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By Robert Goldrich – SHOOT Online – 04/15/11 – Will Arnett is most widely known for his inspired comedic work as an actor, perhaps most notably in the critically acclaimed Arrested Development. But there's another development that will not be stymied in which Arnett has a role via DumbDumb, the sponsor-driven advertising and production company in which he's partnered with fellow comedic actor/writer Jason Bateman. DumbDumb's focus is on the creation of original content for distribution across multiple media platforms, including TV, film and the Internet.
DumbDumb has displayed some smarts in this arena as reflected earlier this year when its Dirty Shorts—The Prom Date for Wrigley's Orbit chewing gum won a Gold Pencil at the One Club's third annual One Show Entertainment Awards (SHOOTonline, 2/17). The Dirty Shorts fare teamed DumbDumb with Energy BBDO Chicago and Electus, the branded entertainment company headed by former NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman.
Electus, a division of Barry Diller's IAC, maintains a strategic partnership with DumbDumb, providing Bateman and Arnett with access to key advertising, production and web resources. For example, DumbDumb can tap into the web production and development expertise of CollegeHumor.com, an operating business of IAC working in partnership with Electus.
Via their arrangement, Electus has an overall first-look deal and international distribution rights on DumbDumb's content, including TV, motion pictures and digital.
SHOOT asked Arnett about the prospects on the motion picture front. In broad strokes, he related, "Absolutely the potential is there for that kind of feature-length project. That's the direction it's going in. For years, brands have participated in this town, in movies, in television. They've put dollars into budgets, served as partners. We're all figuring out more and more how to do this and it might increasingly cut out the middle man. If you can talk to a brand directly and gain an understanding of what they're trying to do, who they're trying to reach, you can develop the appropriate content. We'll try to address this, going to a brand and saying, 'We think this piece of content will reach the audience you're trying to reach.'
"To me, that's interesting," continued Arnett. "I don't know what the equation is for success. I'm not by trade a businessman, agent or studio guy. I'm not playing the part of businessman. But as much as we can, we're trying to explore the possibilities. We want to do this. Jason and I say, 'Great, let's look into what we can do.' Will that eventually translate into a feature-length film? Why not?"
In the meantime, DumbDumb has been busy online, among its latest endeavors being the web talk show Always Open, in which actor (Anchorman, Saturday Night Live, The Office), comic and improvisational performer David Koechner converses with a different celebrity each three-minute episode. The venue for their discussion is a booth at a Denny's restaurant.
Marty Orzio, chief creative officer of Gotham, New York, which is Denny's ad agency, sees Always Open as a perfect branding message for his client whose slogan is "America's diner is always open."
"The word 'open' was a way for us to give consumers something they already knew about Denny's," said Orzio. "But this series gave us something to build upon. We could turn the word 'open' to mean much more—'openness.' Being at a diner, sitting in a booth and shooting the shit with somebody—it's comfortable."
Always Open is created and produced by DumbDumb, in partnership with Electus, and co-produced by Denny's. Distributed by Electus and utilizing web production and development expertise from CollegeHumor.com, the series was originally conceived by Gotham of the Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG). Ensemble, the branded entertainment arm of IPG's Mediabrands, played a key role in the partnership and series development
The web series debuted last month with Koechner chatting with Bateman. Webisode two, which premiered on March 23, features satirical comedienne Sarah Silverman. The guest for this month's episode is Arnett. Upcoming scheduled guests include Will Forte, Amy Poehler and Kristen Bell.
The series' prime platform is www.collegehumor.com/alwaysopen. The series is also accessible on Denny's.com, DumbDumb.com, YouTube, FaceBook and other social platforms.
Orzio noted that Always Open also opens up a new audience for Denny's which has strong standing with an older demographic but "doesn't have a following with younger people the way it should. This series appeals to a younger audience. We're early on in the process but the preliminary results are encouraging. The show is being passed around, there's a lot of activity with people between the ages of 18 and 34. The first episode with Jason Bateman has gotten 800,000 hits so far. That's pretty darn good."
Helping the informal conversational aspect of the series, said Orzio, is that "many of these people know each other. Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Justin Bateman are good friends with David Koechner. They're friends talking and that's exactly what we wanted for this series. There's a natural feel to the discussion and an improvisational nature to the show. They had four cameras going, getting enough footage that we could play around with and allowing us a lot of flexibility in terms of cutting."
Gotham deferred to DumbDumb in several areas, related Orzio, "because these guys know funny. We had some control in the sense that they would check with us to see if we thought we had enough material. DumbDumb would show stuff to us first. We were collaborating in some respects."
The choice of director, Jerry Collins, was made by DumbDumb, according to Orzio. "He had Saturday Night Live experience and is someone whom Jason and Will trust."
