Into the Woods

The weather, normally balmy in Orlando, Fla., has turned cold, with temperatures in the 40s on this overcast March morning. Midway through a Buick Rendezvous shoot with golf star Tiger Woods, McCann-Erickson creative director Tom Parr is hot and sweaty, ready for a shower and a change of clothes. It’s not every day a creative director gets an extreme workout with a professional athlete. In an intense two-out-of-three Ping-Pong match between set changes, Woods finally prevails.

Winning has always been the goal, says Woods, but getting used to the multimillion-dollar endorsements that come with the role of superstar athlete is another matter.

“You don’t think of the financial side of playing golf,” Woods says during a break on the Universal Studios soundstage. “There’s a completely different side of the business arena that’s in our sport. When you’re a kid, you just think about winning tournaments and being the best player. It’s an aspect I didn’t really like at first, but I’ve come to enjoy it: the new opportunities, the learning and growing as a person.”

The Rendezvous, which the company claims combines the ride of a sport utility vehicle with the space of a minivan for around $25,000, is Buick’s first serious attempt to reach a younger audience—and Woods is a critical part of the media mix.

Though the division is careful not to alienate its traditional 55+ car buyer, Woods is a strategist’s dream: He appeals to a younger crowd but garners respect from an older demo that admires his golfing prowess.

A week before the shoot, creative directors Parr and Robin Spencer Arm meet with group account directors Gene Hunt and Lissie Heinkele. They anxiously run down the list of scenes they’ll need to film during the one 10-hour shoot day Woods is available. Though the spots don’t break until June, filming takes place in March to accommodate Woods’ hectic schedule.

“It’s a good thing Tiger likes to stay busy,” says Parr, his head buried in his arms. The day with Woods kicks off a grueling two and a half weeks of shooting. After Orlando, it’s back to Detroit and on to California, where the rest of the footage will be filmed.

Why the time crunch? The agency has access to Woods only twice a year; it’s imperative they make every moment count. In addition to the two Rendezvous spots, several scenes for Buick brand commercials will be filmed, as well as extra shots for dealer ads.

Despite the demands, the 25-year-old athlete approaches making ads much as he does golf. He is a perfectionist and overachiever, preferring to do his own stunts.

In a Buick Olympics spot last year—which Woods considers his favorite collaboration with the car maker thus far—he competes against top Olympic athletes in various sports, except golf. He took the games seriously and played to win. “It was the most fun, but probably the most physically arduous,” Woods says. “It was very taxing. I think I threw my arm out.”

Woods doesn’t act the part of the aloof celebrity, and his brilliant smile telegraphs his charisma. Casual and down-to-earth, he drives himself to the shoot and doesn’t surround himself with an entourage. One handler and one body-guard keep a low profile on the set.

Instead of running off to his trailer between endless takes, Woods likes to hang out on the set, cracking jokes with the director, Steve Chase of Reactor Films, who has worked with Woods on other Buick spots since signing a marketing deal with General Motors in 1999. The two engage like old friends.

The first Rendezvous spot starring Woods shows a tornado that has sucked up various vehicles—a luxury car, a minivan and a truck—but spits out a Rendezvous. Tiger leans out of the car window and says, “We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.”

Chase asks Woods to deliver the line several dozen times with different inflections and body positioning before he is satisfied the crew has the necessary footage. Despite his easygoing nature, Woods gets a bit bored with the repetition.

“Sorry, sir,” Woods says to Chase after he fails to make a change the director has requested. “It’s Mr. Sir,” Chase responds with a laugh. “OK, shanks-a-lot,” Woods shoots back, referring to Chase’s golfing abilities.

In between takes, the director praises Woods’ demeanor on set. “I’ve worked with a lot of celebrities, and Tiger is one of the most interesting,” says Chase. “He’s not standoffish” and his friendliness puts everyone at ease.

McCann’s storyline takes him off the golf course, and Woods is pleased. It is a welcome change, he says, because the spot lets the public see he has a sense of humor. In fact, he says, he’s been asking all the companies he endorses, which include Nike and American Express, to consider introducing off-course themes.

“I’m enjoying what I’m doing, but I tend to have on a serious face, a game face,” Woods says. “But off the course, that’s not me. All my friends know I never take anything seriously. When Buick tries to capture that side of me, it gives a lighter side of me for the public to see.”

Later, during filming, the humor of the spot suddenly hits Woods. “This is kinda funny,” he says. “Oh, it’s comedy all right. Lean out farther,” Chase responds. “I can’t lean out any more. I have a seat belt on,” Woods reminds him.

A few takes later, Woods pauses, screws up his face and delivers an exaggerated “Whassup?” Next, he flubs the line. “I guess we’re not in Tokyo anymore,” he says, which gets a laugh from cast and crew. “I’m sorry, we were just talking about Tokyo before the take,” he says.

Even though golf isn’t the game of the day, Woods doesn’t mind dispensing a few tips to Parr on the set, perhaps as a consolation prize for beating him in Ping-Pong.

“Man, you are stiff,” he notes, after watching the copywriter mock swing an imaginary golf club. He demonstrates the proper technique, and Parr tries again. Woods taps Parr’s knees and tells him to relax.

Back on the set, the cast and crew begin filming the second Rendezvous spot. In this one, several vehicles head up a twisty road toward Frankenstein’s castle, disappearing into the dark and stormy night. A Rendezvous rolls out of the mist and drives away from the castle. The vehicle stops and the window rolls down. “You were expecting Igor?” asks Woods.

Wood delivers the “Igor” line for the umpteenth time. “I’m gonna make you look good, baby,” Chase assures him mockingly. “That’s impossible,” Woods retorts. “I can’t smile anymore,” he moans. “That was great, do it again,” he says, mocking Chase’s instructions. “That was even better. Do it again.”

Back on the set, Chase gets mischievous. “Hey Tiger, you know what? I’ll make you famous,” Chase says with more than a hint of sarcasm, breaking the tension and delivering a much-needed laugh.

Woods says it’s that easy, fun atmosphere he enjoys the most about making commercials.

“In order for something to turn out great on film, you have to have the right environment,” Woods says. “[You have to] go out there, relax and just enjoy.”
No place like home: Tiger Woods faces a storm on a Universal Studios soundstage in Orlando, Fla.