Film Flam

A Super Bowl surprise, SXSW Comedy news, & Kevin Smith

If this guy says it's halftime in America, we're not gonna argue.
If this guy says it's halftime in America, we're not gonna argue.

It sounds like the unpromising lead up to a punchline: What do you get when you combine a poet, a screenwriter, a novelist... and the Super Bowl?

Turns out you get a commercial that has everyone buzzing. That's what happened after Chrysler's "It's Halftime in America" aired during last Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI.. Starring that gruff, tough American icon Clint Eastwood, the spot has proven polarizing for its perceived politics (Karl Rove hated it, but Newt Gingrich admired its pluck), but it's been all-around admired for its artistry.

Credit that to director (and Texas native) David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and a trio of MFA alumni from UT's Michener Center for Writers, Kevin Jones, Smith Henderson, and Matthew Dickman.

MCW Program Coordinator Marla Akin explained how the copywriting team came together:

"Kevin Jones, a 2009 graduate in fiction who is now a creative director with Wieden + Kennedy of Portland, Oregon, was on the team overseeing the project and recommended his former classmate Smith Henderson as a freelancer to write the script.  Jones was part of the W + K team that launched Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" campaign, which featured Eminem in a top-rated ad in last year's Super Bowl.  Henderson, a fiction writer and screenwriter, has been moonlighting with advertising work since holding a recent Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University and receiving a PEN American Emerging Writers Award for his novel-in-progress.  

"Portland poet Matthew Dickman (MFA 2005) was also asked by Dan Wieden to submit an alternate script.  Dickman wasn't acquainted with his fellow alums working on the project, but Wieden is a fan of his poetry, which appears regularly in The New Yorker along with that of his twin brother, Michael Dickman, also a 2005 MCW graduate.  Matthew is currently editor of Tin House magazine, and his second volume of poetry comes out from W.W. Norton later this year.  Both twins were profiled in a 2009 New Yorker article.

"The final product gives copywriter credit to all three Michener alums and has become The-Talked-About-Ad of the game.  It has spawned response across the country for its "eye of the beholder" political overtones—everyone from Michael Moore to Karl Rove has chimed in—and been praised for its pure artistry and power. Slate called the script plain-spoken and elegant, and The New Yorker said it was "a two-minute movie that started any number of fights."  It struck a curiously sombre mood for Super Bowl advertising and was remarkably long at two minutes, considering the average $3.5 million cost per 30-second segment.  Chrysler is not mentioned in the ad, and no cars are featured.  Eastwood, who eschews most such roles as spokesman, donated his compensation to charity.

"'One of the greatest pleasures of my job,' says MCW director James Magnuson, 'is waiting around to see what wondrous things these ex-students of mine will do next.  These three guys are immensely talented, but I never expected to see their work at half-time in the Super Bowl.'"

***

Somber stuff, right? Let's lighten the mood: SXSW Comedy announced earlier this week a lineup of eight live comedy podcast tapings to take place during the fest. They include:

WTF with Marc Maron
Doug Loves Movies with Doug Benson
Comedy Bang Bang with Scott Aukerman
You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes
The Smartest Man In The World with Greg Proops
Sklarbro Country with Jason and Randy Sklar
Who Charted? with Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack
Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show

And if that hasn't satisfied your podcast itch, tickets are still available for the live Nerdist podcast shows at the Paramount Theatre, March 2, with Christ Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and Matt Mira.

***

On the subject of cutting up at the Paramount, Kevin Smith taped a special there way back in September. Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell (which rather mirrors the sentiment a lot of press felt after Smith blanketly dismissed all critics as the devil way back when, yes?) airs this Saturday, Feb. 11, on EPIX, EPIX-on-demand, EpixHD.com, and EPIX apps on Xbox 360 and Roku.

If you prefer your Kevin time in person, he'll be in town this March to speak at the SXSW Film Conference on "The Business of Kevin Smith" and to promote his new book, Tough Sh*t: Life Advice From a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good.

***

Direct tips/comments/complaints to filmflam@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Film Flam, It's Halftime in America, David Gordon Green, Smith Henderson, Kevin Jones, Matthew Dickman, Michener Center for Writers, SXSW Comedy, podcasts, WTF With Marc Maron, Kevin Smith

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