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Making Commercials: Breaking In — The Wolf Brothers

Two talented brothers, an actor and an editor, combine forces to break into commercial directing.

By Michael Fickes 

Michael Wolf (center) and Gary Wolf (right) scout the house location with art director/production designer Roxy Moronyan.

Michael Wolf (center) and Gary Wolf (right) scout the house location with art director/production designer Roxy Moronyan.

Gary Wolf is a talented, veteran actor with credits in virtually every medium: live theater, television, feature films and commercials.

Michael, his brother, is an award-winning editor with an Emmy plus a host of commercial, broadcast television and film credits.

Recently, they combined forces and declared themselves co-directors specializing in comedy commercials. They call their Los Angeles-based firm, The Wolf Brothers (www.thewolfbrothers.com).

Who Are These Guys?

“We’ve always loved good comedy commercials,” Michael says. “We analyze them and think about how we might do them, and we make up our own. We’ve talked about it so much that I guess we talked ourselves right into the business.”

Both Gary and Michael contribute key directing attributes to their new venture. Gary has an intimate understanding of what actors need to know about a scene and a character’s emotions to do their best work. Michael has a deep knowledge of editing, special effects, timing and storytelling with pictures.

To get The Wolf Brothers off the ground the brothers “wrote five spec spots and produced two of them,” one for IKEA and one for NASCAR, says Gary.

IKEA’s “Upgrade Your Stuff” tells the story of a guy named Joel who would have gotten the girl had he gone to IKEA instead of improvising his own home dÈcor.

Gary and Michael financed the project with their own money, paying everyone from the talent to the 17-person crew. “Because of that we now have a good, solid crew waiting for us to bring in more work,” Gary says.

The brothers and DP Jeffrey A. Cunningham shot the spec spot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera outfitted with a Redrock Micro cinema rig. The rig included a follow focus with 35mm lens gearing, a swing-away matte box for light management, a shoulder mount and handgrips for handheld use, and a support cage for enhanced stability and low-angle shots. Cunningham moved the camera with a dolly and a six-foot slider.

The spot begins with Joel setting up for a party at his house, putting out several odd-looking bowls filled with nuts. Later, he finds himself on the sofa making conversation with an attractive woman, but she frowns when she picks up a snack bowl and asks where they came from.

The commercial cuts to a flashback of a target range where a shooter misses a clay pigeon that lands in Joel’s bushes. A sunbathing Joel picks up the stray, bowl-shaped object and his face lights up with the thrifty idea that will cost him the girl.

The shots were fully lighted with practical fixtures – a couch-side lamp and track lighting for artwork on the walls – and supplemented with Kino Flos. Floor-to-ceiling windows enabled the crew to light from the exterior.

Gary and Michael found a shooting range and set three clay pigeons, suspended from monofiliment, spinning side-by-side against a portable greenscreen. When the pigeons reached full speed, the off-camera range owner shot two of them.

“In post, we matted out the pigeons with [Adobe] After Effects,” Michael says, “and composited them over a live shot of the wooded mountains behind the range.” He underlined the cut with a loud sound effect of a rifle being cocked.

The spec spot ends with the tag, IKEA: Upgrade Your Stuff. A stinger shows Joel in his driveway with a skateboard, wearing clay pigeons for kneepads.

Crying Wolf

Gary and Michael are pitching their new venture to production houses with rosters of directors, reps and clients who work direct. Marketing techniques include e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn and word of mouth. Under discussion: a Facebook Fan Page, a YouTube Channel and a Twitter Feed, the goal being to drive prospects to the spec commercials on the company’s website.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Michael. “The spots are connecting with people.”