October’s Tongaler of the Month is none other than David Brashear, 1st place winner of the Stuck on Duck Video Project and creator of the highly-acclaimed 37-second stop-motion masterpiece, “Duck Tron.” Not only did David’s video garner over 2 million views in less than two weeks, but it also debuted in the #2 Spot on the Ad Age Viral Video Chart, making it the only crowdsourced video ever to do so. It may sound presumptuous, but given David’s level of creativity, originality, technical skill, and vision we think this is only the beginning.
Caleb Light-Wills – Most people only know David Brashear as tiny thumbnail (of Mickey Rourke) on a Portfolio page. Can you give us a little background about yourself?
David Brashear – I just put the photo of Mickey Rourke up because I don’t want to see a picture of myself every time I log into Tongal. And that Mickey Rourke picture makes me smile every time I see it. And he’s a badass.
I went to USC film school, but I was in the Critical Studies section of the department. Meaning I only took one production class. I also went at a weird time, when digital was starting to take over, but it hadn’t quite hit saturation point. So all the videos I did in school were shot in Standard Definition or 16mm, and then transferred to tapes. So everything looks like crap.
Just about everything I learned about film I learned from watching movies and trying to emulate stuff that I liked. I think film school is kind of overrated. I learned a lot more just going out and trying stuff. Learning as I went along.
I graduated. Worked as a set PA in Los Angeles for a while. Worked as an office manager for Klasky-Csupo (they made the Rugrats) for about a year. It took me a while to realize that that wasn’t the right path for me. I didn’t want to work as an assistant on other people’s stuff.
While I was doing those other jobs, I was also working at an indie movie theater – not only because living in LA is expensive and I needed the extra money, but also because I really love movies. I know A LOT about movies. And I also know that I want to make my own movies some day. Doing these commercial contests is great because I can hone my craft, build my reel, and get paid to do so.
I work for a company called Ryactive now, directing commercials. Although, at this point, most of the work still comes through crowdsourcing sites.
C.L.W. – Duck Tape is your first major Tongal win, how did it feel to walk away with 1st Place?
D.B. – Every time I enter a contest I’m nervous. Also, for me, I tend to be sick of the video I’m working on by the time I finish it. Like I think its complete garbage. So it’s always surprising for me when we get a brand purchase.
C.L.W. – Were you nervous about the competition?
D.B. – In terms of competition, I’m always scared of videos with songs in them. I’ve seen a lot of them win. So those made me nervous. I figured, worse case scenario, somebody that used my original idea might win and I would get a small cut.
C.L.W. – It’s pretty rare for someone to place in both the Concept and Video Phases of a project, but it’s even more rare for someone to produce a video NOT based on their winning Concept from the previous round. What was your rationale behind that change in tack? That is, why did you produce a video based on Adam Thorsfeldt’s “Stop-Motion Duck” Concept rather than, your 2nd place “Castaway” Concept?
D.B. – When I do the concept phase stuff, I don’t like to limit myself. I don’t worry about logistical stuff, like do I have access to a desert island? So when it was picked, I realized it was going to be a huge hassle to shoot and pull off convincingly. Also, we had been talking to our friend Tyson about working together on a project. He’s a stop motion animator. So when I saw the other concept I was like, lets just do that instead.
C.L.W. – How did you come up with premise for Duck Tron, i.e., re-creating the Light cycle scene, including Tron guy, and adapting Adam Thorsfeldt’s “Stop-Motion Duck” Concept to make it your own?
D.B. – Well, we decided we wanted to do a stop motion commercial with Duck Tape. Our initial concepts were closer to the idea that Adam pitched, which is Duck Tape going around the house fixing stuff. We had some pretty neat ideas and we had already started storyboarding it, but something didn’t feel right. It was going to be a cool video, but it wasn’t going to go viral. It was just going to be like all the other well-made spots you see hundreds of times everyday – instantly forgettable.
So we went back to the drawing board. One of the ideas we had in the original storyboards was a roll of Duck Tape competing with another roll to fix stuff in the house – like who could fix the most stuff the fastest. And we had a note in the script like Duck Tape rolls racing like light cycles from Tron. We all liked that idea, and at some point it was mentioned that it would be cool if we did a recreation of the scene from the movie. And then we decided to add a human element. So we made it a guy playing with Duck Tape. And that turned into Tron Guy playing with Duck Tape.
