Last fall, Optimus directing duo Mark Pallman and Amanda Speva spent nearly two weeks filming throughout the Land of Lincoln for the Illinois Office of Tourism campaign Are You Up For Amazing?
Inspired to shoot “all that makes the state so special” — a concept presented by JWT Chicago’s Mike Beamer and Carolyn James in what Amanda describes as “a beautiful vision” — the directors relied on a documentary technique to capture unscripted spontaneity.
“There are no scout days on a travel job like this,” says Mark. “We worked in tandem with the agency to decide what was essential to the story at each location.”
Equipped with two vans, a box truck, an eleven-person Midwestern crew and a “road map” from JWT Chicago, the entourage worked from sunup to sundown for eleven days, taking whatever the state would give them.
The resulting series of spots, edited by Nate Cali, mix a whirlwind of beauty and thrills.
Kayakers underneath skyscrapers and hikers between boulders mingle with musicians at Buddy Guy’s and tourists by The Bean. The Mississippi River, Wrigley Field and Route 66 serve as backdrops for other scenes, including one that features Abraham Lincoln.
A tune created for the campaign by Chicago band The Gold Web underscores the visuals. With soaring vocals and a sonic synthesizer layered over a funky dance beat, it helps the spots achieve millennial coolness without trying too hard.
Mark and Amanda have been directing together since they joined Optimus as interns nearly a decade ago.
Their first major success was an internal promotional video that became a Vimeo staff pick and achieved viral popularity. Early commercial work includes an Illinois Lottery campaign called Big Dreams that aired locally during the Super Bowl and two national spots for US Bank.
They have also filmed several “mini docs” that, according to Speva, helped them refine “the instincts to know what feels real.” This is essential to the campaign’s lifestyle genre, which both directors define as a genuine, unscripted mood.
“One of Amanda’s famous things to tell actors is, ‘stop pointing, it looks fake,’” says Mark through laughter.
Besides shooting unexpected beauty, like a sunset they caught over Galena, Mark and Amanda went for spontaneity by working with actors and non-actors alike.
“At the Bean, we had actors, but we were also free to cherry-pick real people,” Amanda explains. “We filmed a tourist from Japan who was experiencing Chicago for the first time.”
The native Midwesterners also deviated from the initial direction during moments that sparked their connections to the region.
“We tried to include our own personal experiences living in the great state of Illinois,” says Mark. Amanda chimes in, “personal details set the tone for an anthemic piece.”
According to Mark, working with the editor through post is a huge part of keeping things real. “The edit becomes part of the collaboration,” he explains. Fortunately, they kept it in Optimus with Nate Cali, who Amanda calls “a genius.”
“When you get two weeks of footage just dropped on your lap and, ‘here, make a thirty second commercial,’” she continues. “He devoured it and turned it into art.”
As a result, Are You Up For Amazing? may contain more excitement than any vacation could possibly deliver. But no one seems to mind. Besides running the campaign throughout the Midwest, the Office of Tourism plans to broadcast it overseas on a $15 million budget.
“This was truly a dream project and we couldn’t have done it without our amazing client, cast and crew,” the directors emphasize.
Director Illinois Office of Tourism: Cory Jobe
Local Tourism Division Manager: Jan Kemmerling
Marketing Manager: Lisa Link
Sr. Copy Writer: Mike Beamer
Freelance Art Director: Ann Sedgwick
Content Producer: Carolyn James
Account Director: Sarah Brick
Account Supervisor: Laura Doede
*Production: One at Optimus*
Directors: Mark Pallman & Amanda Speva
DP: Travis Cline
EP/Managing Director: Lisa Masseur
Executive Producer: Jonah Mueller
Line Producer: Damian Huck
Editor: Nate Cali
Post Producer: Tracy Spera
Assistant Editors: Lindsay Rynne, Jenny Schaye
Audio: Marina Bacci
Audio Assistant: Zach Scheitlin
Finishing Editors: Glen Noren, Ed Nichols
*Color: Nice Shoes at Optimus*
Color: Ron Sudul
Color Assistant: Alex Frankland