See LeBron James, Derrick Rose Through Eyes of an NBA Commercial Director
You probably don't know who Stacy Wall is, but if you're a fan of the NBA—or if you watch TV with any regularity—you've almost certainly seen his handiwork.
Wall, a North Carolina native who attended the same high school as Chris Paul, is one of the most prolific and well-respected directors of basketball ads in this business. He's won awards for his work in the past, and he figures to be in the mix for more honors in the future, if the quality of the newest additions to his catalog in any indication. This season alone has seen a number of Stacy's spots hit the airwaves, including the latest Jordan Brand campaigns for CP3 and Blake Griffin.
But no recent product of his has turned quite as many heads as the Derrick Rose "Basketball is Everything" commercial that he oversaw for Adidas and 180 Los Angeles. That spot has taken on even greater significance since Rose succumbed to his second season-ending knee injury in the past year-and-a-half just 10 games into the 2013-14 season.
Wall recently took time to talk to Bleacher Report about working with D-Rose, what he's like behind the scenes, how he compares to LeBron James, and what it's like to create 30-to-60-second stories about the sport he so adores.
On the Dangers of Directing a Basketball Commercial
B/R: What was your biggest challenge in bringing the particular vision of "Basketball is Everything" to life?
SW: I couldn’t even really look at the screen most of the takes because I was just so sort of nervous that, you know, he would re-injure himself while we were shooting this commercial or something like that.
That’s just speaking very honestly, and I don’t know if that’s even something that I even want Derrick to know about that because I don’t want it to sound like I was somehow bringing negative energy to him, given now what happened to him in the season.
But the more I work with these guys, you really do get an awareness that I’ve just been lucky in the past that nothing’s happened on set, because there’s many a time when we’re having them play basketball or do something crazy for some commercial and, you know, to some degree, anything could happen. So you just try to be smart and safe about it.
On Derrick Rose, the Man
B/R: You've worked with Derrick for four years now. What sorts of changes, if any, have you seen in him over the course of time that you’ve directed him?
SW: He’s just not somebody [who] feels the necessity for his presence. He doesn’t have that kind of ego that feels like everybody needs to know that he’s the most important person on set.
I remember one time working with him in Spain, which was that commercial where he was literally playing basketball in a bull ring against matadors and things like that. He’s just the kind of guy—and I don’t think this would be anything he would want me to tell you—but he was watching the tape, and he just almost sort of said to himself, “Man, I’m going to show my kids this,” and this was before he’d had his baby.
He walked away, and I was speaking with B.J. Armstrong [Derrick Rose's agent] and I was like, “I didn’t know Derrick had kids?” And he said, “He doesn’t. He was talking about when he has kids.” And it was just such a nice sentiment, you know, for someone to appreciate it that way.
Working with him to record that voiceover [for "Basketball is Everything"], I’ll always remember that moment. It was just a very quiet room and listening to him say those words and listening to him mean those words and try to deliver it in a way that was not only true to the script, but also felt like something that he really believed, and he did believe in those words, so that was something that I’ll never forget.
On How Basketball Ads Have Changed
B/R: It seems like basketball ads these days are more cinematic than they’ve ever been. To what extent has that shift affected your ability to tell stories and portray these athletes’ personalities on-screen?
SW: These days, we’re interested in how it plays on TV, but I hear more and more from people like, “Look at how many hits we got on YouTube.” It’s become the new standard of whether you’ve created a success or not. And, I think, to create those hits, we’re not going do something that’s a bit more stunt-oriented or shocking. That’s not just not going to be appropriate for the brand.
The way you get noticed and the way you get replayed and the way you get traded around in social media is by creating something that’s worth watching.
B/R: What sorts of challenges do TV ads, particularly basketball-related ads, present as a storytelling medium?
SW: My feeling about a lot of the ads that I’ve worked on with 180LA and Adidas is that they’re like moving posters almost, like a concept that would work as a poster. You can imagine Derrick sort of charging between two matadors and it’d be a poster of something called “The Bull.” So then, it’s just a matter of putting that together as a 60-second sequence of shots and edit and finding the right music and all those things.
On Working with Derrick Rose and LeBron James
B/R: You were fortunate enough to work with Derrick at some emotional points in his career. You were also fortunate enough to have that same privilege with LeBron James with the “Rise” ad, talking about “What should I do?” How did those two situations compare in your mind, considering how sensitive those moments were in the careers of those respective athletes?
SW: They were similar in that respect, and I certainly wanted to do right by both of those guys. That was one of my biggest concerns. It was a high-wire act, sort of, with both of them in different ways. So many of these commercials can provoke an eye roll or like a “C’mon, why are you saying that?”
And that’s always going to happen, among fans and social media and whatnot. You’re going to have your critics, too, and that’s fine. I always believe that great commercials are either loved or they’re hated. To be in the middle is almost a purgatory.
I think with both of them, I just wanted them to go over well. I wanted them to be perceived in the right way.
I knew with LeBron’s “Rise” spot, boy, he was really taking a lot of heat, and the media people had their views on his decision. And to sit with him and recreate that moment, it was a moment that even he would say is probably not a great idea. He wanted to raise some money for Boys & Girls Clubs and...that was just completely misinterpreted. It was a miscalculation.
So to ask him to sit in the exact same seat, that we would go behind him so we could see the glare of the spotlight and sort of imagine for ourselves what that must’ve been like, and then start that dialogue of “What should I do?” Try to run the emotional gamut, from the kind of comic take on that to the serious take on that because what I liked about both of these commercials is that they acknowledge that the life of an NBA superstar is a nuanced, complicated thing that’s not something that you can just throw away the stereotype.
These guys are intelligent, multi-faceted guys. Just like anybody, they can be punchy and laughing one moment, and they can be hardcore and serious when they have to do what they have to do on the court. They’re also dealing with business dealings. They’re also dealing with media obligations, marketing obligations, all these things.
So, those are two commercials that sort of allowed us to address that issue in a more modern way than, say, back in the day, when it was just about sort of sports cliche or looking at the life of an athlete as simply, “Oh, that must be a really privileged life.”
When you see the pressure they’re under off the court and on the court and imagine navigating that at the age that these guys are, it’s a pretty remarkable thing. In both of those commercials, I was able to sort of deal with those subject matters and create a commercial that’s sort of aspiring to be a little bit more nuanced and complicated than the average spot, so they’re very similar in that way.
On the Star Power of D-Rose and LBJ
B/R: To what extent do you think Derrick’s and LeBron’s ads have affected the way that people perceive them?
SW: They’re both so great at what they do, not only on the court but off the court, the way they handle themselves in postgame interviews.
As you know, they give an interview after every game, after every practice. They’re in a place where they express themselves in a million different ways, and anybody that’s seen Derrick’s press conference where he talked about how important his mother was to him, so I would never think these ads could do anything more than sort of remind everyone, “Oh yeah, that’s what Derrick is like,” you know what I mean?
Both of them could be movie stars. I’ve worked with LeBron, Derrick, Dwyane Wade. They just have presence in front of the camera, so from a purely just director's standpoint, they’re really a joy to work with. You really can’t go wrong.
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