A look behind the scenes with Tessa Films at putting together the perfect spot during lockdown.
What’s the perfect dish for a lockdown night at home? Why pizza, of course! And not just any pizza, but a Screamin’ Sicilian Premium Craft frozen pizza.
That’s one takeaway from a fast-paced, light-hearted new spot from Blue Chip, directed by Sam Macon and produced and posted entirely under locked-down, WFH conditions by Tessa Films.
“The MO The Better,” which highlights the cornucopia of great ingredients that go into each Screamin’ Sicilian pie, was shot in just five days and features true stop-motion techniques. Running on the Twitch gamer-oriented video streaming service, it opens with bouncing tomatoes that splash onto a rolled pizza shell, forming the outline of a handlebar mustache – a graphic element that’s a signature of the Screamin’ Sicilian packaging.
From there the ingredients parade across the screen – mozzarella cheese dives through a shredder, green and red peppers dance with bits of sausage and pepperoni while olives, onions, garlic and pepperoncini mix it up in a herky-jerky style reminiscent of classic 8-bit video games (think Tank, Pong or Space Invaders). All these tasty items then pour into an open Screamin’ Sicilian box, and a perfect pie emerges.
The project represented a repeat assignment for Macon and Blue Chip Group Creative Director Joel Walker, who collaborated a few years back on a complex stop-motion project for a different brand, “so they came to Sam knowing what he could pull off,” explains Tessa Films’ EP Lisa Masseur. “And they were keen to have him shoot this for a classic Milwaukee brand, since he’s a Milwaukee native.”
“Knowing we had a tight schedule and were up against some unprecedented production challenges under quarantine, I knew that we could do something with stop motion,” Walker explains. “So I reached out to Lisa and Sam, and within hours they said they could pull this together. That’s where the past and the present met up very quickly.”
Walker credits Macon with helping flesh out the storyboards based on the agency creative team’s preliminary script. “This project, along with the world at large, was kind of anxiety-inducing, but that also helped stimulate our imagination, and we all came together with a similar collaborative, can-do mindset. The result is this super-engaging spot with a cool gaming dynamic and lots of appetite appeal.”
Once the concept was nailed down, Macon shot a series of test animations using real items – tomatoes, pizza boxes, etc. – to explore the creative potential for each sequence. “I wanted to ensure that the agency and client had a pretty good understanding of what I would be doing,” he explains. “Working under these remote conditions, with work being reviewed over Zoom meetings, it was essential that everyone was on the same page every step of the way.”
He also felt the choice to go with stop-motion made sense. “There’s something about its handmade nature that seems to really fit the moment,” Macon adds. “It works nicely with the broader trend of people being trapped in their homes and exploring and sharing new crafts, cooking techniques, and various projects to pass the time. In a way I guess, this commercial was my personal sourdough Instagram story.”
Working in his home studio in Los Angeles – with windows blacked out and neighbors’ suspicions piqued – Macon and his Art Director, Stacey Rozich (who’s also his live-in domestic partner), prepped all the food elements seen in the commercial and shot each frame, while remote members of the Tessa production and post team provided backup.
To pull this off, the client shipped product directly to Macon’s L.A. home, while Macon and Rozich made two grocery store runs – maintaining social distancing and wearing masks and gloves – during the week-long shoot.
Macon says the food styling for the spot wasn’t a problem, either. “I essentially treat the food like props, as opposed to food,” he says. “You make selections based on looks – for example, does the pepper have a good shape? It’s really about staying true to the appearance of the product. I get it that most directors don’t usually do all this stuff themselves – and believe me, I love my food stylists! – but I know a lot of the tricks. I also cook quite often, so these ingredients and their qualities aren’t foreign to me.”
Jonah Mueller, Tessa’s producer, served as producer/technical advisor on the shoot, handling all of the technical details of the production while running the camera control software used on the shoot from his home office in Chicago, a mere 2,000 miles away.
“All About the MO” marks Tessa Film’s first soup-to-nuts (or should we say pie to empty plate) project done under lockdown, and by all accounts it was a success. “It went better than we planned,” says Masseur. “We expected more technical hurdles, and I was concerned about Sam largely handling everything from directing to lighting to food styling on his own, with assistance from Stacey. But the end product greatly exceeded my expectations. And the collaboration remotely with the agency and client also ran very smoothly. I credit Jonah with choosing the right times during each of our shoot days for Zoom check ins for everyone!”
Macon claims that stop-motion, often compared to the process of watching paint dry, actually lent itself to the project’s tight schedule: “That’s because the post-process is relatively light. Due to the time-consuming nature of the animation, you’re not creating a lot of takes, so the edit is relatively straightforward.” VFX was used to smooth out a few shots and for rig removal, he adds, but almost everything was done in-camera.
It also helped that Macon’s tech and production support, as well as post, was all handled under the Tessa banner. And he credits Rozich for ably pulling everything together. “Fortunately, I live with an artist who easily handled asset creation, Photoshopping and all of that stuff,” he notes. “I guess the biggest surprise was that neither of our cats destroyed any takes by jumping up on the animation table while I was shooting.”
And that’s why Reel Chicago chose this as our Reel Ad of the Week!
“The MO The Better” Credits
Director of Marketing: John Leonardo
Brand Manager: Kim Halloran
Creative Director: Tim Weiss
Agency: Blue Chip
VP, Group Creative Director: Joel Walker
Associate Creative Director: Jimmy Sheehan
Art Director: Laura Price
Director, Digital Production: Scott Bednar
VP, Client Leadership: Kevin Paulsen
Associate Director, Client Leadership: Amanda Kochenash
Production & Post Production Company: Tessa Films
Director: Sam Macon
Art Director: Stacey Rozich
Producer / Technical Advisor: Jonah Mueller
Executive Producer: Lisa Masseur
Post Production Executive Producer: Reid Brody
Editor/FX: Steve Morrison
Color: Jeff Altman
Audio Mix: Kitchen / Sam Fishkin