"When we set up DumbDumb," observed Arnett, "we were open to trying anything—sketches, web series, all forms of content. We wanted to engage with people who were funny, and let brands come over to see if a marriage made sense. It can be a win-win for everybody. Gotham and Denny's had a playbook with a lot of room for new ideas. We didn't want to hit people over the head with the brand. But having a conversation at a Denny's booth was a natural choice. We're all struggling to find the place where art and commerce can live on the Internet. This show does that. For me, it was an opportunity to work with David Koechner. He's such a funny voice. His questions are not going to be run of the mill. He will elicit comedic moments in conversation."
Orzio said it's incumbent upon agencies "to be constantly aware of places where you can communicate and how to get something there. You have to be aware of people and places you can partner with."
But at the same time, Orzio noted that this shouldn't be construed as an aversion to traditional media solutions or a consuming affinity for acting like a hub that always seeks outside talent. On the former score, Orzio affirmed that television remains integral to Denny's success, making people aware of the restaurant's latest limited time offers and specials."
As for the hub scenario, Orzio acknowledged that it has some validity and seems to be the crux of Co:, the agency formed last year with Ty Montague as a founding partner (SHOOTonline, 9/17/10). Orzio affirmed that the talent at his agency is instrumental, though, to creating for Denny's and knowing when to go outside. "The strategy has to make sense. I went into this with the priority being who our target was, what Denny's needed to do, where work and attention were needed."
Arnett noted that Electus was key in getting DumbDumb together with clients such as Wrigley's/Orbit, Denny's and RIM's BlackBerry. "Jason and I do not live in that world," said Arnett. "These are relationships that Electus helped to bring about."
For the alluded to BlackBerry, DumbDumb has created some web series-like content though it's still to be determined how and exactly in what space it will be used, according to Arnett.
Finding that place where art and commerce can properly mesh as articulated by Arnett has led to assorted explorations and development of varied forms.
Among recent efforts of note are those for Coca-Cola and Toyota's Prius. Last month Coca-Cola and Maroon 5 staged a recording session during which fans were invited to inspire the band as it composed an original song in 24 hours.
Enabled by interactive projection technology, fans the world over were given a virtual access pass to the studio by visiting www.coca-cola.com/music, where they were able to interact with the band and lend their creative ideas to lyrics, riffs and rhythms for the new single. They got to weigh in throughout the creative process and at the end of 24 hours helped to inspire a new Maroon 5 track.
"Coca-Cola has a long history of using the power of music to bring people together from around the world in the most relevant and compelling ways," said Joe Belliotti, director of global entertainment marketing for The Coca-Cola Company. He noted that the Maroon 5 initiative is true to that spirit.
The 24hr Session is part of "Coca-Cola Music," a new music program from Coke that will give teens the inside track on the creation of music and the opportunity to view the industry's leading artists at work. The 24hr session concept was originated by Lexis PR, and was developed and produced by Wieden+Kennedy and Nexus Interactive Arts. The digital hub was designed and created by SapientNitro.
"We were really excited about taking an opportunity to fuse together social media and the recording studio—crashing together the everyday social world of teenagers, and the exclusive and inaccessible world of the recording studio," said Iain Tait, global interactive creative director at Wieden+Kennedy.
Maroon5's new song, "Is Anybody Out There," can be downloaded on the Coke music site.
As for Prius, Saatchi & Saatchi LA devised the Toyota Prius Records event, which was held on March 30 and 31, each day with a 10-hour webcast session. The initiative challenged the public to help set as many Universal Record Database (URDB) world records as possible in and around the Prius. Four Prius hybrids—including the Prius Plug-in Hybrid and the larger Prius v—were paired with a team of record-setting experts who attempted to accomplish feats that had never been done before. The public was invited to tweet, create and recommend their own record-breaking ideas. Records set included most bubble gum bubbles popped in a Prius in 30 seconds, the fastest time to dress as a clown in a Prius, the most times to lock and unlock a Prius in 30 seconds using a smart key, and the fastest times to wrap a Prius with wrapping paper and a bow and separately to unwrap a Prius decked out in decorative paper and a bow.
Once the records were set, video footage of each lives on a dedicated Toyota channel on the URDB website (URDG.org/PriusProjects) Toyota in turn has invited the community at large to attempt to break these records by uploading their own videos of precedent setters. The Prius Records online interface (www.toyotapriusprojects.com) features a number of record setting stunts and a running count of records set, among other highlights.
Chris Adams, executive creative director at Saatchi LA, said of the event, "Prius Records is everything a campaign should be these days. It's an event, it's newsworthy, it's social, it's participatory, it's great film, it's engaging, it's chock full of product stories and it's fun. Best of all, the live event was just the tip of the iceberg. The real fun comes when we start seeing and sharing the consumer-generated films of records being broken in a Prius."