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Behind the Work: Scripting Comedy with Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina



LBB sits down with Gifted Youth / Caviar director Jake Szymanksi to delve into the making of Super Bowl spot 'No Way Norway' with his dream cast

Behind the Work: Scripting Comedy with Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina
In this comedic spot for Super Bowl, Will Ferrell is on a mission for his country - to beat Norway at becoming the biggest adopters of electric vehicles. Roping in two of his friends, Kenan Thompson of Saturday Night Live and actress/comedian Awkwafina, the trio set off on a journey to Norway only to find themselves completely lost in Finland and Sweden.

Having worked with Will Ferrell over several years of his career, Jake Szymanski discusses creative collaboration and filming at the actor’s home, picking their dream cast, and his vision for this action-packed adventure to Norway.

LBB > What was the initial brief from the client and how did you approach it?

Jake Szymanski > The idea was to make Norway a 'bad guy' for America because of the really awesome high electric vehicle adoption rate they have. I’ve worked with Will Ferrell a lot over the years so he actually called me when they came to him with this idea and he asked me to take a look and offer up ideas. 

LBB > It’s a great script, what was it like working with Will on this?

Jake > The guys at McCann had given a great script, and then Will and I worked on it too, pitching some other jokes - it was Will’s idea to do the archery scene which came from a little live comedy tour for the website Funny or Die that we did years ago. We had done a live bit on stage where I was one of these people dressed as a ninja and we pretended to shoot a bow and arrow at Will. He pretended to catch an arrow live on stage and we were kind of laughing and remembering that and decided to include it in Awkwafina’s scene. And then while we were shooting, I would let Kenan and Awkwafina play around and try their own lines too so a lot of improvisation made its way into the piece as well. It was a fluid process and it was great fun.

LBB > How did you come up with the perfect cast for this job, with Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina joining Will Ferrell?

Jake > They were actually our wish list dream casting, with Will knowing Kenan from Saturday Night Live, so I thought it made sense to approach him and to have Will go straight to his front door since they’re friends. I’ve worked with Kenan a few times before when I used to work at SNL and he is just one of the nicest, funniest guys on the planet. 

I hadn't worked with Awkwafina before but Will and I are both really big fans of hers. Will's production company had been wanting to set up something with her so it seemed like a good opportunity to work together for this spot. She is absolutely hilarious, super nice and really great as well, so managed to get our wish list which was amazing.

LBB > From an aesthetic point of view, what was your vision with the grade and the edits?

Jake > I wanted to inject some dramatic energy into it and for it not to feel overly like a sitcom - too polished or overly produced. I wanted it to feel like Will had gone a little deranged thinking about this Norway thing. And now we're kind of on an action packed route to pick up his friends to help save the day. So we tried to make it feel a little different to what we thought other Super Bowl spots might feel like this year.

LBB > You’ve got some great locations in the spot, where was it all filmed?

Jake > Everything with Will, Kenan and Awkwafina was filmed in the US but we also did some remote shooting via Zoom. We had a crew in Norway film some Norweigen backgrounds as well as a crew in Finland filming snowy Finnish backgrounds. I would have loved to be there in person but we did have a mini worldwide shoot thanks to Zoom.

LBB >  How long did the campaign take to complete from brief to finished spot?

Jake > It had to be done pretty fast because it was right before the holidays. I think I got the brief around mid-December and we had to get going pretty fast. We did the remote shoots for the green screen right in between Christmas and New Year. And then we shot with the cast in the new year. If you include the remote shoots with Norway and Finland, it was a total of five or six days filming because then we also went down to film things like the shipping yard. So with the holidays thrown in there, it was actually a pretty tight turnaround.

LBB > What were some of the challenges you faced during the project?

Jake > With all the Covid restrictions we had a lot of safety on set and a lot of testing, which impacts the production and everything goes a little slower and takes a little longer. But in a good way, because we were taking safety well beyond the minimum requirements. Will never left this house so we shot everything with him at his home with everyone double masked and faceshielded.

We definitely had a lot of production challenges such as building sets at Will’s house, but we had a really good team and really strong crew with a lot of pre planning. We really put in a lot of work in the days leading up to it so it was kind of an all hands on deck situation. We just had to come up with smart ways to do things.

LBB > What was the most enjoyable part of the production process for you?

Jake >  I just love shooting with Will, and to have Kenan and Awkwafina on this too was just brilliant. I love being on set. Especially to be on set with friends and making each other laugh. It was a really good time. I also loved being at the shipping yard and feeling like I was shooting a big action movie scene at the docks. That was personally very fun for me too.

Beyond that, it was great to be part of the conversation on getting cars to a more renewable energy source. And to see a bit of things changing in America. It’s fun to think that in a very small way, a commercial has now become part of that dialogue.

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Caviar, Fri, 26 Feb 2021 11:06:22 GMT