The Spot: A Mini Masterpiece

An epic two-minute cinema ad springs from six words written by a fan of the auto brand

GENESIS: Mini's whole marketing goal is to get butts in seats for test drives, since people who drive one tend to buy one. As part of the Mini Coupe launch, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners asked people online to describe the best test drive they could imagine—in just six words—and promised to use the winning entry as the plot for a two-minute ad, starring the winner. (The agency was inspired by, and partnered with, Larry Smith and his Six-Word Memoir project.) In the end, Mathew Foster won with his intriguing entry: "Stewardess. Salt flats. Sushi. Paratroopers. Falconer." Then, director Erich Joiner brought Foster's words to life in an epic spot that's wild, energetic, surreal and fun-loving—and has something of a twist ending.

COPYWRITING: "Generally, we go to directors with pretty worked-out scripts and boards. For this, we just had the words," says executive creative director John Butler. The agency liked Foster's entry because it held the promise of really showing off the car's performance. They took the words to a handful of directors. Joiner's treatment had Foster and an attractive flight attendant ("stewardess," while un-PC, did save Foster a word) launching a Coupe off a giant ramp in Los Angeles, flying past some leaping paratroopers, skidding into a dry salt-lake bed, screaming through a sushi restaurant patronized by mannequins, and coming to rest in front of Swedish metal band Falconer performing on stage. Foster had meant "falconer," as in someone who breeds birds of prey. "But with Mini, we need that little surprise and delight," says Butler. (Foster, a metal fan himself, was reportedly thrilled that they went with the band instead.) The spot ends with the six words on screen, followed by a fire-spouting Mini logo and the Facebook address.

ART DIRECTION: The spot is visually outlandish but had to be rooted in reality. "We kept reminding ourselves: 'Let's not get carried away with the surrealness,' " says Joiner. "I wanted a big production, but the driving was the most important thing." Butler says the spot works in part because it isn't chopped up. "In a lot of car commercials, you'll see the narrative portion and then the sheet-metal portion, and it feels gratuitous and thrown in," he says. "We try to make it a part of the narrative."

FILMING: Joiner shot for four days—two in L.A., one in the desert, and one split between doing pickups in L.A. and getting plate views of the vehicle at a warehouse in Torrance, Calif. (Using a crane and a cradle for the car, he was able to get the right look for a flying car, with the suspension drooping and the tires falling from the wheel wells.) Joiner got the paratrooper shots from a gyro-stabilized SpaceCam camera mounted on the nose of the helicopter.

TALENT: The bearded, laid-back Foster, a kind of everyman, was unexpectedly superb in his role. "We got lucky," says Butler. "I love when he looks over at the stewardess and kind of nods, like, 'Yup.' That's just terrific. He was probably one of the better actors in the whole thing." A stuntman did most of the driving, but Foster was allowed to ride shotgun. The stewardess just had to be beautiful and sexy. (This made things awkward when Foster's girlfriend visited the set.) Four paratroopers were multiplied in post to look like many more. Falconer signed on just days before the shoot.

SOUND: Dramatic music builds through most of the spot, behind the sound design, which focuses on the revving of the engine and squealing of the tires. Asian guitar music fills in the quiet sushi scene before Falconer roars in with a grungy original to close out the score.

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