IDEA: Chipotle has won scores of ad awards and legions of fans with its gorgeous animations and haunting soundtracks. Now, the burrito chain is getting even more ambitious with a longer format and a whole new tone—launching a satirical scripted comedy show on Hulu humorously attacking the evil ogre of industrial farming.
Chipotle knew it wanted to develop comical branded entertainment as long ago as late 2011, when it rolled out the famous "Back to the Start" video. Impressed by webisodes he had done for Post Shredded Wheat, the brand turned to director Tim Piper, best known in the ad world for having done Dove's Grand Prix-winning "Evolution" ad. Piper, who had started a production company, Piro, to help brands get better at entertainment, was game. More than two years later, the result is a four-episode first season of Farmed and Dangerous, premiering Feb. 17.
"They wanted something that could be scripted and fun but at the same time deal with serious issues and help drive people to Chipotle," said Piper. "We cracked this idea in an early meeting, wrote a 30-minute pilot, did a reading for them, and they fell in love with it."
COPYWRITING: The first four 30-minute episodes focus on the PetroPellet, a petroleum-based animal feed introduced by (fictional) agricultural giant Animoil that promises to revolutionize the industry—but seems mostly to be making cows explode. Animoil's top PR man, Buck Marshall (Ray Wise), is tasked with damage control after an exploding-cow video goes viral.
Piper's partner at Piro, Daniel Rosenberg, who has a long history in scripted TV, recruited writers including Jeremy Pikser (who co-wrote Bulworth with Warren Beatty) and Mike Dieffenbach to work on the first season. Chipotle went through the scripts as they progressed.
"Usually they asked us to just make it funnier," said Piper. "Other times they would course correct on factual things. But every time we got their feedback, the show would improve, which is pretty rare."
The series is unbranded (it doesn't even say "Chipotle presents" at the beginning of the episodes), although one character, not coincidentally named Chip, embodies all the values of Chipotle. "We don't have a guy eating a burrito, but we do have a guy who stands for everything they stand for," Piper said.
FILMING/ART DIRECTION: Chipotle wanted the show to look more high-end than most online Web series. "We shot on the Alexa camera, which they shot James Bond on," said Piper. "Our crew had all worked on long-format movies, blockbusters even. The production values were as high as possible, so it looks like some heart and thought have been applied to it." All the editing and post work was done in-house at Piro.
TALENT: Wise (Twin Peaks, Mad Men, 24) is joined in the cast by Eric Pierpoint, John Sloan and Karynn Moore. The other actors are "unfamiliar names that wouldn't break the bank," Piper said. "Unfamiliar talented names!" added Rosenberg.
SOUND: Music is central to the series. In fact, Chipotle kept pushing for more. "There are very few places in the four episodes where music doesn't play a role," said Piper. Piro commissioned original pop songs from DeeTown Entertainment (including "All About Me" from up-and-coming artist RAE) that are being packaged into a whole soundtrack. Composer Matthew Kajcienski did some orchestral scores.
Sound design was important, too. "Particularly in humor, there are moments you can mine with great sound design," said Rosenberg. "All the auditory elements—the music, the dialogue, the sound effects, the mix—play a role in getting the humor out."
MEDIA: Episodes will premiere weekly on Hulu. A separate ad campaign will promote the show, and a dedicated section called "Food for Thought" at The Huffington Post will extend the message further.
Project: "Farmed and Dangerous"
Director: Tim Piper
Production Company: Piro