C.L.W. – How long did it take you to shoot “Duck Tron” and what was your process like?
D.B. – The whole thing took about a month. The stop motion animators were Drayson Helberg and Tyson James. They also helped develop the concept. On their end, there was about a week of building and planning and then about two weeks of actual animation. They split up all the shots. Sometimes they were animating together and sometimes it was just one of them working on a shot. Tyson’s dad actually built a rig that allowed them to get some of the more complex camera movements. They used the program Dragon, which is kind of like industry standard for stop motion.
They went through a lot of Duck Tape, I wish I kept track of how much, but I’d say it was at least 50 rolls. The grid and background was also made out of Duck Tape, so that’s where a lot of it went. I think the people at Michael’s were probably wondering why we were buying so much, but they never asked what it was for.
Nate Milton helped come up with the concept and also took all of Tyson and Drayson’s shots, cleaned them up, and turned them into video in After Effects. Jason Ragosta filmed the live action stuff. He also did color correction for the whole piece. Andrew Wickens did all the sound effects for the stop motion. He just responded to a Craigslist ad that I posted. Ryan Pamplin produced it. He’s the one that got on the phone and got Tron Guy to agree to do it. I think he held the boom pole too.
The whole commercial was filmed at our house/office in Oakland. We filmed the live action stuff right after we finished the stop motion.
Tron Guy (Jay Maynard) stayed with us for like 4 or 5 days. He’s a really nice guy. He mostly kept to himself. He’s really into Second Life, so I learned a lot about that from him – probably more than I wanted to know.
It was cool to finally see him in his Tron suit on the day of filming. The light on one of his shoulder pads was out, so we had to try and shoot around that. At the end of the shoot, he told me he had to go to the bathroom like the entire time we were filming, but he held it in because the whole suit has to come off if you need to tinkle. He was a real trooper. One thing I tried to do was make sure he wasn’t the butt of the joke, like he was on America’s Got Talent. That type of stuff is mean spirited and not funny to me.
The only thing I will say is this: that man can eat. I brought a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts home one night and I told Jay to have as many as he wanted. When I came downstairs in the morning, I think there was like one and a half left.
C.L.W. – Duck Tron is the perfect storm of Internet meme, technical genius and brand affinity. Did you make conscious decisions along the way to maximize the video’s viral potential?
D.B. – The hope was for the video to go viral, but we didn’t write it with that in mind. There’s not really a formula to make a successful viral video. It’s not like you can just take a bunch of random elements and make a viral video – although there was a SmartWater commercial with Jennifer Aniston that kind of poked fun at that idea.
For Duck Tape, the brief was pretty open ended. It was basically: show us cool things you can do with Duck Tape. We were a little apprehensive about doing the Tron homage at first, because it was a departure from the idea Duck Tape approved and wasn’t really an ad in the traditional sense. I’m just glad Duck Tape had faith in the idea.
C.L.W. – Did you have a plan in the works to seed this thing, like was it a conscious effort on your part to make the video go viral? If not, how did it happen?
D.B. – I had already forgotten about the video and had moved on to other projects. I put it on Vimeo a week or so prior so that we could add it to our company’s website. I sent the link to the cast and crew. So it must have spread from there.
C.L.W. – So it’s Monday morning and the video already has 35k views on Vimeo…what’s going through your head?
D.B. – I was just happy people were seeing a video I had directed. Most of our other videos had a couple hundred views. So to get 35k in one day was amazing. That’s my number one goal when doing this stuff – make videos that people connect with and talk about. I’ve been doing this for close to two years and most of the videos I’ve done never really see the light of day, even when they’ve been purchased by the brand.
C.L.W. – There was a ton of incredible press surrounding the video from Wired to Gizmodo to Ad Week to G4’s Attack of the Show. Did that lead to inbounds or inquiries about producing more viral videos?
D.B. – We’ve had a couple discussions, but nothing has happened yet. I feel an incredible amount of pressure to follow up Duck Tron with another viral hit. But realistically, it’s like catching lightning in a bottle. I do think I’ve learned a couple secrets from the process though that will help me in the future.
