't want to keep on talking about it because they get attacked after a while, so Manuel and Patricia have become that voice, and a very, very critical voice.

Change the Ref - The Lost Class (David Keene)

When we did ‘Lost Class’, there was this one ‘we got you’ moment, where we got [former NRA president David Keene] to do it. And then the sadness just came right back - it was so fleeting: ‘oh we got him, but my kid’s not here and we’ve got a fight on’. There is no victory until there's victory - there is no end to this thing. We have to be a force and we have to be sort of reckless and relentless until we can bring about change. 

I think it's a pretty powerful concept. It's big. I like the way it tests your brain - it's a challenge and satisfying, but it’s super heavy. We're planning to do another one, so this sort of launches us to prepare for the next - I'll call it ‘attack’ - on the NRA. The politicians will only listen if it costs them votes. The NRA is honestly never going to listen, it’s a complete cult. Modern politicians are about popularity, so if it’s not popular to take NRA’s money, they’re not going to take it. I’m hopeful that we can impact elections and can impact voting or impact politicians because I don't think there's any other way. 

You have to get to the point where they can't afford to play this game anymore. And honestly, we can't afford to lose any more kids. - When I Grow Up

This spot originally was a psychiatrist and some guy laying on a couch, shot documentary-style - and that was the job I won for the Super Bowl. So they awarded me the job, and then the client killed the spot. So they were stuck with me as a director. They would never have picked me for this real-life, portrait thing! But it’s a good life lesson - one of the biggest spots of my career, arguably, was a mistake. Our business has a tendency to, if they see you do something once, they ask you to do it twice. They're not going to say, ‘Oh, let's go do something different with this guy’. 

So back then, in ‘99, I said I wanted to be ‘the Super Bowl guy’. I literally said, ‘I'm going to position myself as that in the marketplace’ because I figured it would give me longevity - the Super Bowl comes every year. So that kicked it off.

Believe it or not, to get those lines out of those kids, we had to go very deep. I would ask a kid in New York what they wanted for Christmas, and they’d say ‘a bicycle’ or ‘video games’. Then, I remember down in New Orleans, a kid said, ‘A mattress - my own mattress’. Wow, that's a big difference. In a microcosm, you could see how economically divided and racially divided the US was. You're asking the same questions, but these kids are not nearly on the same page… and you can see things not ending so well later. Even then it wasn’t. But it’s got exacerbated by social media.

At the time [ad critic and journalist] Bob Garfield didn’t like this spot… he shit all over it. So, for younger directors and creatives, you just have to believe in your own work. I’ve done a lot of Super Bowl spots, but arguably nothing more impactful than this. It’s come up every year since ‘99 - it’s just one of those things, it took time.

E*Trade - Monkey

I knew the creatives Gerry Graf and David Gray [creative directors at the time at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners] really well. They call and say: ‘We’ve got this idea for the Super Bowl… it’s got a monkey in it’... oh boy. So the monkey’s up there, he’s dancing and everything… I’m like: ‘how are you ever going to pull this spot off?’ And then they said, ‘We just wasted $2 million, what are you doing with your money?’ Oh, my gosh, this is genius! 

So how do you make this thing down and dirty on the Super Bowl? There are two ways to go: you can either waste more money with a location that's crazy and big, or you go the other way - in someone's garage. The chimp at the time was an improviser - he was able to improv jumping on the bucket and all that stuff. He was super smart. He kind of saved us that day. 

The other component was the two guys, who I held an audition for. One of the guys was the worst audition I've ever seen in my life - not then, but about two years before. And I said, ‘God, I gotta keep his name in case something comes up where I need someone really, really bad’. And it turned out I had worked with his father before on something else, so his father came in - it just clicked on so many levels. 

They couldn't clap to the rhythm, even if they wanted to, which was really funny. That was part of what made it special - those are all real elements, those are all real people, essentially everything there was real. And it became a colossal waste of money, which was the goal! The media buy became a waste, and the performance is so horrendous, that that became a waste too - so it worked.

Mini Cooper - Counterfeit

There was this counterfeit concept Crispin Porter Bogusky wanted to shoot… they had this booklet they wanted to shoot a couple of photos from - like a 20-page manual - and I was always shooting in Brazil, so we took it to Brazil. Then they go, “Yeah, you know, we're kind of hoping to do a movie instead…” 

This is after I'm in Brazil. Like, what? Wait a second, what are you talking about? It’s like a 20-minute movie - how are we going to pull that off? There was no money in that thing, but we found a way to get it done. 

I remember scouting the favela - and this was post ‘City of God’, so it was super cool… you might die but you’ll get a cool shot. We’d have to pay off the chief and then you'd go in there and have this cool backdrop -  just visually amazing - but there's real stuff going on, like someone is actually stealing a TV set in the middle of the thing you’re shooting.

One of its funniest moments is the exploding car. I said to my producer, ‘When the car hits that little wall, it’s going to blow sky-high’. And he got the military to come in - we didn’t use film guys - and they packed that car full of explosives. We moved our camera positions back and that car just blew - you could feel the heat wave singeing your face… ‘holy shit, we would have died!’ Then we go back to the video and realise the car never reached the wall because the military guys were so trigger-happy and hit the button early. Later in post, we wrote, ‘How explosive is it? It blew up before it hit the wall.’ 

Now, today, someone in post would have just moved the wall closer before anyone knew any difference. To me, that’s without question the funniest moment in the piece. It just shows you that embracing imperfection in film is really key. Certainly, a part of what my career has been made out of is imperfections - taking ‘that’ and making it into ‘this’.

VH1 - Anti-Rock Rockstar

I remember Scott [Vitrone, Y&R ECD at the time] saying, “We’ve got to make it elegant… the pissing’s got to be elegant.” He was talking about [Stanley] Kubrick and that sort of approach to elegance - we can take the most absurd sort of thing, and if we put this Kubrick lens on it, where do we end up? 

We started casting rock stars and immediately I just hated them. They were all awful. The problem was, they were American. [If] an American rock star acts obnoxious, it’s just obnoxious - they're unlikable. When English rock stars act obnoxious, it’s actually funny. There's a difference! Even if we never hear a word, it doesn't matter - it's the mannerisms of an English rock star. So we cast someone in London… You’re only as good as your talent and once we found him, that was it, the rest of it came together. I wanted to make his fingers really long, so we extended them - that was part of who he was, his fingers were really long.

We built in those moments of the anti-rock star - moments we can all relate to… the life of us real people on the road versus the rock star who can do no wrong. And then we brought those two parties together into the Kubrick-like moment, urinating on each other - which was ultimately elegant and well done. 

Another funny thing - the car he comes out of was my Lamborghini. All the girls in the car had these sparkles on them and those sparkles never came out of the car. I had it for like two more years after and they literally never came out, they were everywhere.

ESPN SportsCenter - The Kid

When I came in, it was [Moxie Pictures director] Frank Todaro shooting them and [Hungry Man co-founder] Hank [Perlman]. That was our trio, and prior, we all had an agency together [Buckley / DeCerchio], so we knew each other. 

At the time, Nike was at Wieden and SportsCenter was at Wieden. SportsCenter was nothing and Nike was everything - their humour was a different high-end at that point, it wasn't your run-and-gun humour, it was all this beautiful stuff. And then you had this stuff come along. When we first did it, [SportsCenter co-host] Keith Olbermann, who was one of the big guys at the time, was like, ‘I don't want to do this, this is this crap’. I was going around trying to convince reporters to actually participate in what we're doing and trying to get athletes in. None of us had any idea what impact this would have on our careers - it was crazy. 

This particular spot stood out to me because it didn't have a famous athlete. We went down to a local high school and said, ‘Who wants to be in the SportsCenter spot as an anchor? Tell us a little bit about something’. There was this one kid who was a huge Red Sox fan - “the Yankees suck, man! They’re awful!” - [we said] you’re the guy, you're awesome! If an actor went in there and did that role, they're never going to hit those notes. That really was his mom standing next to him… she couldn't believe the things he was saying. 

All these spots, by and large, we ‘writers’ roomed’ the night before. We never knew which athletes we were going to get, people would cancel, so we would come up with the spots the night before and shoot the next day. It was always that way - this sort of visceral experience, sitting in a room coming up with some concepts, seeing if the athlete will do them. It’s been a staple for Hungry Man for many many years now, it’s still there and it’s fun! 

Starburst - Fiesta In Your Mouth

I thought this idea was so funny, it’s such a crazy, silly idea. When it came in, I remember thinking, ‘This is amazing, but how do you pull it off?’ - that was the challenge.

We built that set - that’s an all-practical mouth and all of that [liquid] is milk. It was a massive amount of milk with colouring in it, so it was real flooding. They all had to be able to do stunts while playing as a mariachi band - like get knocked down and really go down. We were shooting in Brazil and interestingly enough, there aren’t a lot of mariachi bands in Brazil. The other element was that the client brought down boxes of Starburst and the crew thought they were for themselves - so they ate all the Starburst. We got to the shoot and ‘holy shit!’, we had one or two packets. So when the kid had to eat the Starburst, I remember being like ‘spit it out and use it again! Don’t chew on it, we can use it again!’.

I remember the milk smelling really bad too. We were going to have a rap party in the mouth, but that didn’t happen - it was terrible.

The thing I loved was the realness. The singing was real, the playing was real, all of that stuff was very visceral and that realness made it fun. It wasn’t polished, we did everything practically… whether you’re watching the guy dancing in the back as he’s getting knocked down or the way the milk hits, it’s very real and visceral and it just made me laugh.

New Era - Rivalry

[John] Krasinski got involved in this project as he was coming off ‘The Office’ and weirdly enough, he’s a lover of advertising. It’s the strangest thing, he’s had all this success and he’s like ‘Hey, listen I’ve got this ad idea…I’m going to get Alec [Baldwin] to do this spot.’ Charlie Grandy, a writer and showrunner for ‘SNL’, ‘The Office’ and ‘The Mindy Project’ wrote all of the spots, so it’s a TV writer and he would say things where we’d be like ‘Dude, you can’t say that!’. But he’d be like, ‘What the hell, let’s try it and do these scripts’.

The black and white thing started because I love black and white - a few of the spots I’ve picked are black and white. It just adds a specialness and texture to the performances, and comedy can be really great in black and white (Monster’s ‘When I Grow Up’ being a good example). You just connect with it emotionally on a different level. The other side of it too is that it gets rid of issues with colour and temperature, so if you have no money you can make it look more interesting.

Something all these projects have in common is that pretty much no one ever has any money, but you make the most out of them. And that’s what we did with New Era - it was really fun and pretty irreverent. And it also teaches one thing, which is that you hear things about actors… you hear ‘X’, and it turns out that it’s ‘Y’. Alec had a reputation for being difficult, but it was that he's a perfectionist. That's what the ‘difficulty’ was.

view more - Into the Library
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LBB Editorial, Tue, 21 Feb 2023 19:00:00 GMT