Court Jester

It’s Thursday afternoon around 2 p.m., and the comedian takes the stage to start his nightclub set. But even stranger than the odd hour at which this act is delivered is the identity of the performer cracking wise in front of the club’s familiar faux brick wall. It’s Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, seemingly “sunlighting” as a stand-up.

This is the world of fantasy footwear advertising. For Adidas’ ambitious third TV commercial starring Garnett, TBWA\Chiat\Day in San Francisco (180\TBWA) is placing the personable player into a series of roles to announce the brand’s third KG signature shoe, “The Garnett 06,” with a3.

The 60-second spot, which is tentatively scheduled to break Jan. 9 in the U.S., continues the brand’s “Impossible is nothing” positioning and serves as a visual metaphor for the many facets of Garnett’s personality that come out on the court, according to the creatives behind it.

In the first scene, a cross between Apocalypse Now and Black Hawk Down, he’s a general leading his troops on a blast-filled battlefield. The scene segues to Garnett as action hero, representing his ability the make the shot and save the day. The character swings Spider-Man style across the metropolis and lands on a city street, where he morphs into a child, who represents the passion and energy he brings to the game. The urban backdrop then rolls up, and a Roman coliseum is revealed. On this playing field, gladiator Garnett showcases his incredible tenacity and all-elbows court style.

Finally, he’s on stage as the comedian, because he’s known—on and off-court—as a joker. The spot wraps with a dark, dramatic scene in which the 6-foot-11 athlete walks out onto an empty court and makes a shot as the player who embodies all these personalities.

“The guy is not an actor, but he understands how the characters represent what he does in the sport,” says Chris Kyle, Adidas’ global brand concept manager, of the natural performer. “His big personality and style are a huge part of this commercial. What he brings will ultimately make this ad.”

Despite rather sophisticated scene segues, everything is pretty much on schedule on this second day of the three-day September shoot at Los Angeles Center Studios. Director Noam Murro and Sydney, Australia-based digital visual effects house Animal Logic designed a pre-vis—an animated storyboard that maps out the scenes. As they film, Garnett’s and the crew’s meticulously timed words and actions are compared with the pre-vis.

“The preparation is everything. It’s not really a place where you can do a lot of ad- libbing and stuff,” says Murro, while on the set. “This ad is about how everything interlocks. It’s like a game of chess: Each piece affects the others.”

While post-production will be responsible for, say, grafting Garnett’s head onto the little boy’s body, most of the shooting techniques are standard old-school Hollywood, with most of the special effects originating from a pre-Star Wars era. “We’re doing it the old-fashioned way,” says Chuck McBride, TBWA\C\D’s executive creative director on the set. “There aren’t as many blue screens as you would think.”

Aside from the ambitious plot, Adidas faces the challenge of getting the maximum output from the talent in a limited time. When not filming, he’s doing photo shoots for the campaign’s print ads, fielding interviews for B-roll intended for the Web site and overseas markets, even giving a member of the crew—a white boy with a seriously wild Afro—some styling tips. But, when his three days are up, so is Garnett’s availability.

In spite of careful choreography, this final scene will have more flexibility and, if the athlete is “on,” allow one of his most special qualities to shine through. Kyle describes Garnett as the rare player who can deliver comedy: He’s quick, clever and funny in a Muhammad Ali sort of vein. “Having worked with Kevin, we knew he’d do a lot of improvising,” McBride says, “so we allowed some time for that.”

At 2:05 p.m., stand-in Ike is instructed to leave, and Garnett takes his place at the mic, in front of friends he recruited to play the audience. Murro directs Garnett to act as if he’s just ended with a zinger and is saying his good-nights.

The first take starts with a generic “thank you very much” to the audience, but before long, Garnett is adding his own parting shots: “That’s gotta hurt!” and “Y’all gotta lighten up a little!” Murro suggests he say “the Rick James line” made famous on Chappelle’s Show to get a jovial reaction. They can always ditch the “bitch” language later. This suggestion opens up a whole new world of possibilities for Garnett, who shouts out to no one in particular, “All you advertising guys, can I cuss?”

At just 2:20 p.m., after about a half-dozen more takes, the entire scene wraps. Garnett leaves the “crowd” and crew roaring with, “And then I told these advertising people, ‘Shut the fuck up!’ Have a great evening.” He throws the audience an air kiss and walks toward the brick wall with a confident stride.