C.L.W. – Which of the following achievements are you most proud of: hitting #6 on Reddit, debuting at #2 on the Ad Age Viral Video Chart, living on as #10 Most Viewed of All-time on Vimeo?
D.B. – All of those are awesome. The Ad Age thing was pretty amazing because we beat out some big videos. But honestly, I haven’t really paid too much attention to that stuff. My producer Ryan is all over that. I just want to focus on making more cool videos.
C.L.W. – What do you think of Tongal’s new Tournament Style process? I.e. pitching for work, securing a budget, etc.?
D.B. – I like the new Tournament Style Process. To me, it’s almost not even a contest at that point, because the process is very similar to how a real production studio would pitch to a client. It’s nice to see brands starting to recognize the professionalism of the best creators.
The evolution just makes sense to me. The video contests are great, but they are a huge risk. If you want to do something good, you have to spend time and money if you want a chance at winning. Even if you know for sure you are going to win, that money you invested is in limbo until they announce the winners. Anything that takes more risk out of the equation for us (and probably for the brands as well) is a good thing in my opinion.
C.L.W. – Seems like you’re on a bit of a Tongal streak – without giving too much away, what’s in store for us from the mamaRoo Video you’re producing?
D.B. – Jason Ragosta, who did the cinematography for Duck Tron, is directing that one. I’m more of a producer or baby wrangler I guess you could say. Since he’s a cinematographer I expect it to be very visual and colorful.
C.L.W. – You’re not stranger to the online video contest world. How do we stack up relative to the other sites out there?
D.B. – I feel like I’m cheating on my other sites by saying this, because I’ve been working with them for a while, and Tongal is kind of like a new love, but it’s been the best overall experience. Not to say anything bad about the other sites. But announcing winners on time and paying your creators in a timely fashion goes a long way in my book. And Tongal excels at both of those. Like I said before, I also like the pitch system because I know if the brand likes the idea before I go and make it.
C.L.W. – I would argue that Maximum Borgnine is by far and away the most memorable entry from last year’s CTSB, I mean it’s not everyday that a video contest entry features an academy-award winning actor. What was that whole experience like?
D.B. – It was a blast. My producer Ryan Pamplin was a family friend of Ernest Borgnine’s publicist. He helped set up a meeting with Ernie in Los Angeles.
I forget why exactly, I think Ryan was working on something, but we didn’t leave the bay area until 3 or 4 AM the morning of the meeting. But we drove straight there and got in right on time for the 9 AM meeting. Bug eyed and highly caffeinated.
We pitched the idea to Ernie and showed him an animated storyboard. He said: “When do we start?” Then he let both of us hold his Oscar.
The actual production was great. Honestly, I was super sick the day before filming. In the hospital sick. The doctors said there is no way you are going to film. I called around and had a friend ready to step in to direct. But at the last minute, I told myself I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like this slip away and I took a bunch of pills that got me through the day.
There was also a scare early on when Ernest Borgnine tripped and fell on a rug when we were rehearsing the first shot. I thought he broke something for sure because he’s 94 and he hit the ground REALLY hard. I figured the shoot was over before we even got the first shot. But he was fine. He was cursing up a storm. But he got up on his own and didn’t complain about the incident once. He was super nice to everyone. He took pictures with everyone in the crew. Dian Bachar was also great to work with. It’s funny, both of them were in the movie BASEketball, but they didn’t have a scene together in that movie.
I was surprised it didn’t make the finals. One complaint I heard was that if you take Ernest Borgnine out of the commercial, the concept itself is kind of weak. To which I was always like – well he is in the commercial! I wouldn’t have done the same concept if I had just some random old guy. It was written specifically with Ernest Borgnine in mind.
C.L.W. – What’s next for you on Tongal or otherwise?
D.B. – I just finished a bunch of videos and pitches that I’m waiting to hear back about, so I have a somewhat clean plate. There are some personal projects that I have been working on, but they need a little more time to simmer. I’m really waiting for the Crash the Superbowl announcement. I’m determined to win that contest this year. There are also some cool projects on Tongal right now, like the Beach Boys music video. We might be doing something for that. You can check out most our videos at ryactive.com
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