On Location: Souped Up

The actor playing Fake Busy Guy keeps blowing his line, rebuffing a co-worker by saying, “Sorry, big board meeting” rather than, “Sorry, big deadline.” “I keep giving myself a promotion,” he mutters angrily.

It’s a 15-second shot, and there’s a lot to nail in that one take. Director Bryan Buckley watches it on a monitor, a cup of Starbucks coffee pressed to his lips and a black wool Hungry Man hat snug on his head. “More mischievous!” he yells to actor Craig Walker, his only direction, and the scene begins again.

Fake Busy Guy shuffles through folders on his desk, looks at the clock nervously, shuffles some more. When he takes off down a fluorescent-lit hall, Office Cheerleader shouts, “You rock, Bob!” Buckley has come up with that line, originally written as “Go get ’em, Bob!”

The commercial, which breaks today in spot markets, is part of the first campaign for Unilever Bestfoods’ Lipton Cup-a-Soup in more than 20 years. The late-January shoot is also Eric Steinhauser’s first since his promotion to executive creative director at J. Walter Thompson in New York earlier in the month.

The four 30-second spots and one :15 position the brand as a healthy snack alternative at work. Four office personalities—Mr. Cliché and the Suck-Up are also part of the crew—tell how the soup helps them “Beat the 3 p.m. slump,” which is the tagline. (Fake Busy Guy: “If the 3 p.m. slump hits me, I’m toast. Lipton Cup-a-Soup gives me the giddy-up I need to look so busy, sometimes even I think I’m important.”)

The client suggested the location: Bestfoods’ old headquarters in Englewood, N.J., abandoned after the 2000 merger with Unilever. Huge ’70s-era photos of Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Mazola corn oil still line the walls. In the old food-testing kitchen, where craft services is set up, a sign reads: “Tasting is a business decision. Taste tests merit your full attention.”

On the set, the offices of the “L. Gordo” company, the clocks are set at 3 p.m. Fliers for an L. Gordo film festival, pilates classes and a blood drive are tacked up around the office. A half-dead plant adorns Fake Busy Guy’s cubicle. “The workplace assaults humanity,” says Steinhauser, art director on the campaign. “We need to get back to being a person. This campaign is about celebrating humanity.”

The project is reminiscent of the popular “This is SportsCenter” spots Buckley directed for ESPN in the mid-’90s—those ads, filmed in the client’s offices, showed fake behind-the-scenes goings-on at the show. “The boards were different. They had an essence of truth,” says Buckley, explaining why he signed on to the Lipton campaign. “Every office has a suck-up and a fake busy guy. It’s time to bring them to the masses in a cool way.”

For the casting sessions, which took place in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans, Buckley created résumés for each role and had actors improvise in character. The characters’ back stories and résumés eventually may be posted online. “We’re taking the tried-and-true format of testimonials and turning it on its head,” says group creative director Jon Krevolin, copywriter on the campaign. “Everyone who has seen the script says, ‘I know somebody just like this.’ “

The goal is to “talk to workers as workers,” explains Elanka Fitié, Lipton innovation director. She says the campaign for Cup-a-Soup—”a simple product, taken for granted and thought about in the wrong way”—was green-lighted after a European effort centered on the midafternoon lull (which arrives there at 4 p.m., according to that tag) proved successful.

On the second day of shooting, filming is delayed as the crew adjusts props to hide the snow drifts outside. The snowstorm hit the day before, and the crew was forced to bunk in a New Jersey hotel overnight.

The timing and pacing have been the most challenging part of the shoot, says Buckley. “The spots are very tight—:30s and :15s,” he explains. “We need to make little moments within 30 seconds.” For the Fake Busy Guy spot, the concept—following his office rounds—required two 15-second shots, but as Buckley points out, “a lot of comedy depends on going to a cutaway shot. In this case, we can’t do that.”

But the humor strikes a nerve with the audience on hand: In a viewing room, a converted office where the client and creatives are watching the action, laughter erupts after every take.

Steinhauser credits his new boss, Rosemarie Ryan, for allowing him and deputy ecd Nat Whitten the freedom to craft a creatively driven campaign and hire top talent like Buckley. And he’s thankful that Ryan, who became president of the New York office last month, did not look outside the agency after ecd Mike Campbell’s departure. With his infectious grin, Steinhauser adds, “The inmates are running the asylum—that’s a really cool thing.”