Creativity Chat: Jake Scott, Director of Bud's New Clydesdale Super Bowl Ad
He's Carrying the Torch; Helped Father Ridley Scott on Classic "1984"
Our special series of Creativity interviews with directors of the Super Bowl's top ads continues with RSA Films' Jake Scott, the director of Budweiser's "Brotherhood" and Kia's "Space Babies." Make sure to check out our two earlier Q&A's with Noam Murro (Taco Bell's "Viva Young") and Tom Kuntz (VW's "Get Happy"). Stay tuned for the final piece in the series on Monday, a chat with actor and Iron Man franchise director Jon Favreau, who shot Samsung's Super Bowl spot.
Director Jake Scott of RSA Films has been behind the lens for some of advertising's most celebrated commercials (Nike's "Move" and "Magnet"; HBO's "Voyeur"). For this year's Super Bowl, he shot two big spots. One was Kia's "Space Babies" out of David & Goliath in Los Angeles and the other, was tear-jerker of the big game, Budweiser's "Brotherhood." Created out of Anomaly, it tells the story of a horse trainer united with a long lost friend -- a Clydesdale. In the wrong hands, the tale easily could have easily succumbed to schmaltz, but Mr. Scott's restrained approach makes it one of the most captivating spots airing on game day.
He spent some time chatting with Creativity about how he kept the spot's emotion authentic and he reveals his thoughts about directing in the shadow of the man who arguably made the Super Bowl the commercials extravaganza it is today -- his father Ridley Scott, director of Apple's "1984."
Creativity: Simply put, Budweiser is a great emotional story. What went into creating the emotion?
Mr. Scott: Budweiser could very easily fall into the trap of being sentimental, which was a fear I had going in. So I approached that one with an attitude that that couldn't happen. In the simplest terms, you're looking for authenticity in the feeling and in the relationship. I sort of decided that the trainer was like a father and a mother and a brother and a friend. He was all things to this horse. The horse was similarly a son and a friend and a brother. I worked that relationship with those thoughts in mind and never overplayed anything. I also felt if it got too romantic visually, if it became too pretty, then it would override the emotion. So I adopted a visual language that was incredibly simple. And I feel it paid off.
Creativity: The scene that gets me most is the one with the trainer looking at the leash.
Mr. Scott: Ironically that shot was an afterthought. It wasn't scripted. It's one of those things that's so meaningful, says so much about absence and loss. That's my favorite bit of the commercial, actually. It's a lovely, very simple way of evoking that feeling in the trainer of missing his friend.
Creativity: You talk about the trainer and horses playing all those roles. How do you get a horse to be all those things? Did you have to work closely with a wrangler?
Mr. Scott: I grew up with horses, so I have a bit of an understanding of them, but Tommie Kurvy [the trainer] really was the director of the horse and he should be acknowledged and applauded for his part in rendering the story. The horse's name is Bill, the big horse. We had to keep remembering he was a character too, not an object. I kept saying this horse is a bit of a rascal. He's a bit of an independent thinker.
Creativity: And what about working with the actor who played the trainer?
Mr. Scott: You sort of have to frame things with actors. Don [Jeanes] was very good. He [played] a good bloke who really cared about this horse, but it's a job. [The direction was] this is a horse, you've trained a hundred horses, but this is a horse you have a special bond with. It's like a soul mate. In the parade scene when the horse goes by him, it's sort of anticlimactic for Don, he looks a bit crestfallen. I said to him, "For some unknown reason, you actually think that Bill is going to recognize you." Of course Bill doesn't. I said, "It's like your ego got in the way. You're not a man given to vanity, but in this instance you actually come in thinking of yourself." And Don went, "You know it's almost like, I got this commercial and you never aired it." That response was perfect. It was about making it authentic, make the feeling authentic.
Creativity: Did you have any cultural references in mind when you were telling that story? It kind of evokes a sense of Lassie, or all those classic kid movies.
Mr. Scott: I actually did but it's such an arty-farty reference. There was a French film from the late '40s or '50s, Au Hasard Balthazar, directed by Robert Bresson about a donkey called Balthasar. It's one of my favorite films. There's another film, called White Mane, by the guy who directed The Red Balloon [Albert Lamorisse]. It was a short film about a young boy in Southern France who wins the trust of this white horse. Those were the things I kept referring to, but it's also inherently American, so of course it's going to remind the viewer of things they're familiar with.
Creativity: What are your thoughts about directing for the Super Bowl? There's so much pressure on the ads to perform well. Does that influence you?
Mr. Scott: Yes and no. I didn't grow up with the Super Bowl, but there is pressure because the clients want to get their money's worth and know that it's going to work and it's a huge platform for them and the agencies have high hopes. But it's an honor to be asked -- it's a massive audience. It's funny I'm just an English bloke who doesn't know a thing about American football.
Creativity: But you did grow up knowing that something your dad made was part of, if not the reason for, why the Super Bowl become this advertising extravaganza. Apple's "1984" ad is what made the Super Bowl this huge commercial showcase.
Mr. Scott: I worked on that actually. I helped with the casting of it. I was a runner at the time at the [RSA] office in London and they sent me down to an area in east London and shot all the skinheads they used as the worker force. My dad finished shooting and he was going out to dinner with [Chiat/Day] producer Richard O'Neill and the agency at this lovely restaurant in London, and I was hired to babysit the negative in Richard O'Neill's hotel room. I think I drank half the mini bar on his couch. Pretty useless. But that spot was amazing.
Creativity: The weight the 1984 ad has in advertising history, does that get in your head when you're directing something for the Super Bowl?
Mr. Scott: Not really. You just get on with it. At the end of the day it is another job. You've got to do it well. I was fortunate to have a couple of nice ideas to work with this year. It doesn't always come out well, and sometimes you can't even say why -- it could be the choices you made, client interference, clients being conservative, agencies not being able to make up their minds. There are many factors involved. I think there's some magic and luck and alchemy involved, but I'm very pleased with Budweiser.
We're shooting in Uruguay right now with some of the crew who worked on that spot, and we've been watching the hour by hour YouTube reports. I was worried Budweiser would be viewed as too sentimental. Being English I'm quite cynical and I think in England it would play quite differently: "Oh bloody hell, give me a break." But I'm really pleased with the reaction. I'm pleased for Budweiser, and the agency. People who are nice to work with you want to see do well.
Humble High grad was the guy in the Clydesdale ad
Before Don Jeanes got into acting, he studied marketing at Texas State University and spent hours around cattle and horses on the Jeanes family ranches in Liberty and Polk counties.
So he had training and breeding on his side when he landed a job as the two-legged star of a Super Bowl Sunday commercial featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales to the backdrop of "Landslide," Stevie Nicks' gentle mid-1970s ballad performed by Fleetwood Mac.
Jeanes, who graduated from Humble High School and lives in Los Angeles, portrayed a trainer who raises a young Clydesdale that becomes part of Budweiser's eight-horse hitch. The 60-second spot ends with a reunion, three years later, between the trainer and adult horse.
"I have to say that every day working on that commercial was one of the best days of my life," Jeanes said. "I remember driving home every day of the shoot being thankful that I get to work with horses and be an actor. Every day was a wonderful day."
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This was the 23rd year that Budweiser, whose advertisements annually top the Super Bowl ad derby, has used Clydesdales for a commercial during the championship game. The "Brotherhood" commercial in which Jeanes appeared used several Clydesdales at different ages and was shot over a four-day period in Thousand Oaks, Calif., at Budweiser's Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville, Mo., and in downtown Los Angeles, where the climatic reunion scene was filmed.
Don is interviewed beginning at 3:42 of this Youtube video: