News Column

Creating IU commercial a 'Hoosiers' reunion for Angelo Pizzo, Fred Murphy

May 24, 2013


May 24--The last time Angelo Pizzo and Fred Murphy saw each other was in 1985, and Murphy was leaving the "wrap party" for the just-completed filming of the movie "Hoosiers."

Pizzo was the writer and producer of the film and Murphy was the director of photography.

"I knew it was good," Murphy said Thursday from a basement hallway in the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

"I didn't!" Pizzo exclaimed, underscoring his anxiety at the time.

But Oscar nominee and the best sports movie of all time, as ranked by both ESPN and USA Today? Nobody saw that coming.

The filmmakers got together again this week to tell another Hoosiers tale, very different from the first, much shorter in length, but like the film, emotionally powerful and inspiring. The collaboration this time? A 60-second commercial extolling the virtues of IU.

"We've been working on our branding initiative for almost two years now, and this is going to be the next step in really rolling it out for the public," said Valerie Pena, associate vice president for branding and marketing at IU Communications. The tagline, "What Matters. Where It Matters" is aimed at emphasizing both the relevance of an IU education and the results-oriented profile the university wants to project.

Pena said the challenge for the new commercial, and ones to follow, is to set IU apart from the multitude of university commercials that television viewers see during normal programming and especially during sporting events on stations such as ESPN and the Big Ten Network. "We are so fortunate that Angelo stepped in and said, 'I'd like to help,'" she said.

"It's a privilege for me to give something back to this place," said Pizzo, who grew up in Bloomington, graduated from IU and moved back after nearly 30 years of living in California.

Essentially, Pizzo said, he came up with a few ideas, ran one by Jacobs publicist Alain Barker, and within a day, Barker said everyone was on board and ready to plan the production. When Pizzo asked who would be the director of photography, IU officials asked, "Who do you want?" and the veteran filmmaker was thrilled to bring Murphy in from New York. Murphy is on hiatus from his current gig as director of photography for the television series "The Good Wife."

"I'm having a great time," Murphy said Thursday. "I'm having all of these flashbacks and memories from 'Hoosiers.'"

There was a palpable sense that something special was being created within the fairly large cast and crew filming at the Musical Arts Center and Simon Music Library & Recital Center building.

The storyline for the commercial follows an aspiring opera singer from her audition for admittance to the Jacobs School through her education -- learning staging, production and makeup to auditioning for roles, getting cast for minor parts and finally winning leading roles. Pizzo's concept was paired with the career arc of soprano Ailyn Perez, an IU graduate who last year was described as "one of opera's next wave" by Opera News. Perez is played by recent master's graduate Hanna Brammer in the IU commercial, but Pizzo, producer Jo Throckmorton and a small crew will travel to London to film Perez where she currently is performing at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. The final scene showing Perez in all her glory will cap the concept of an IU student's journey from aspiring music student to opera star.

"This is such an incredible opportunity, because when you're an opera student, you don't really think about doing a commercial," Brammer said during a pause in production. "It's so different from stage acting. On stage, we need to be big and do everything with fairly exaggerated motions, and with this, the camera is right up on every nuance. I was a little nervous about the difference, but Angelo told me right off the bat, 'Don't act. Just do it.'"

Brammer performed like a pro Thursday, doing take after take with ease as Pizzo, Murphy and Throckmorton assessed angles, lighting and various elements of the shots and the small details of the actors' performances.

Local actors Francesca Sobrer and Hector Flores play the young opera singer's mother and father.

Composition major Ari Fisher was another Jacobs student brought in on the project. After discussing the concept for the 60-second commercial with Pizzo, he immediately decided on a musical score using the technique of vocalese and having Brammer sing vowel sounds without lyrics, because lyrics would likely divert attention from the message of the commercial.

"Essentially, it's like a silent movie," the IU senior said. The composition major's challenge was to compose music that sounds so much like Puccini it will lead seamlessly into the final shot of Perez singing an aria from "La Boheme."

"It's always been a dream of mine to score for television and movies," Fisher said. "This is truly something I never thought I'd ever be able to do at this age and this point in my career."

The producers will face a challenge in editing their material down into a 60-second commercial. Pizzo said they had 25 separate sets or scenarios, meaning some shots that took more than an hour to set up and shoot might get two seconds in the piece or wind up on the proverbial cutting room floor.

"But," Pizzo said with a laugh, "they're going to give me the opportunity to do a director's cut for the website. You might get the whole three minutes there."

He later said every filmmaker gets accustomed to cutting. "I think our first version of 'Hoosiers' was more than 2{ hours," he said. "We got that down (to 114 minutes). We'll be OK."


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