Skydiving stunts, freefall cinematography, skydiving, skydiving, skydivers, aerial stunt coordination, parachutes, jumpers, skydive centers.
Super Bowl Sunday.
My kid and me are hanging out in the yard. Too much noise inside for a 13 month old with the game, potato munching, beer gulping mugs, stuff like that. First quarter, two teams, guys in green, guys in blue. I knew the name of one player. Little Joe is digging around, finds a blade of grass to study. All of the sudden, everyone is yelling for me to get inside and check out the tube. Im thinking, somebody got a home run?, but I get there just in time to catch the last thirty seconds of "Goose".
Goose was Pepsis entry into corporate Americas battle of the ads, showcased on the worlds most watched event, the Super Bowl. It features Troy Hartman as a Road Warrior type racing across the Arizona desert sky when up flies a goose. Troy does a double take as the goose stares back, then breaks into a move. The goose accepts the challenge and imitates the move, no problem. Then troy performs another move, and another, both equally performed by the goose. They lock eyes as Troy whips a Pepsi from his utility belt and slams a gulp. The goose wants some. Troy smiles and tracks off, spilling a stream of Pepsi behind him which the goose quickly gulps up. They exchange another look of appreciation and respect, and then fly off, Troy into the sunset, Goose back to the flock in Pepsi formation.
The concept started at BBDO advertising in New York. Goose was originally planned to be a Mountain Dew ad. Five LA production companies bid aggressively for the campaign which included Goose, and Duet, both featured skydiving. So questions poured into our office from every angle. "Know any skysurfers?", "Could a goose fly with them?", "No?, what if we made a leash from fishing line or something?", "No?", "Have you ever filmed skysurfing?", "Know anyone who can fall really slow?", "Ever worked with birds?". These were real questions.
Goose and Duet were awarded to House of Usher, a Santa Monica based production company owned by director, Kinka Usher. Perhaps youve seen his work in a Nissan campaign where GI Joe jumps from a table into a toy car, zooms over to Barbies doll house, and swipes her from Ken. Very cool ad. I felt not worthy. But he cant fly a camera, so I had a job.
To film Goose, we planned two days of jumping at Skydive Elsinore. One day before the shoot, our entire crew of forty moved to Skydive Arizona on account of a bad weather report in Los Angeles that didnt come true, by the way. Skydive AZ and good weather are kind of an equation, conditions were perfect.
The production consisted of two units. Our unit included Troy Hartman as the skysurfer, me on camera, John Lemming of Airspeed as camera assistant, Ann Heliwell of Basic Research as rigger, Kevin McGuire as rigger / assistant, and our pilot was _________. The main unit was ground based at the DZ to film a live trained goose, and to check our video assist between jumps.
In two days, we jumped 23 times for Goose. The day before, wed jumped 12 times for Duet. If you want to know how I felt, grab a bowling ball, strap it to your helmet, and jump like mad for three days. Actually, I felt pretty good. John Lemming shadowed my every move, carried the helmet to altitude, landed before us and grabbed it the moment Id land. He also maintained the cameras, loaded film, performed gear checks, and when the pressure was on, he kept us in a positive state of mind. So if you decide to make thirty five jumps in three days with the bowling ball, call John first.
The skysurf scenes were technically demanding. A good shot wasnt good, unless it was framed to include the goose. Troys moves would work only if his eyes were locked onto the position of the imaginary goose. My cameras were inspected with a fine tooth comb for the perfect film movement that was required to combine images of both Troy and the goose. Basically, our entire performance was dictated by a goose.
Troys Road Warrior wardrobe was everything a skysurfing suit wouldnt be. Bulky leather pants and a sweater, metal and leather utility belt, welders goggles, and big orange work boots. His board was built to look like a plank of metal with bolts. He managed to fly all these props effectively, and at one point, was even asked to be a bit more sloppy. Overall, he nailed his part, and the funky attitude they were seeking.
Each take started with a dirt dive. Kinka Usher called the moves required to complete the shots. Directors bring new meaning to the term "wuffo". It comes to mean "wuffo you cant do that? I need it.", "wuffo theres a problem? Fix it.". The discussions can be tedious, but the challenges often lead to new and creative ideas that we "skydiving experts" wouldnt have considered. In our case, the factors were: an ever changing sun line, the movement of clouds, avoiding con trails, framing for the goose, and Troys interaction with the goose. Each factor alone was relatively easy to manage, but all factors combined, significantly increased the level of difficulty.
Between jumps, wed review the video assist, and decide with the director if the shot was accomplished. When all the elements were in place, wed move on. If not, wed frown at each other, dirt dive, and head back up. On one jump, we figured wed break up the routine a bit. Kevin built a goose from a liter bottle of Mountain Dew, a hangar, and gaffers tape. I convinced Troy to give our goose a drink in freefall before starting our shots. It went great, and we landed ready to show the gag. It went over like a lead balloon. "A waste of valuable air time." was about the only comment. At the rate we were jumping, though, we figured seven or eight seconds off the dive couldnt hurt much. It even drew a few giggles at the end of the day.
Close to the end of day #2, production was ready to wrap. After 21 jumps, all the technical pieces of the puzzle were complete. Troy and I felt something was missing. How could they leave without a Tidy Bowl, Hen House Surprise, Barrel Roll, fast Fly by, and all the good stuff? So we grabbed our gear and quickly turned two jumps. Cool thing, lots of those shots made the cut!
Just next to our landing area, truck loads of equipment were set up to film a goose that was trained to fly from one post to another, or fly directly into a super big fan. It was amazing to watch. As the goose took off, theyd sprint after it with a dolly mounted camera to grab a tracking shot. Then they started a huge fan and released the goose in front of it to hover in place as they filmed a variety of angles. The goose just flapped along as if it were going somewhere. Later, these shots would be blended with footage of Troy.
In two days, our job was done. Everyone was jazzed with the images, and ground work with the goose went very well. For those in post production, the job was just beginning. The goose you see in the commercial is part real and part CG. The effects and blending were done at Digital Domain, owned by __________, the same people who sunk Titanic and did __________. The end result, magic.
I plan to take all the credit I can get for Goose. In reality, though, Troy and I played a relatively small part. Teams of very talented people made magic from the various elements provided. The concept was great, The editing worked, the shots blended well, and the animation was believable. Troy and the goose looked like buddies. The end product got Pepsi #1 among Super Bowl ads, skydiving got big time exposure, Troy and I got bragging rights, and the guy with the blue team finally got his Super Bowl wrist watch or something.
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