Reel Chicago introduces ‘Reel People’, a collection of profiles of film and creative professionals that will run every Friday. Our inaugural installment features October TV co-founder Chris DeWinter’s behind-the-scenes recollection of a Kroger / Unilever campaign created by Geometry Global.
— Dan Patton, Editor
Chicago-based production and post house October TV completed work for clients from Europe to Asia last year, but one of its most thrilling jobs was a Kroger campaign filmed in the good old U.S. of A.
“Basically, it was a trio of spots consisting of man-on-the street interviews about men’s grooming products in three separate locations that create three separate moods,” explains partner Chris DeWinter. “They wanted a pickup basketball game, a neighborhood barbershop, and a summertime park.”
The spots combined Kroger as a destination for purchasing specific Unilever grooming products for men: Axe pomade, Dove face wash, Degree deodorant, Suave shampoo, and Vaseline skin lotion.
The campaign, titled Mancrafted, came from the Chicago office of Geometry Global — “a great company with great creative,” according to DeWinter. It also arrived early, which became a tremendous advantage down the line.
“They come to us with questions, and that’s where we like to be in the pre-production process: helping to maximize the final cut for the budget and utilizing all of the resources available,” he says. “They had some lofty ideas based on the time of year, but they let us run with it, and it worked.”
Outlining the timeline was standard practice, but executing the plan was a non-stop challenge that inspired October to “own the experience while making it real.”
“Besides finding the locations, we had to audition and cast a host who could be engaging and a lot of real people — not professional actors — sometimes while we were shooting,” he recalls. “Everyone had to be enthusiastic about talking about men’s products — they had to be good, spontaneous brand ambassadors — and they also had to be happy to receive a grab bag of Unilever goodies in return.”
Then, of course there was the timing. The pickup basketball spot was intended to air on major networks during national sporting events, including 2019 NCAA tournament, aka “March Madness,” which was less than three months away.
The concept reminded him of Venice Beach, but going to LA was out of the question because the budgetary requirements were “colossal” and, he adds, “Chicago is by far my favorite place to shoot.”
Fortunately, it turns out that October’s got a lot of game in this town.
“Our team went to work and scoured friendships and relationships and found one of the city’s best pickup basketball games, which happens to be at the Mercy Home of Chicago on Jackson Blvd.,” says DeWinter.
DeWinter knew that the location looked “great on film” because October had recently filmed a job there for Swish House, a basketball-themed fitness class. Plus, Mercy House is “part of an organization that saves lives and supports kids in need.”
“Besides the gym, they have a place for studying and just hanging out,” he adds. “It’s a wonderful cause.”
After contributing to Mercy’s cause, October hit the gym with a “true team effort.” Shooting on their own Canon C300 Mark II’s and Cinema Prime lenses (“we own most of our gear,” says DeWinter), they completed the spot in time for March Madness. Good thing, because after this one, there were two more spots to go.
October also created the motion-graphics for the closing card, which features the products rising from the bottom of the screen on a red background beneath the logo. “We do amazing stop-motion, like jaw-dropping,” says DeWinter. “That’s another story in itself.”
From pre- to post-production, the job spanned about seven months.
“We rented Funk’s Barbershop on Chicago’s near west side for a day but made sure that customers who happened to walk in could still get their haircut whether they chose to participate,” says DeWinter. “They scheduled regulars who they knew wouldn’t mind appearing in the background of a TV commercial.”
During off-camera moments and prep time, October and crew helped keep the place tidy. “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean,” says DeWinter. They also filmed the cleaning process and ultimately captured enough footage to create an additional 30-second spot for Funk’s, which is now the official hair-cutter of the Bears.
“In Key West, we had producers and wranglers and people all over to recruit spontaneous talent to appear on camera and speak with our host, Jim,” says DeWinter. “We also had to conceal the fact that it was Key West. We had to make it look like it could pass for any of the 13 states where Kroger is located. Given our travel and work, we knew that a specific park in Key West would fit the bill. We got a film permit and made it look like summertime in Anytown USA during March.”
Send your Reel People stories to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, firstname.lastname@example.org.