BTS: Creating the 2017 Notre Dame institutional spot

Editor’s note: This post from director of marketing communications multimedia Beth Grisoli takes a look behind the scenes at the making of Notre Dame’s 2017-18 institutional spot, which debuted during broadcasts of Notre Dame football games and will continue running during televised athletics events during the school year. Marketing Communications Multimedia has produced the spot internally for the past four years. 

So you want to put movies on buildings for our 30-second spot? I don’t understand.

 Um, well, yeah, we think it will be cool.

And so went the meeting with our division vice president to pitch the concept of this year’s institutional message (I’ll explain why it’s not a commercial later). Lucky for us, he took a leap of faith and gave us his blessing.

So much goes into the planning and creative process for these videos. We only get 30 seconds, and boy that goes by fast. And we have to come up with something different and exciting every year. Oh, and millions, not kidding, millions of people of all ages will see it. But this year’s production will be one our team talks about for years like a bunch of old geezers.

Remember when we got those 30K projectors and shot overnight for three nights in a row?

 Yeah, and you fell asleep in your car and everyone was gone when you woke up?

 It took 30,000 lumens of light from two projectors to make the images bright enough on the buildings. Each projector is almost the size of a refrigerator on its side. It takes two hours to get them set up, converged and mapped correctly with the software on each building. They required a separate generator to power them. Our friends at ND Utilities helped us with that and also disconnected the streetlamps and entrance lights that would be in each scene. We covered others with black bags to cut the spill from them. We needed it dark. As pitch black as we could get it. And with Indiana on the edge of the Eastern Time zone, daylight never seems to end during the summer. So that meant not even starting until about 10:00 each night.

We begged some students who happened to be on campus this summer to show up each night around 10:30. ND students are always great – eager to help, polite, and these didn’t complain when midnight came and went and we asked them to continue staring at the buildings.

Night 1 – We began at the log chapel. Made a coffee run to the office – absolutely nothing else was open – and then moved to the Clarke Memorial Fountain (Stonehenge). There we cranked up the projectors again and wrapped up around 3:15 or so in the morning.

Night 2 – We set up at the Main Building. Had to go through the entire building floor by floor to make sure all lights on the front side were off and blinds were lowered. It actually took about 45 minutes to do that. Finished with the dome and then rotated the projector 90 degrees to throw the video onto the side of the Basilica. I may or may not have been caught sacked out on a bench by the end of that shoot.

Night 3 – The scene was the Hesburgh Library and rain was in the forecast. Electronics and water don’t mix, and these massive contraptions aren’t grabbed and rushed to cover with any effort that resembles speed. Our crew was able to set both up (stacked to cover the entire span of the library’s west side) inside the back end of the production truck. When the rain came, and it did with thunder and lightning, they rolled down the back door. Thanks to super wopper Doppler apps, we were able to get all the students into the library before a drop even fell. About 30 of them hung out, kept their usual good spirits and patiently waited out the storm to come back out onto the wet grass to finish the shoot. Did I mention how much I love our students?

We wrapped up the shots with them and needed to stay to shoot more of the video on the building. Maybe 20 minutes later, a sprinkler shot on near the library door. We all just looked at each other. We had painstakingly arranged for sprinklers to be turned off at all our locations. Believe it or not, they run in the middle of the night. Minutes later all the sprinklers burst on and we were hit. The projectionist and computer tech literally jumped on top of them while the rest of us scrambled to get the gear covered and to safety. If I’m ever in combat, I want these guys on my side. They got completely soaked. We were so ahead of the game preparing for the rain, but the lawn care gods almost did us in. They probably lasted less than ten minutes, and we decided it was a wrap. The very next day we started the geezer stories with our colleagues.

We learned a lot with this project. Used a new technique and had fun thinking about ND’s 175th anniversary throughout. When we showed the edited video to our VP, he smiled and said, “I get it now.” We hope the millions watching get it too. ND has this impressive history and still stands today, stretched well beyond the confines of that little log building, alive with smart, energetic students who will follow you into the wee hours of the night to help a cause they believe in.

And before I forget, it’s not a commercial because we don’t buy the airtime. Broadcast networks provide 30 seconds of airtime to universities during any telecast of their athletic competitions. They call it an “institutional message” and it has to meet certain criteria and be approved by the networks for content.