Uni-ball is Fred Savage’s spot directorial debut

Fred Savage, child actor turned producer/director

IT’S A FIRST.  Chicago-born actor, director and producer Fred Savage has just directed his first series of TV commercials — made by Tris3ct/Chicago for the Uni-ball line of writing instruments.

Savage is perhaps best known for playing Kevin Arnold on the television series “The Wonder Years.”

Subsequently, Savage turned to directing and producing for television, including work for prime time series such as “Ugly Betty” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” But recently, Savage had felt the urge to try his hand at directing commercials, according to Tyler Jay, an executive producer at Tris3ct, a West Loop marketing agency.

Agency executives, including Jay and chief creative officer  Paul Kuzma, believed Savage was the right guy to tackle the wacky trio of locally-produced spots for Uni-ball.  The campaign targets males 18 to 25 years old.  “Fred has a very current vibe,” said Jay.  Especially, we’re told, with the younger demo at which the spots are aimed.

The commercials, zany as they are, showcase a series of three so-called “misfit pens.” These pens, all personified by Chicago-based improv actors, are pros at misbehaving at work, as the commercials oh-so-clearly indicate. Savage directs a scene from the Uni-ball spot

One of the bad-boy pens is seen in his office cubicle noisily watching a video of a cat named Mr. Whiskers.  In another video, an unruly pen is microwaving a burrito while a fellow office worker is trying to get him to sign a document.  The pen’s “hand” suddenly separates from his body, complicating the signing procedure.

The oddball, off-the-wall style of all the spots won’t appeal to everyone, certainly, but it’s apparent the spots were conceived, first and foremost, for young adults familiar with a lot of the humor found in a variety of beer TV advertising.

The commercials don’t make a cut-and-dried case for why young adult males should use a Uni-ball pen, but rather suggest that by doing so, young office workers can significantly upgrade the pens they use.

For now, the spots appear only online on Uni-ball’s Facebook page, where they have become a “viral sensation,” according to Jay.  If the Uni-ball folks add more money to the marketing budget, the three spots can quickly debut on TV.  “That is why we cut them as 30-second videos,” said Jay.


 IT USUALLY DOESN’T bring in any bottom-line income, but we’ve found that pro bono work done by Chicago advertising professionals often proves to be some of the best  produced in this city, creatively speaking.

It helps, of course, that pro bono work usually doesn’t involve a client butting in and demanding things be done a certain way.  That means creatives can let their creativity shine through, and thereby express to the fullest extent what made them pursue a career in advertising.

To demonstrate what we’re talking about, we point you to a recently-completed online video titled “What Do You Run For?”.  The video was made for Team World Vision, a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1950, that is devoted to raising money to provide clean water and other needs for Third World families who don’t have ready access to many of life’s bare necessities.

A runner from the “Why Do We Run” pieceRunners who are part of the Team World Vision effort typically sign up for marathons and then set up a fundraising web page to generate contributions for the organization.  For instance, the Chicago Half Marathon that is part of  Team World Vision is set for Sept. 11 this year, which  is also the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on America.

Nate Brown,  a producer with Ruth, a Chicago-based integrated marketing unit of the giant independent public relations firm Edelman, spearheaded the creation of the moving two-minute “What Do You Run For?”

Several other advertising professionals worked closely with Brown on the video, including director Chris Folkens, a former Leo Burnett broadcast producer.   Josh Bodnar of The Whitehouse post in Los Angeles, was responsible for the fluid editing that adds so much to the finished product.

The video simply introduces us to a variety of runners in various settings from sunny beaches to cityscapes and snowy mountain roads. Most of the video footage was shot in and around Los Angeles around the time of the annual Los Angeles Marathon.

As each runner appears in the video, we hear a voiceover  explaining why he or she is a runner. Some run to get in shape. Some run to be competitive with a sibling.  Some run to prove they can overcome a severe physical disability. 

Last, but certainly not least, in the lineup of runners is  one who says he runs for children around the world.  That prompts a quick succession of voices raised to proclaim they too run for Team World Vision as we see a montage of images of young African children frolicking in a tub of fresh water.

David Buckley, a Hollywood composer who most recently did the score for the Ben Affleck flick “The Town,”  wrote, recorded and contributed  pro bono the lush, emotional musical underscoring.

“What Do You Run For?” prods the viewer to contemplate the sport of running from many different angles. But finally the video most forcefully demonstrates that running also can contribute to making the world a better place for those in need.

Contact Lewis Lazare at:  LewisL3@aol.com