Super Bowl's Best Cuts

An opportunity to witness the finest artistry in the craft of editing.
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Super Bowl XLIV was a great show, with the New Orleans Saints pulling off an unexpected upset and the Who proving during half-time that not all baby boomers can still hit those high notes. But for editors, the best cuts didn't just come from the runners on the field. The best cuts came during the ads.

With 106 million people watching commercials trying to be worthy of the up to $3 million CBS charged for 30 seconds of air, it's an opportunity to witness the finest artistry in the craft of editing. But for me, one of the best cuts was not an edit at all. It was a pause.

PARISIAN LOVE

There was 2:01 left in the third quarter with the Colts shading the Saints 17 to 16 when a familiar image came on the screen. After having seen grandiose special effects shots including asteroids targeting an observatory and a beaver playing the fiddle in Carnegie Hall, a simple Google search field stood empty before our eyes.

Called "Parisian Love," this marvelous study in ellipsis illustrates with simple elegance the three great communication tools editors have at their disposal: context, contrast and rhythm, (for more on those concepts, go to www.tvtechnology.com/article/65798). Epitomizing the essence of editing, Google's "Parisian Love" juxtaposes a sequence of disparate ideas to synthesize a new concept generated only in the viewers' minds.

At the beginning we see a vertical insertion point blinking three times, and that rhythm sets off the gentle piano notes that drive the spot through 26 screen grabs cropped from the kind of Google search process with which we have all grown so familiar.

The unseen typist starts with "study abroad Paris" and the search engine helps fill in "France". When asking for "cafes near the louve," the software corrects the spelling of "Louvre". Then, entering "tu es tr's mignon" gets translated to "you are very cute" accompanied by muted female giggles in the background. "How to impress a French girl" gets upgraded to "French Woman" and leads to a search for "chocolate shops near Paris" and entering "long distance relationship advice".

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Google’s “Parisian Love” spot replaces heavy production value and star salaries with pure editorial creativity. Now we sense romance in the air. A job search appears for "working in France", Airline flights are tracked, and Paris churches are mapped.

So far we have witnessed the footsteps of a journey without its destination. But then comes that heart-stopping pause in the music's rhythm when the typist enters "how to assembleÖ". As if holding its breath, the Google engine starts filling in suggestions like "wedding invitations" and "a computer". But the cursor selects "a crib." The portentous dÈnouement of a bass note ends the spot as the presumed new father clicks on "Google Search" and up pops the end plate "Search on" over a baby's giggles.

Google's "Parisian Love" actually began as part of their online "Search Stories" series and since the video had been on YouTube for months, its airing during Super Bowl XLIV represents the ultimate in "reverse convergence." And let's face it, the spot replaces heavy production value and star salary costs with pure editorial creativity.

BETTY WHITE GOT GAME

Like "Parisian Love," another Super Bowl spot that received high praise on Web sites and Monday morning commentaries on ABC and NBC was a real surpriser from Mars Chocolate North America called "Game." Created by BBDO New York, "Game" was seen with 7:29 left in the first quarter after Matt Stover gave the Colts their first 3 points with a 38-yard field goal.

My Super Sunday party had just kicked into high chip chomp when "Game" came on, but I was intrigued by the cleverness of seeing octogenarians Betty White and Abe Vigoda playing sandlot football with a bunch of 20-somethings.

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Snickers’ “Betty White” football ad was one of the highlights of this year’s Super Bowl. We see Ms. White go out for a pass and get clobbered in a very realistic tackle which lands her sploosh! in the mud. When the quarterback chides her with "You've been playing like Betty White all day," she retorts in a style typical for her career-long character, "That's not what your girlfriend says!"

Then a young lady comes onto the field carrying a Snickers bar. But when she hands it to Betty, the reverse cut shows a young man holding the candy with a bite already taken from it.

So I figured, "OK, that's just a truncation of time," and thought the idea of a granny getting tackled was a great ad gag in an eye-catching Super Bowl commercial and by no means stranger than a house made of beer cans or that fiddle-playing beaver.

But I was wrong. In the intended narrative of the "Game" spot, Betty White is not really there at all. What we see on screen is merely the symbolic visualization for the real pass receiver, Mike, showing that without his Snickers he is not himself. Similarly, at the end of the spot, Abe Vigoda is the stand-in for the actual quarterback who has also not yet had his hunger requirements satisfied. Hence the tag line at the end of the commercial saying "You're not you when you're hungry."

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The shot where “Betty” is tackled was actually done with stunt woman Annie Ellis. Ian MacKenzie, who edited "Game" on an Avid Media Composer with the help of assistant editor Mona Salma at the MacKenzie Cutler facility in New York, explained I had missed the fact that the Betty White character had twice been called "Mike" during the previous game action. Then through what I misinterpreted as a "time truncation" edit, her image had been changed into the real Mike thanks to the gift of a Snickers.

"You see Betty turn into the 'Mike' guy when the girlfriend hands her some needed nourishment," MacKenzie said. "We tried several approaches, but honestly we didn't have much trouble with people understanding it. By cutting that sequence as tightly as possible, it left us more time for the rest of the funny parts in the spot. People knew it was the Mike guy all along, and it's all paid off by the final line 'You're not you when you're hungry'."

So I got it wrong, and for the record, most of my football-savvy party mates picked up the message just as intended. By the way, the shot where "Betty" is tackled was actually done with stunt woman Annie Ellis, and the multi-plane composite with Ms. White's face tracked on her body was accomplished by lead Autodesk Flame artist Nick Tanner at New York's MassMarket.

You can find these spots all over the Web, but I found www.cbssports.com one of the easiest sites to navigate. What a treat watching a Super Bowl where the game was actually as entertaining as the ads.

Jay Ankeney is a freelance editor and post-production consultant in Los Angeles. He can be contacted atJayAnkeney@mac.com