GENESIS: Foot Locker is heading back to school. Old school, that is. A pair of seasonal spots, shot in a period style by director Aaron Ruell for ad agency SapientNitro, take place in a modern high school. But they skip comically into the past—reimagining Isaac Newton and the Wright brothers as sneaker pioneers in historically dubious voiceover narratives, revealed at the end to be school reports that students are giving to their classmates. Newton, it turns out, just wanted to enjoy a little hang time in his kicks but was cursed to discover a nemesis called gravity. And the Wright brothers, while being the first in flight, were also the "first in fly," thanks to their super-cool footwear fashions.
COPYWRITING: The writers toyed with all sorts of historical figures, trying to settle on characters that would appeal to high schoolers. (The Pilgrims seemed more middle school, Sigmund Freud more college.) Newton and the Wright brothers felt appropriate, and suitably connected to gravity and its transcendence—the purview of all sneaker companies. "And if we had an opportunity to put a guy in a powdered wig, why wouldn't we?" jokes SapientNitro creative director Chris McMurtrey.
ART DIRECTION: The agency was torn between being jokey with goofy costumes and wigs, and being more serious with higher production values. McMurtrey says Ruell offered both—a high aesthetic value with an offkilter, humorous message. Ruell (an accomplished director perhaps still best known for his acting role as Kip in Napoleon Dynamite) wanted to give the Wright brothers spot, in particular, a period feel. He used a modern-day camera specially outfitted with a hand crank to mimic the cameras of the early 1900s—which sped up the action slightly. "Typically, a nice steady crank falls within 16-18 frames per second, which is the standard look for the old hand-crank films," says Ruell. "But it's never consistent, which is what gives it that unique charm and look." The hand-crank camera lent authenticity that's impossible to achieve in post. "It didn't feel artificial at all," he adds. Ruell provided period photos for color matching in postproduction. Both spots switch at the end to a modernday school setting, shot at a straight 24 frames per second, with a color shift that's clean and contemporary.
FILMING: The spots were shot over two 12-hour days at several locations, including the historic Pico House in Los Angeles and the Church of the Angels in Pasadena. Ruell traveled to find just the right tree for the Newton spot. "There's plenty of trees in L.A., but he really wanted to drive an hour to God knows where to get this beautiful tree," says McMurtrey. "He's meticulous."
TALENT: It was a nonunion job, which made it difficult for Ruell to find the actors he wanted. He ended up being satisfied with the students, who also provide the voiceovers. And he was pleased with his Newton, whose look is amusingly evocative of old paintings of the man. But the real find were the Wright brothers—who in real life are actually two brothers named Wright. As photographers, they shot Ruell's casting director's wedding. They had a head start at the audition. "They dress that way all the time," says Ruell.
SOUND: The Wright brothers spot is backed by a modern track composed by SapientNitro copywriter Nick Sylvester. The piece in the Newton spot is stock music that gives more of a period vibe.
MEDIA: The national cable buy included MTV, ESPN, and BET, in an effort to reach men with a sense of urban fashion.
Client: Foot Locker
Spots: "Newton," "Wright Brothers"
Agency: SapientNitro, New York
Creative Directors: Scott Higgins, Chris McMurtrey
Copywriter: Nick Sylvester
Art Director: Rodney White
Producer: Jim Frame
Group Account Director: Rob Rawley
Account Director: Mike Reuter
Account Supervisor: Kristen Bogusz
Account Manager: Derek Channell
Broadcast Business: Jennifer Kurtzman
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Aaron Ruell
Managing Director: Shawn Lacy
Executive Producer: Holly Vega
Producer: Tracy Broaddus
Director of Photography: Shawn Kim
Production Designer: Michael Broaddus
Post Production: NO6
Editor: Jason MacDonald
Producer: Toni Lipari