Updated: Feb 11, 2019
This was a while ago.
We were headed to Spring Training. And yes, this was for work.
My then girlfriend/now wife, Toni, was part of the team, and our boss, Joe Leahy, was making sure we took it all in.
The campaign was called Play Like A Cardinal. And the whole idea was that this team, like the many who wore the birds on the bat before them, had their own unique approach to the game.
We filmed an internal monologue piece featuring the improbable comeback story of Rick Ankiel who flamed out as a left-handed pitching phenom only to reinvent himself as an outfield slugger.
We did a fun take on the reliever’s mindset featuring Jason Isringhausen.
We were allowed access to Albert Pujols for “five swings” according to the team’s manager, Tony La Russa. Five swings—and he wasn’t kidding. The cameras came on as soon as Pujols emerged from the locker room, and we captured every angle we could at multiple speeds of those five swings. And I think we made a decent spot out of it.
All around it was a scrappy production. And after two days of filming with as many players as we could and a lot of Fredbird footage when we couldn’t get players, we walked away with enough material for eleven spots.
But there was one that we desperately wanted to get. It featured the team’s catcher, Yadier Molina. In our minds, he was already the best in the league defensively. Somehow, he hadn’t made an All-Star Game yet, but he was renowned for “picking off runners who didn’t even know they were running,” as we said in one of our radio spots.
The script was simple, and our director, Timothy Kendall, loved it and knew just how to pull it off.
We’d have Yadi take a couple pitches behind the plate. Then, a coach would casually instruct him to throw down to second. (They call the time from glove to bag “pop time.”)
So, Yadi would snap a throw 120 feet to second base, and the camera would try to track it. When it got there, we’d see that the radar gun was perched behind the bag—instead of behind home where they normally measure the pitcher’s MPH.
Simple enough way to pay off his incredible arm. Or so we thought.
Tony La Russa, the one who mandated “five swings” for Mr. Pujols, was also very protective of Yadi. And rightfully so. The team is his responsibility, and why would you risk any injury to make a commercial?
Never mind that the team had been doing much more strenuous workouts throughout the day. This was all for a chuckle, and Yadi couldn’t make the throw.
Okay. Now what?
We talked about faking it and having a “body double” or backup catcher make the actual throw, and all the star would need to do is catch a ball and stand up. Alternatively, we could just film the set up of the radar gun behind second base and reverse the script to avoid the throw.
We were back in the concepting phase, only there were cameras and crew and a field full of major leaguers waiting for us to come up with something. The dream trip to Spring Training suddenly became a potential bust. No pressure.
That’s when we did what we always do in situations like this. We diverted our attention. Specifically, we drifted over to the warm-up bullpen, and oddly enough, that’s where the idea was hiding out.
It was simple, and the tracking would allow us to cut two different scenes together to look completely seamless. Plus the spot had that notion of everyday amazingness coming out of Spring Training and headed to a Busch Stadium near you.
The feeling of solving a problem on the fly emboldened our team. We couldn’t believe it worked. And we took that experience along with us to every shoot after that.
We’ve seen rain show up unannounced, actors who can’t pronounce the brand and the occasional uncooperative animal. And rescheduling is never an option.
That’s why we overwrite our scripts before we show up with a camera. And when we do pick up the expensive gear, we don’t put down our pencils.
Inspiration can strike at any point along the process. Sometimes it comes from Tony La Russa.