To say that Seed Media Arts director David Rosen resorted to childish behavior on the set of a recent shoot is incorrect. That was his plan from the beginning.
“I’m a goofball,” he explains. “If I’m playful and spontaneous, then the kids are going to be playful and spontaneous as well.”
Working on a concept by DDB Chicago for global engineering firm Emerson, Rosen directed on-camera interviews with 70 kids aged five- to-sixteen-years-old in two separate locations over four days.
The resulting video transforms a series of “difficult corporate concepts” into a cheery message delivered by the junior spokespeople, all of who are children of Emerson employees.
“They all were nervous when they started,” recalls Rosen. “No one told them what they were going to do.”
Emerson creates solutions for everything from the common kitchen, where its InSinkErators helps dispose of garbage, to the largest offshore facility in the world, where its automation helps maintain Shell’s Prelude Floating Liquefied Natural Gas platform. The company is currently undergoing a philosophical transformation that needed to be communicated to employees and clients.
“They had done a video with executives explaining certain changes,” Rosen explains. “Then DDB came up with the idea of having kids vocalize them.”
Before digging into abstract values like “integrity” and “customer focus,” the kids explained how their parents make a living and described what values that their parents had taught them. This is part of a technique that Rosen, a father of three boys, has developed over a career that includes a substantial number of commercials involving children as well as a decent dose of family and lifestyle work.
“You have to circle it a bit,” says Rosen. “How do you talk about ‘collaboration’ with an eight-year-old?”
One of his tricks on set was to ask, “Who do you like better, your mother or your father?” Another involved a bowl full of paper scraps with a random topic written on each one. He would often ask the child being interviewed to select and read one, or he would do it himself, to add a spontaneous bit of physicality to certain takes.
“Sometimes I’d go to the cafeteria and put in the flyer from the lunch specials,” he says. “So they’d say, ‘chicken tacos.’”
When things got flowing comfortably, he would ask them questions based on “half a dozen corporate ideas or goals” that Emerson wanted to cover.
A single camera shot most of the action featured in the official video. It was supplemented with a “roving b-cam for cutaways and behind the scenes stuff” that supplied much of the material for a “kids say the darndest things version” of the spot.
“It shows how we got there,” says Rosen.
Besides documenting the hilarious imagination of the kids —one plays air piano to Mozart, another proclaims that his career dream is to become a “cash register” — the b-roll showcases Rosen’s incomparable knack for creating ease on the set.
The feat is even more impressive considering that he did not meet any of the kids “until right before the shoot.”
“This is extreme performance and extreme casting,” he says. “There was a high bar of spontaneous innovation, and I think it’s reflected in the final piece.”
Among the crew that helped wrangle the talent was Seed executive producer Roy Skillicorn, who appears to have had as much fun as the kids. “David’s a very entertaining human being,” he explains. “He’s down on the floor … kids crawling all over him. He becomes a kid himself.”
And like any good kid, Rosen knew the best way make it through the consecutive twelve-hour days. “At lunch, when everyone else ate,” he recalls, “I would nap in a big closet adjacent to the room we shot in.”
Client — Emerson Electric
Agency — DDB Worldwide
Associate Producer: Jakub Zajaczkowski
SVP, Group Creative Director: Marcia Lacobucci
VP, Creative Director: Jeff Loibl
VP, Creative Director: Gary Matusek
VP, Account Director: Jason VanDenBrook
Account Exectutive: Laura Krawczyk
Production Company — Seed Media Arts
Director: David Rosen
Executive Producer: Roy Skillicorn
Line Producer: Kipp Christiansen
Production Supervisor: Buttons Pham
DP: Ron Sims
Post — Cutters
Editor: Christopher Gotschall
Producer: Heather Richardson
Post FX — Nolo Digital Film
Colorist/Post FX: Mike Matusek