Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards
Why Everyone in This Canadian Betting Ad Is Naked
London, UK
One Twenty Three West’s Kate Roland and Marie Cermakova, and Radke director Matt Kazman on subverting betting category tropes, mimicking broadcast-style sports footage, and whether the actors were actually nude, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

You probably know the classic saying, ‘If you’re nervous about giving a public speech, just picture everyone in the audience naked’. While phrasing may vary, and debates about whether or not this sentiment actually works rage on, there’s one thing that’s certain - it’s a hilarious concept. Sure, discussing the taboos of nudity and the human body are a whole can of worms to be opened at a later date, but you cannot deny, the concept of everyone nakedly staring at you while you deliver an address is pretty humorous, if nothing else. 

As it turns out, the same can be said for the world of sports. Demonstrated in a recent ad by creative agency One Twenty Three West and Radke director Matt Kazman, on behalf of the British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s sports betting site, PlayNow Sports, this 30-second spot depicts athletes, coaches and even commentators across a plethora of popular sports entirely naked, all while playing and competing as normal. 

Intended to emphasise the idea that picturing people naked makes any situation less stressful, the creative effectively addresses the in-your-face nature of sports betting, by reminding viewers that really, it doesn’t have to be so aggressive or scary. (And, if nothing else, watching two football players celebrate a touchdown with a synchronised, naked dance routine is absolutely hilarious!)

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down for a chat with One Twenty Three West creative director Kate Roland, associate creative director Marie Cermakova, and Radke’s Matt Kazman to learn what it took to make this spot bare its creativity to the country. 

LBB> What was the brief for this campaign, and what immediate ideas came to mind?

Kate> The brief was pretty straightforward: sports betting can be intimidating, primarily because players don’t know how to bet - the betting lingo, the loud, flashy ads, not really knowing where your money is going - and PlayNow Sports is the opposite. 

Marie> As the province’s only legal betting site, it’s the safe, secure way to play. We knew we wanted to subvert category tropes, so we turned to humour. During a brainstorm, one of us made a joke about ‘Well, what if they just picture everyone naked?’ and, really, that was the start of everything. 

LBB> How did you develop this idea? Were there certain hurdles that had to be overcome given the potential for it to branch into a taboo nature?

Kate> We put ourselves in sports betters’ shoes - if they were intimidated by sports betting and took that advice literally, what would the game look like? 

Marie> In terms of overcoming potential taboo, we decided early on that none of the athletes would be aware of their nudity. This kept the scenes focused on sports performance versus jokes at their (naked) expense. 

LBB> Tell us about the writing process itself! 

Marie> We wanted to keep the scenes as true to a professional game as possible. So, we wrote them straight, intending for the absurdity of the nudity to dial up the humour. Then we sat down to come up with as many scenarios as we could think of. Naked hockey coach yelling from the bench. Naked soccer flop. Naked fans in the stands. Naked goalie taking pucks. We went to our director, Matt Kazman, with a huge list of scenes, and together we workshopped what we felt was the funniest mix.

LBB> Building on this, what made him the right director for the job, and Matt, why was this something you were interested in?

Kate> We loved Matt’s reel. He has a really unique, nuanced style of comedy. Because we were operating in an in-your-face category - with a bunch of naked athletes - we really didn’t want the spot to feel broad or slapstick. Matt suggested capturing the scenes in a very realistic, ‘broadcast’ way, which was the feel we were going for. He came to us with a bunch of smart ideas that helped plus what we already had. 

Matt> Simply put, I loved the script. It was such a clear and hilarious idea (kudos to Kate and Marie) and it was also a little risqué, which was very appealing. I was like, ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this… I have to be involved’. 

Since the script was really solid, the immediate ideas that came to my mind had to do with elevating it and building out the scope. For example, the hockey scene was originally written as just seeing the coach, but I knew that seeing naked players would add so much to the spot. I also knew that I wanted to mimic the ‘broadcast style’ of sports footage in order to make it look like you’re watching professional games.

LBB> Integral are the people featured in the spot. What were you looking for in the casting process?

Matt> The main thing we were looking for were people who genuinely felt like (and had the skills of) the athletes they were playing. I wasn’t particularly looking for comedic performers - I was looking for people to take their roles seriously and act as if everything was normal. Every single one of the players we cast was experienced at their sport. And for the hockey coach and sports announcers, we were looking for people who could improvise, but who could still take the role seriously and never wink at the audience. Of course, we were also looking for people who were comfortable with partial nudity, but the level of that and how we were planning on covering them up on set was made very clear from the beginning.

LBB> Any how did you do this? Were the actors just in their underwear with censoring added in post? 

Matt> What we did was have everyone wear modesty underwear and pads to cover anything that would get pixelated in post. 

To this end, it was really important to me that everyone on screen was fully aware of how we were approaching that aspect and comfortable with it beforehand. Firstly, I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, and secondly, by having a cast that was game with the approach and how naked they were on camera, it allowed everyone to have a lot more fun on set. It was the sort of situation where we’d film something and even though the actors were taking the scenes seriously on camera, as soon as we cut, we were all laughing together about the absurdity of what we were shooting. 

