- Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
It was a blast to see all those famous folks from the 1980s—we’re talking everyone from Mary Lou Retton to Erik Estrada—burst into a Radio Shack store and clear the shelves in the Super Bowl spot “The Phone Call.” But the :30 created by Austin-based GSD&M and directed by Frank Todaro of bicoastal Moxie Pictures offered much more than a trip down memory lane. It was a self-effacing admission by the struggling electronics retailer that it needs to get with the times, and Super Bowl viewers and ad critics appreciated the humor and the honesty.
“We cannot give them enough kudos and credit for saying, ‘We get it. We know exactly where we stand in the marketplace, and if we’re actually going to have a go at turning this company around, we have to acknowledge what that reality is,’ ” GSD&M president Marianne Malina said of Radio Shack.
“The concept was the most appealing thing about it,” said Todaro when asked why he chose to direct this spot (he also helmed this year’s Hyundai Super Bowl ad “Dad’s Sixth Sense”), noting, “It wasn’t that it was going to be some spectacular bit of cinema. It was just that it was really funny and incredibly smart and self aware.”
The agency had fun coming up with a list of ’80s stars and references to fill the spot, according to GSD&M executive creative director Jay Russell, who recounted, “There were seven or eight people that sat in a room and had this wall of photographs that looked like it was from a scene out of A Beautiful Mind.”
There were tons of obvious choices like the aforementioned Retton and Estrada as well as Hulk Hogan and John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff on Cheers, but the agency also wanted to include some not-so-obvious references like the mechanical owl we see in the spot to get people asking questions online. (For those of you who didn’t recognize the owl, it is Bubo from the movie The Clash of the Titans.)
Securing the talent for the spot and the rights to feature various characters like the maniacal movie doll Chucky and iconic items such as Devo’s energy dome hat fell to the team from business affairs, and that was not so much fun. They had just over a month to get the job done, and there were people who agreed to be in the commercial then pulled out at the last minute. “They were just pulling their hair out,” Russell said, stressing that they are the unsung heroes behind “The Phone Call.”
With the cast finally in place, Todaro and his crew, which included DP Jimi Whitaker, shot “The Phone Call” in a store in an abandoned strip mall in the Valley. It was made to look like the Radio Shack time forgot, with outdated furnishings and stock that included everything from boom boxes to fax machines.
“I didn’t want to reveal everybody right away,” Todaro said. “It was really like a game of Jenga. You had to plot out where everybody was going to be as best you could—it was never going to work out perfectly—and then how the store was going to look at every stage.”
When something didn’t work, Todaro cut his losses quickly. Case in point: Within the first few seconds of the spot, Estrada, Ratzenberger, Hogan and Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister enter the store and survey the scene, and Todaro had planned to have ALF nose his way through them to stand at the front of the pack. “The funniest part was at one point we were doing it, and it was not working, and Dee Snyder, who was one of the best guys to work with on the whole thing, has got this spiky glove on, and he says, “ALF’s hair got caught on my glove,’ ” Todaro recalled with a laugh, pointing out, “Try after try, it didn’t work, and at a certain point, you have to move on.”
Todaro was able to capture pretty much everything in-camera, though he did turn to Brewster Parsons, the Venice-based VFX shop, to create The California Raisins and help make Bubo come to life among other tasks, as well as Cut + Run’s Los Angeles office for VFX work.
Editor Jay Nelson of Cut + Run put together the :30 version of the spot that ran during the Super Bowl as well as a :60 version that can be seen on YouTube. “We had to really plot out the edit beforehand, so it was mostly trying out some different takes. Jay did a great job. He was on set making sure things were starting to come together as he was able to have the pieces,” Todaro said.
As for the decision to set the spot to Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend,” the anthemic tune was chosen after Nelson was inundated with ’80s music. “We had so much fun sending songs back and forth,” Malina said, musing, “Jay must have been tired of hearing from me because I am a true child of the ’80s, and all of my favorite music is from the ’80s.”
Client Radio Shack. Agency GSD&M, Austin. Marianne Malina, president; Jay Russell, executive creative director; Scott Brewer, group creative director/art director; Tom Hamling, creative director/copywriter; Ryan Carroll, group creative director/copywriter; Tim Egar, creative director/art director; Bill Wine, executive producer; Alison Wagner, Flo Babbitt, producers; Klaudia Flanigin, strategy director; Ryan Gallagher, project manager; Jennifer Kennedy; senior integrated business affairs manager. Production Company Moxie Pictures, bicoastal. Frank Todaro, director; Jimi Whitaker, DP; Karol Zeno, executive producer; Laura Heflin, producer; Susie Carlson, wardrobe assistant. Shot on location in Los Angeles. Editorial Cut + Run LA. Jay Nelson, editor; Christopher Kasper, assistant editor; Michelle Eskin, managing director; Carr Schilling, executive producer; Cristina Matracia, producer. VFX/Finishing Cut + Run. David Parker, creative director; Shauna Prescott, Flame artist; Jorge Tanaka, Flame assistant; Liz Lydecker, VFX producer. CG Characters Brewster Parsons, Venice, Calif. Darcy Parsons, Sybil McCarthy, executive producers; TJ Burke, head of CG; Mat Stevens, lead CG. Post Company 3, Los Angeles. Stefan Sonnenfeld, colorist. Graphics The Mill+, New York. Audio LIME Studios, Santa Monica. Rohan Young, Loren Silber, mixers.