Romper Room

It is only a couple of hours into a Virgin Mobile commercial shoot, and the 2-year-old twins who are sharing the role of the baby have already torn apart a room in a Brooklyn house made to look like a nursery. They’ve toppled a bookcase, yanked down curtains and knocked over a lamp. Director Dave Meyers of couldn’t be more pleased. “It’s going better than we expected,” he enthuses.

The Mother New York creative team is just as thrilled. Watching from a monitor, partner/cd Paul Malmstrom and Rob Baird, Dylan Bernd, Susan Corbo and Allon Tatarka react with delight each time the tots—Michael and Dylan Nandzo—indulge in bad behavior.

They need the boys to go wild and crazy. The spot, “Hardcore Nursery Rhymes,” depicts a baby trashing a nursery, and it is one of eight that demonstrate “the weird and interesting content” Virgin Mobile subscribers can hear by using their free night and weekend minutes to call the new Listen Line, says Malmstrom.

The ad is intended to reach Virgin Mobile’s core target for prepaid phones: teens and young adults (not babies). “We’ve set this up [so] you look at the [Listen Line’s] content … and this content is very much in the tongue-in-cheek, Jackass type of humor that teens are not just familiar with, but almost expect of advertisers,” says Mother strategist Phil Graham.

The other spots play off the various Listen Line offerings, such as foreign language instruction and “killer comebacks” (snappy one-liners). The work marks Mother’s first campaign for Virgin Mobile since it won the account a few weeks ago, and the agency is being ambitious with its rapid production schedule. “Hardcore Nursery Rhymes,” shot Feb. 3 and 4, is scheduled to air nationwide today.

Time is of the essence. After Meyers wraps up with the toddlers this afternoon, the crew will dash off to a nearby high school to shoot the spot “Killer Comebacks.” Then they will return to the house the next day to shoot more baby footage as well as another spot called “Foreign Language” (featuring a German-speaking fish trying to convince his non-German-speaking owner to feed him).

“We scheduled the [nursery] shoot for two days, assuming the babies’ attention spans would run about four hours,” says Meyers. So far, the kids have exceeded expectations, performing so well that Meyers, who is shooting on digital video so that he can just let the camera roll, has been able to capture three gags. It helps that the boys have their mom, Terry, encouraging them. Dylan gets a little help from her in some of the takes requiring him to knock over a bookcase. Wearing a green jumpsuit, which will allow her image to be digitally removed, Mom stands behind Dylan, helping him rock the piece of furniture. Visual effects experts from Riot! are on hand to make sure everything is shot correctly.

“We’re trying to be as minimal [with effects] as possible,” Meyers says, noting it was crucial to use real babies in this spot. Effects would have been distracting and would have taken the humor out of the spot, says the director, who relied on visual effects to transform hip-hop star Ludacris into a dancing, rapping baby in the music video for “Stand Up.”

During breaks in the shoot, Meyers gets feedback from the creatives and Mother head of production, Margaux Ravis. The VTR guy slaps together an edit, so Meyers can see how the spot is coming together. “Babies don’t necessarily take direction. I’m getting little pieces here and there,” Meyers says. “So after we cut it together and see if the eyelines are all right, I can make up the extra coverage we need.”

The owner of the house, Mary Kay Seery, who is also a freelance copywriter, answers the occasional question from a production assistant. Seery is used to having her 5,000-square-foot home in the landmark Prospect Park South neighborhood invaded by film crews. The house has served as the setting for many ads and TV shows—in fact, Meyers shot the Dave Matthews Band video “Dreamgirl” there.

Today, Meyers is on a path of destruction with the babies. Dylan, who appears in most of the scenes, senses what he is doing is wrong. He says, “Uh oh!” every time he knocks over the bookcase, running away from the scene of the crime with a nervous smile. As the day goes on, however, he seems less concerned about getting into trouble and is having a ball standing on a dresser and tossing a lamp and other items onto the floor. “I feel so sorry for [their parents],” says Mother’s Ravis with a laugh. “They’re going to be superdestructive.”