AdChat DFW had the chance to chat with award-winning director, Norry Niven with Niven Films, a Dallas based production company, about the promo he directed for Showtime’s recent hit series SMILF (Single Mother Is Losing Faith.) It stars Frankie Shaw, Rosie O’Donnell, Connie Britton and other notables. The stop motion spot brings together various elements of the show in a very inventive, fun fashion. Check out our interview and the spot.
AdChat DFW: This is a very fun stop motion promotion, how did the job come about?
Norry: The job came about for their second season of a Showtime program that Frankie Shaw writes, directs, stars in and produces. She won Sundance best Short three or four years ago, and because of that got a shot at creating her own comedy series. The show’s about a single mom trying to make it in Boston. It’s really about the comedy of life and her trying to have a social life and get work.
AdChat DFW: Does the show’s title SMILF mean what we think it means?
Norry: Actually, the SMILF acronym is being re-defined as “Single Mother Is Losing Faith.” Showtime is really trying to get behind the series. It’s so good and Frankie is so amazing in it as is Rosie O’Donnell who plays her mother.
AdChat DFW: Where did you shoot?
Norry: They shoot everything in Boston so for us to shoot it needed to occur there. We were trying to use our time constructively and we started with the idea of doing chalk paintings on the floor and shooting it all from an overhead position. But, that would have required for both her and us to be there for about a week, so what we wound up doing was mimicking that same process with a high resolution still camera and creating hand painted drawings in a stop motion CG environment.
The work started five months ago, so it’s been a long process. As the artwork progressed, we shot tests. Joey Lavelle is my DP in Boston and he and I worked out the mechanics of that and then we worked out how many frames per second. We also shot a test with Showtime. They did a stop motion piece with one of their coworkers, which is pretty funny.
AdChat DFW: Did you shoot a test with Frankie?
Norry: Oh no. We got a dozen different processes going on before we really sat down with her. Then we did a computer previz so we could show her on set and she knew where we were in each piece of action. It’s weird when you’re lying on your back or your side and your front, you have quite a bit of gravity issues with hair for example. We had four people, her stylist, makeup artist, wardrobe and hair stylist tweaking her in between each still frame, so you can imagine how long that took. But Frankie was so patient and gracious, she made it great and she made it fun because she gets it. She pours herself into her show and she absolutely poured herself into these promos.
AdChat DFW: Did you just shoot the one promo?
Norry: There’s a second promo that we haven’t released yet called Dunk. It included some special rigging and rig removal where we flew her through the air to do a Michael Jordan style slam dunk. It’s a pretty cool piece.
AdChat DFW: Where did you assemble all the footage?
Norry: The assembly process happened at Showtime, they have an incredible facility with Flame artists. But the animation happened off-campus because that really needed to have its own style and sort of energy. That was a result of a lot of back and forth with them, Showtime and Frankie and it really became an evolving process. The elements of the stop motion were done and ready before the shoot, which made it so much easier for me to help direct her in the scene if she could see what we were doing in the previz.
AdChat DFW: Why did you decide to shoot a stop action promo instead of taking scene excerpts from the actual show?
Norry: Well we’ve tested this and it’s been proven for the nearly 20 years that I’ve been a shooting promos that it shouldn’t look like the show. Instead we are taking the suggestion of the show; the elements and theme, and creating a mood or an environment that’s artistic, that’s a standalone piece, something that represents the series and yet not be clip driven. You see clip driven promos every night, so we wanted something special that gets a lot of attention.
Sometimes I’ve done promos for shows that haven’t been filmed yet, like Dexter where they had only shot the pilot when I shot the first promo for them. Shooting promos is back and forth with regards to the creative process, but it’s definitely an art form. Like a music video where there may not be a literal interpretation of the message of a song. But if you can do something that catches people’s attention that they can watch again and again, then you’re successful.
AdChat DFW: You are really the king of promos, what are some other ones you’ve directed?
Norry: I did all eight seasons of promos for Dexter, usually three per season. We won so many awards with that and other promos for Fox. I did a promo for the Superbowl for a show called 24 that we shot in London. It was just one take that happened over 58 seconds with pyrotechnics. It captured the essence of the show without tipping your hand to showing clips from an upcoming season that you don’t want people to see yet, especially out of context.
AdChat DFW: Can you share a fun story about the shoot with Frankie Shaw?
Norry: She’s amazing, full of energy and so into her art forum and anything that helps promote her art forum she’s all in favor of. We would shoot a sequence and then she would want to go look at playback to see how she looked. She self-directed herself on the show, so there was a bit of that going back and forth to the monitor, which took extra time. But I just loved that sense of collaboration and fun and energy.
AdChat DFW: Some directors would be annoyed at that, because they want to control everything.
Norry: It’s so much better everyone working together at that point. The stylist, the makeup artists, the animator, the composite, the photographer, the gaffer, the art department. Everyone’s on board and they’re feeling the energy.
We did a second promo with her young son on the series played by two twin girls. When you have four year old twins on set you’re in for a lot of discipline with your time and energy. We worked pretty hard to get those shots done first so we didn’t have to worry about the rest of the day, which Frankie appreciated. I think she’s fantastic and the SMILF is incredible, so check it out on Showtime.
AdChat DFW: We certainly will!