On this third consecutive day of shooting promos for ESPN’s and ABC’s coverage of the 2008–2009 NBA season, Shaq is joined by a small gang of pundits and peers on a football-size soundstage at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios, which has previously accommodated productions as diverse as Spider-Man 3, Enchanted, and Flight of the Conchords. The morning session features ESPN commentators Breen, Scott, and Mark Jackson, plus a ventriloquist. For the afternoon, Shaq and Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce bust their acting chops alongside the commentators and the Upright Citizens Brigade improv ace Chris Gethard. Today marks the end of the shoot, out of which the network hopes to wring nearly 40 spots, seven for television and 31 for the web.
The gracious offers of watermelon slices and fruit smoothies notwithstanding, the set has an all-business feel to it. Dominating the far end of the room is the 18-foot-long ESPN RV -- complete with parquet paneling on the sides -- in which the ESPN commercials have been set for the last two seasons. The RV is brightly lit so as to give the impression that the ads are being shot in broad daylight; director David Shane orders “light rocking” to simulate the motion of a vehicle careening down the interstate.
A second RV -- identical to the first on the inside, with a Wheaties box featuring Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, a Dirk Nowitzki bobblehead on the dash, and a USA Today article about Luke Walton pinned to the fridge -- is parked just outside the door. The outside RV is equipped with four lipstick-size cameras, which provide visitors to ESPN’s Your NBA Destination website views of the spots from different angles.
Back inside, the atmosphere at the start of the day is collegial, even as the schedule calls for 10 hours of nearly nonstop work. Former New York Knicks great Jackson shares a not-quite-randy tale about a woman who approached him in an elevator the night before, while Scott mimics a golf swing and a quarterback’s drop. A few minutes after the 8:30 a.m. call time, a fixer is coordinating a way to whisk Pierce into town earlier than expected. “That’ll blow up a budget,” cracks ESPN PR maven Rob Tobias.