One anecdote in particular has to do with our football players. When we cast these roles, we were obviously looking for people who knew how to play football, but we had them do victory dances in their auditions so we could see their personality, and the guys we casted - Stephen and Josh - were just incredible dancers. Really fun guys, great senses of humour. When we filmed their victory dance, they had clearly choreographed some dances together while we were setting up, and to see them go from seriously slamming a football down to this synchronised dance routine was hilarious! It just speaks to the power of giving people an idea to play with and letting them have fun with it.

LBB> Building on this, how was the shoot? 

Matt> This was a two-day shoot, and it broke down pretty simply, since it’s really just four scenes. Day one was hockey and sports announcers. Day two was soccer and football. It definitely required a two day shoot because of the locations, but we had a good amount of time at each location to get the material we needed and have a lot of fun with it too. I never felt rushed, which is a rare experience. Everything was shot on location at arenas and fields around Vancouver. That was a big thing for me - making sure to shoot at real locations that did a lot of work for us in terms of selling the professional level of the sports we’re watching.

Kate> During our first wardrobe approval, I remember Marie and I looking at each other like ‘What have we done?’. The actors had to parade out in their barely-there underwear and hockey skates, cleats, whatever, and we had to sign off. I don’t think we’ve ever said ‘approved!’ so fast! 

Because the talent consisted of real athletes, including one former CFL player, they took great direction - we mapped out basic plays and then let them go. The hockey players in particular were real troopers, on the ice for hours skating hard, falling, and never complaining. Marie and I had another anxious moment when they were taking shots on the goalie. Luckily, none of the pucks hit any bare skin!

Marie> It was really interesting to see the level of comfort with nudity in our actors. One of our extras got maybe too comfortable… when he walked to the catering area across the street in his nude underwear! That definitely got a few looks. 

LBB> What sort of equipment did you use to shoot, and why did you make the choice that you did?

Matt> We shot this on an Alexa Mini LF, and mainly used an Angénieux 24-290mm zoom lens. We knew that we wanted to zoom in and out during our shots in order to mimic the broadcast style of sports footage and add some energy to the spot. I kept referencing the movie ‘Blackberry’ (which I absolutely loved) to Byron Kopman, the DP, because that movie uses long lenses and zooms to create a documentary-like feel that’s energetic and voyeuristic, but makes the comedic performances feel a lot more real. Totally different subject matter, but I thought a similar approach would work really well for this spot.

LBB> When it came to aesthetics and the look and feel, what were your main aims and ambitions and how did you achieve them through lighting and colour?

Matt> Even though this was a comedy spot, and it could have been approached in a totally different way, I knew that leaning into realism would make the absurd comedic gag at the centre of it all even funnier. Shooting from high angles was done to mimic the broadcast style of sports footage. And shooting on a zoom lens added a documentary feel and a sense of energy that you could feel watching takes play out in real time. On set, it felt like we were capturing real sports plays, except we were able to film the same play multiple times.

When it came to lighting and colour, again, it was all about making every scene look like a professional sporting event, while adding a bit of pop to really solidify that you’re watching a comedy spot. Pops of colour were mainly accomplished with production and costume design. Every little element had a lot of thought and intention behind it, from helmet designs to how we covered the boards in the hockey arena, all the way down to the accessories the soccer ref has that legitimise her presence and separate her from the naked players. It was all in the pursuit of making things look as professional as they can be when everyone on screen is naked.

LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them?

Kate> I think our first challenge was selling the script through - how do you convince a client that doing a totally naked ad for TV is the right thing? Luckily we have a brave client who wants to do good work as much as we do, and who understands that sometimes, that means pushing boundaries a bit.

Marie> After that, it was just keeping the intention of the spot in mind, ensuring that nothing felt gratuitous, and that it always came back to our core message: don’t be intimidated, just play with a site you can trust. 

LBB> Finally, is there a scene or a sequence that you find especially funny?

Kate> For me, it’s the hockey coach yelling from the bench. We ran so many lines with our actor, we could have a supercut of just him losing his mind over plays. At one point we even had him break a hockey stick. It’s the ridiculousness of him wearing a tie and nothing else that gets me every time.

Marie> And obviously, our end scene with football players giving it their all on the dancefloor was a blast. At one point, the actors started doing ‘the worm’, all in sync. Everyone behind the camera was laughing and tearing up. 

Matt> I’m a big fan of the hockey scene. Having so many elements (players, coach, fans) which were all doing something different was very fun. I had a lot of fun coming up with plays for the hockey players, but also just letting them scrimmage for a bit and capturing that. 

There’s also some stuff we filmed that made me burst out laughing, like seeing a couple players get mad at each other and then throw down their gloves (one of their only pieces of clothing) to fight. In general, seeing people be really angry while naked was very funny. That extends to the hockey coach - played by Richard Keats - who just brought so much fury to his role. We shot so much amazing stuff with him. 

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