Metal and Glass

A hazy layer of machine-generated smoke fills the air of the Cobra Den nightclub as metal band Black Zebra entertains a throng of headbangers. Concertgoers take turns being passed around the mosh pit. As one stage diver leaps into the crowd, it parts and he lands with a thud on the floor.

Luckily, his hair stays intact and his internal liquids don’t leak out. An odd but important concern as Deutsch, New York, shoots another 15-second installment in Snapple’s $40 million “Real Experiences” campaign featuring personified Snapple bottles.

The commercial being produced on this one-day shoot is the seventh in the series, which launched in mid-April, and the first to be conceived by a Snapple fan as part of the company’s “What’s Your Story?” contest. The spot, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, breaks today.

UCLA freshman C.J. Yu’s “Head Bangin’ and Crowd Surfin’ ” story was selected from among 1,422 entries. “The idea for the commercial was something I’d really like to see,” says Yu, watching the production on set. “It’s not every day you see Snapple bottles head-banging in an amphitheater.”

The two criteria for selecting finalists, says Deutsch account director Suzanne Schulz: “Are they funny, and can we make that into a commercial?” Ideas dependent on arms, legs or voices were immediately ruled out.

On this Monday afternoon at Occidental Studios in Hollywood, two sets resembling miniature dollhouses serve as backdrops for the action. Created by set designer Samantha Gore, the sets depict the interior and exterior of a nightclub, and are raised so that four puppeteers have room to manipulate the bottles.

The dirty brick exterior features a marquee announcing the show. A motorcycle is parked out front, and street lamps and parking meters line the street. A rope marks the club entrance, where, earlier, Snapple bottles lined up to enter and a 32-ounce container served as bouncer.

At least 50 bottles were dressed in heavy-metal attire for the shoot, says stylist Anuto Portillo, with denim “Black Zebra” jackets, leopard-print and leather tops, and spiked leather collars. She bought clothes at rock stores, then cut them into miniature versions. The puppet eers—including former hairdresser Darren Fowler—fashioned the bottles’ dos, ranging from perms to peroxide jobs, out of imported Russian locks.

The goal, says Dayton of Los Angeles’ Bob Industries, is to make the spots look as though they were created by an “obsessive amateur. It has to be this combination of ingenious work but with a low-tech feel.”

The agency chose to use video rather than film, says associate creative director David Rosen, because “it felt a little more amateurish and has more of a live feel.”

The very small “ice-cube” camera is being used for “ease of getting into the set,” explains Faris, noting that it makes the bottles appear life-size.

Dayton and Faris, who have directed music videos for the Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers as well as commercials including several of Gap’s 2000 holiday spots, were chosen for their “great knowledge of popular culture,” says Scott Bassen, associate creative director at Deutsch. “They have amazing attention to detail and a total appreciation of comedy.”

The studio fills with smoke. “I finally get out of rock and roll to where there’s no smoke, and here we are, shooting rock and roll again!” jokes Faris. “This is harder than shooting a real rock band,” she adds. “You think you have it all together, but wait, you don’t see the Snapple [label]. It’s quieter, though.”

Dayton adds: “They do show up on time, and they’re not intoxicated.” But with wigs constantly falling off, “every day is a bad hair day on a Snapple shoot,” he notes.

Snapple, based in White Plains, N.Y., is running another “What’s Your Story?” contest, which ends July 30.