The Spot: Old School Sneakers

Foot Locker goes back—way back—to school with an assist from Sir Isaac Newton and the Wright brothers

Headshot of Tim Nudd

GENESIS: Foot Locker is heading back to school. Old school, that is. A pair of seasonal spots, shot in a period style by director Aaron Ruell for ad agency SapientNitro, take place in a modern high school. But they skip comically into the past—reimagining Isaac Newton and the Wright brothers as sneaker pioneers in historically dubious voiceover narratives, revealed at the end to be school reports that students are giving to their classmates. Newton, it turns out, just wanted to enjoy a little hang time in his kicks but was cursed to discover a nemesis called gravity. And the Wright brothers, while being the first in flight, were also the "first in fly," thanks to their super-cool footwear fashions.

COPYWRITING: The writers toyed with all sorts of historical figures, trying to settle on characters that would appeal to high schoolers. (The Pilgrims seemed more middle school, Sigmund Freud more college.) Newton and the Wright brothers felt appropriate, and suitably connected to gravity and its transcendence—the purview of all sneaker companies. "And if we had an opportunity to put a guy in a powdered wig, why wouldn't we?" jokes SapientNitro creative director Chris McMurtrey.

ART DIRECTION: The agency was torn between being jokey with goofy costumes and wigs, and being more serious with higher production values. McMurtrey says Ruell offered both—a high aesthetic value with an offkilter, humorous message. Ruell (an accomplished director perhaps still best known for his acting role as Kip in Napoleon Dynamite) wanted to give the Wright brothers spot, in particular, a period feel. He used a modern-day camera specially outfitted with a hand crank to mimic the cameras of the early 1900s—which sped up the action slightly. "Typically, a nice steady crank falls within 16-18 frames per second, which is the standard look for the old hand-crank films," says Ruell. "But it's never consistent, which is what gives it that unique charm and look." The hand-crank camera lent authenticity that's impossible to achieve in post. "It didn't feel artificial at all," he adds. Ruell provided period photos for color matching in postproduction. Both spots switch at the end to a modernday school setting, shot at a straight 24 frames per second, with a color shift that's clean and contemporary.

FILMING: The spots were shot over two 12-hour days at several locations, including the historic Pico House in Los Angeles and the Church of the Angels in Pasadena. Ruell traveled to find just the right tree for the Newton spot. "There's plenty of trees in L.A., but he really wanted to drive an hour to God knows where to get this beautiful tree," says McMurtrey. "He's meticulous."

TALENT: It was a nonunion job, which made it difficult for Ruell to find the actors he wanted. He ended up being satisfied with the students, who also provide the voiceovers. And he was pleased with his Newton, whose look is amusingly evocative of old paintings of the man. But the real find were the Wright brothers—who in real life are actually two brothers named Wright. As photographers, they shot Ruell's casting director's wedding. They had a head start at the audition. "They dress that way all the time," says Ruell.

SOUND: The Wright brothers spot is backed by a modern track composed by SapientNitro copywriter Nick Sylvester. The piece in the Newton spot is stock music that gives more of a period vibe.

MEDIA: The national cable buy included MTV, ESPN, and BET, in an effort to reach men with a sense of urban fashion.



Client: Foot Locker

Spots: "Newton," "Wright Brothers"

Agency: SapientNitro, New York

Creative Directors: Scott Higgins, Chris McMurtrey

Copywriter: Nick Sylvester

Art Director: Rodney White

Producer: Jim Frame

Group Account Director: Rob Rawley

Account Director: Mike Reuter

Account Supervisor: Kristen Bogusz

Account Manager: Derek Channell

Broadcast Business: Jennifer Kurtzman

Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks

Director: Aaron Ruell

Managing Director: Shawn Lacy

Executive Producer: Holly Vega

Producer: Tracy Broaddus

Director of Photography: Shawn Kim

Production Designer: Michael Broaddus

Post Production: NO6

Editor: Jason MacDonald

Producer: Toni Lipari

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.
Publish date: September 7, 2011 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT