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Super Bowl Ads: Best of the Best

Bumper crop of great spots elevates commercial production to an art form By Charlie White
The Super Bowl of football has become the Super Bowl of commercials, and of digital video editing, too. This year, there was an outstanding crop of examples for editors to study. If you want to attend a clinic on how to edit short-form video, every year, plunk yourself down in front of the TV during the Super Bowl. Watch, and learn. Digital Media Net's Charlie White takes a look at the editing technique used in the best of the best of this year's Super Bowl spots, and comments on some of the ad content as well.

When I sat down to watch this year's Super Bowl, like many other viewers, I was looking forward to the commercials more than the game. Don't get me wrong -- I like NFL football, and watch it every Sunday, but those of us here at the Midwest Test Facility are all die-hard Green Bay Packers fans, and if the Packers aren't playing, well, we don't much care what happens.

Anyway, I was expecting this year's crop of spots to be animal-heavy, and maybe not as good as last year, given the sorry state of the business world in general and the ad industry specifically. But no, I was dead wrong, because even though there were plenty of animals -- I saw baboons, a kennel's worth of dogs, and even a dead parakeet -- there was a plethora of absolute art in this year's ad lineup. So, even though the business world is in a funk, the spots get funkier and funkier.

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Matrix trailer -- Click graphic for movie
After watching all the commercials and studying them over again, I have to say that my favorite display of editing technique had to be the trailer for the next two "The Matrix" movies. Here's a spot for anyone who ever doubted how important the audio is in a production. Watch this spot and listen to all the great music and sound effects. Pay close attention to how the sound brings the spot to a series of high points that wouldn't be nearly as powerful with visual editing alone. Try watching it with the sound off and then on, and notice the difference. Also note the intense nature of the composited effects, which take the concept of time and compress it, while the camera moves about in an entirely different time reference. Also note the use of the one- or two-frame flashes with various quick dissolves. It's a masterpiece that takes editing and compositing to a whole new level -- and could be even better than the movie itself. Bravo.

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Office Linebacker -- Click graphic for movie
Coming in a close second for me was the "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" spot for Reebok, one that had everyone in the whole room where I was watching roaring with laughter. The effects are so absolutely real-looking, you almost feel sorry for the hapless office drones who get absolutely tattooed by the huge football player/office enforcer. The timing in this spot is so absolutely perfect, that I just don't think it could have been done any better. In editing, there is always a certain "slot" where I feel the cuts will fit, and it's usually plus-or-minus a frame. Every cut in this spot is exactly in the middle of that slot. The cutting was also helped by the shooting, where the victims were shown in fairly tight shots and then suddenly Tate comes flying into the frame, pasting them to the ground or into various pieces of office furniture. It was intensely satisfying to watch this editing tour-de-force.

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Upside Down Clown -- Click graphic, find "Butt Drinker" spot on list
In the content category, I thought the funniest spot was "Butt Drinker," the Bud Light commercial featuring the upside down clown. Walking into a bar in the middle of a parade, a tired clown in an upside down costume seems to be putting the Bud Light bottle into his butt, as astonished bar patrons look on. Here are some of the funniest cutaways I've ever seen, and they're an example of how you can use cutaways to tell a story which can be even more effective than showing the event itself. The tag line where the clown asks for a hot dog actually had some viewers doubled over with laughter. Brilliant.

Shameless propaganda, courtesy of the US government
This year's Super Bowl Goat: The United States Thought Police
In the worst content category, I'd have to give a big thumbs-down to the spot that all of us had to pay for (it cost $2.2 million to air the thirty second ad, not counting production costs), presented to us by our "partners" at the free-spending Office of National Drug Control/Partnership for a Drug Free America. Way to go guys, for presenting the lamest and most expensive piece of propaganda ever generated by the U.S. government. Implying that marijuana gets little girls pregnant, the official United States Thought Police have stooped to a new low -- which is bad enough -- but adding insult to injury is that they're spending our tax dollars on Super Bowl commercials to do it. "It's more harmful than we all thought," croaks the gratingly hoarse female voice-over announcer. I'll tell you what's more harmful than we all thought: The futile, pathetic and anachronistic "War on Drugs," and its multi-billion dollar budget.

Levis Stampede -- Click graphic for movie
Levi's Stampede -- Click graphic for movie
On a more artistic note, I'd give the nod for Absolute Work of Art to Levi's, where they present a stark landscape with a couple wearing the company's jeans and hearing rumbling off in the distance. What's that noise? Well, it's a herd of buffaloes, but this couple of post-modern models aren't scared. They face down the huge buffalo herd, proudly wearing their new Levis all the while. What does this have to do with blue jeans? Not much, but check out the color correction in the spot, as well as the haunting and foreboding atmosphere conjured up. It's a captivating Work of Art.

That brings me to an important point about commercials. They are an art form. Even though lots of us groan when given an assignment to produce an ad, it's a big part of editing. When I was first charged with producing multiple ads each week, I didn't look forward to it. But after a while, I realized that a 30-second or 60-second spot is like a miniature feature film. You get a tiny window to tell your whole story, and if you do your job right, it can be as intense as a smack in the face or as soothing as a gentle caress. Inject the hot pepper or slather on the butter. It's your own 60-second world. Create it in your own image. Let there be light! Or darkness -- it's up to you.

Charlie White, your humble  storytellerDigital Media Net Executive Producer Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist for the past nine years, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor, broadcast industry consultant and shot-calling television director who has worked in broadcasting since 1974. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at cwhite@digitalmedianet.com.

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