Behind Old Spice: The Brand, The Man, The Set



Andrew Reznik is the Los Angeles-based production designer behind the new Old Spice commercials. His credits include television advertisements for FedEx, Nike Air Jordan, and Virgin Mobile. Reznik discusses with dot429 his contribution to the wildly successful Old Spice commercials and the impact of social media on the advertising industry.

dot429: When Old Spice approached you, what did they have in mind?  What were their plans in terms of rebranding their image?

Andrew Reznik: That’s a conversation that happened with the ad agency writing the commercials. We, on the production design end, don’t necessarily deal with the branding or promotional identity. We are given scripts and try to make sure the advertisement jibes with the attitude of how the advertisers want the product to be perceived. 

dot429: What was it like to work on the set of the Old Spice commercials? What were some of the hurdles you had to deal with?

AR: First, you have to pre-vision how it’s all going to happen and the most economical way to get the effects, the movement. You’re hiding the gag. There’s so much that occurs outside the frame of the camera, and understanding how all those points and moments fit together is crucial because so much is taking place at once. Then comes the editing: you shoot something, you shoot something else, you edit them together for everything to make sense, or you prepare things to be layered. We’re doing what magicians do—we are either distracting the audience from seeing something or putting that something out of the range of vision of the audience. In magic terms, it’s called misdirection. 

In the first commercial, you see the guy on the deck of a boat (which isn’t actually a boat—it’s a set) and the edge of the water. We have to determine how much water you’ll see, what the horizon will be like, and how it interacts with the boat. So many different aspects come into play when you’re trying to shoot something: camera, lighting, and human interaction. It’s tough having to maintain a direct connection with the camera and make it look like nothing is happening, when there’s actually a whirlwind of activity. It’s fun and complicated. Each physical complicated thing is laden with challenges. How do you move somebody a linear footage of 200 feet across a body of water and also 40 feet down into a jacuzzi? You have to figure out how to make the impossible possible. 

dot429: Can you give us an example of how you made the impossible possible?

AR: In the third Old Spice commercial, it appears that an actor drops off a mountain then dives into a body of water. You see him swimming underwater, and then it transitions to him being alongside a piano in the middle of a living room. Well, that body of water was a fish tank. We ended up building this mammoth 8 feet by 6 feet by 3 feet fish tank, which was the smallest we could get away with. When you have a fish tank made, you’re racing against the clock, and it’s expensive. The fish tank cost $60,000 to make. In terms of weight, you’re looking at close to 11,000 pounds suspended 30 feet in the air on wires without falling or interfering with the actor as he dives in. So what you see in the lens is a magic transformation.

In the second commercial, we built everything, collapses and waterfall.  The key was to find a body of alpine water with a very steep drop next to it because we had to go from the water down to this waterfall. It was a miracle we found this location.  We had to completely transform the physical environment. There was a lot of digging and building, a lot of earth movement. It was staggering. Everything was brought in and created in this remote location, and we thought, “Oh, we’ll never be able to get this whole sequence of things to happen perfectly,” but it did. It was awesome. 

dot429: How long does it take to shoot an Old Spice commercial?

AR: The Old Spice commercials were usually shot over a period of days. We installed the physical elements and mechanics to move and manipulate the scene. Then we brought the camera and lighting and rehearsed choreography. We had to make sure everything happened at the exact moment with the exact desired feeling. The first Old Spice commercials were shot in 60-75 takes. Every time we did something, it had to be reset back into its original position, which was very time-consuming. 

dot429: Do you think the Old Spice commercials have been successful in bringing the product to a new demographic?

AR: The first commercial had about 25 million hits just on Youtube alone.  On Super Bowl Sunday, the actor from the ads, Isaiah Mustafa, had an entire segment and interview devoted to him on CNN. The brand has really hit public consciousness. If you look at sales numbers, at some point Old Spice sales were up 600 percent; nowadays I think it’s much larger than that. So that indicates that the commercials were successful in re-launching an old product. 

dot429: Isaiah Mustafa captured the attention of the world.  What is he like in real life?

AR: He’s incredibly humble, very funny, incredibly tough and professional, but also down to earth. I mean, he’s a hot guy, totally sexy and cool.

dot429: What were some crazy things he had to do on set?

AR: When we were filming the second commercial at this lake in Valyermo, it snowed one day. He was basically in shorts in the water, and he was put in a rig, dropped 20 feet, and plunged into a body of water (and not crushed by the motorcycle submerged underneath the water) in the freezing cold, soaking wet, while delivering his lines. As soon as they called “Cut!” people would surround him with blankets and heaters and cart him off to dry. And he did it over and over and over. 

dot429: How do you think social media has affected the advertising industry?

AR: With the proliferation of Internet media, you’re looking at small screens and home personal devices, so I think we’ll have much smaller and simpler production and design. 

dot429: Did you always plan on becoming a production designer?

AR: I didn’t, actually. I fell into it. I had a friend who was a production designer and used to assist him, and the whole time I never once thought about doing this myself for a living. It was a series of things that led to my career. Someone asked if I could do this and that, and one thing led to another, and I became a production designer.

dot429: What’s your favorite aspect of your job?

AR: I like big, dramatic stuff, crazy stuff, like stuff being dropped out of cargo planes. I love it. It’s nice to have projects that seem impossible.  The sense of satisfaction I get from accomplishing those things is what’s great about it.

Watch the video below: behind-the-scenes footage on the Old Spice set.

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