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Personal experience inspired the theme of Nikon's first television commercial in eight years.

Fallon creatives found it difficult to keep track of the Coolpix 2500 digital camera, which is introduced in the spot, whenever they took it out for research purposes.

"It's not like picking up a normal camera," says Bruce Bildsten, group creative director at the Minneapolis agency. "It has a quality to it. You just want to pick it up and play with it."

As Bildsten and his team worked on ways to target young, digitally aware consumers, curious passers-by took a fancy to a prototype of the camera. "People would come by and play with it or wander off with it," says copywriter Xenia Rutherford.

That idea, coupled with Nikon's target of 25- to 35-year-olds, suggested a party where the camera gets passed around the crowd.

In the spot, which breaks today on network and cable in 30- and 60-second versions, a twentysomething partygoer photographs himself against a sunset. Curious, two attractive women ask to look at the camera and wind up taking it into the packed party.

The young man searches the gathering, but the camera eludes him. Someone snaps his picture from across the dance floor. In his pursuit, he opens doors but quickly closes them, obviously embar rassed. He comes across a wood sculpture of an African figurine with a different camera around its neck.

In the end, he catches up to the Coolpix, now in the hands of two other women. "That's my camera," he tells them. As an ownership test, the women browse through the pictures of the party and find images of the camera owner stored in memory. Their faces fall as they come across a photo unseen to the viewer. They quickly return the camera to the young man, leaving him to hap lessly defend himself with the line, "It's just a hobby."

The commercial, which will be Nikon's only spot this year, was shot in South Africa, where production costs are significantly lower. (The client declined to divulge spending. According to CMR, Nikon spent $18 million on advertising last year.)

The location had an added benefit: It allowed Bildsten to contract South African-based director Kim Geldenhuys for the shoot—his first U.S. spot.

Bildsten had been aware of Gel den huys thanks to work the director had done for BMW in European markets and a "stunning" reel.

"He always gets the idea across, but he is also versatile," Bildsten says. "We didn't want this spot to be slapstick in any way."

During three 18-hour days, Gel denhuys looked to create a nonstop party. There was a DJ, and the actors were encouraged to socialize among themselves during downtime. "It kind of happened naturally," says art director Arty Tan.

Though Bildsten, Tan and Ruth er ford had crafted scenarios on paper, the long days allowed for improvisation. The African sculpture, for instance, was a prop devised by Geldenhuys. A shot in which the lead actor runs into a glass door was filmed on the fly.

"When you have that much time to shoot, you can add things in," Bildsten says.

As for the main character's mysterious hobby, Fallon's creatives are mum. "For all we know, it could be him wearing an engineer's hat, just playing with model trains," Bildsten says.