I'm so proud to have gone to the Emmys for our third year in a row with 2 more nominations making it 8 total and 1 prior win for Digisphere Productions thus far-- and best of all, sharing the honors with the most important people in my life. And just like the independent booksellers our commercials were for, we little people again went up against some very big people, and we represented ourselves well. I'm proud of everyone involved and I know we made dad proud, too.
The making of an Emmy®-nominated Commercial Campaign and the heart and soul of a family and its community that worked on it
This particular campaign was nominated this year for Overall Commercial Campaign and Original Music Composition/Arrangement by the Heartland Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Regional Emmys®. It became very near and dear to mine and everyone’s hearts involved. I had several outlines written out for ideas for this year’s campaign. They all had the air that they were trying too hard, so, as my dad would say, I tried to “keep it simple” with the overall theme.
Though this entry ended up being an immense amount of hard work for all of us, the final concept was simply stated, “Life is a Book.” I came up with this concept as I was flying to visit my parents, Bernie & Jane Tushaus, the owners of Prairie Books & Gifts in Hastings, NE, who were the producers of this campaign as well. But, the reason was not only to discuss this new concept, but because I was going to see my dad before he went in for his first round of chemo. He had brain cancer. Recent and very sad news for us all. But, dad would also say, “The show must go on.” And, indeed it did.
I continued to visit every couple weeks, and during every visit, dad got sicker, but he always wanted to discuss “the commercials.” I knew time was of the essence, so I scheduled the shoot for mid-September. I asked local friends, family and folks in Hastings if they would volunteer to help or be in the commercial. The response was overwhelming as they all knew what was at stake. We all wanted to get the commercials finished for dad to see and be proud of.
First, about those local folks...
My first encounter with Jane and Dwight Marsh goes back before I can remember, as they knew me since I was born. They were and are best friends to my parents. The memory that Jane Marsh still recounts to this day is how I managed to pee on their coffee table as a baby, even though I was wearing a diaper and snugly seated in a carrier that was sitting on that poor coffee table. As Jane would jokingly say, “After that miraculous feat had happened, we knew special things would come from Mike.”
And life went on, and Jane and Dwight watched me grow up and begin making silly videos as a pre-teen. But then, I got serious about those videos, and became a professional at making them. And then, I started asking them to be in some of these professional productions, mainly being commercials for Prairie Books & Gifts. I made them do all kinds of silly things including Scrabble victory dances and putting Jane in a full-fledged suit of armor for our dragon-themed commercial just last year.
This year, they played a couple of single senior-aged book lovers who meet each other in a bookstore. A sweet story with Jane slowly encouraging Dwight to finally say something to her, and the sparks go on from there.
What made this commercial sweeter is that they did it for my parents. Their best friends. And friends, who, this year were in crisis. Of course, they were ready to bend over backwards to do what they could to bring a smile and even a laugh to my dad and our family, and, to give support to the store that had been a part of their lives for 40 years.
We tirelessly worked for a very long week, shooting all around Hastings. We involved about 20 locations and a cast and crew including my best friend, Don Cook, my family members including my sisters Shelly and Robyn, Shelly's daughter Abby, their husbands Brian and Jeremy, my mom, Jane, her dog, Molly, and and dozens of locals in addition to Jane and Dwight to create what I believe to be a very touching, heart-warming, and honest slice-of-life view of what “Life is a Book” was all about. In the spots, as in life, we eat, exercise, play, dance, drink, heal, plant, nurture, relax, love, pray, teach, study, learn, laugh, and more. And, we even included my dad. He’s the one in the hospital bed reading. That was September 20th.
Shooting in Downtown, Hastings, as well as surrounding neighborhoods including Heartwell Park. Here Shellie Yilk Faris' daughter, Abbie, reads while holding her pet rabbit.
Shooting in the Black Box at the Scott Studio Theatre at Hastings College where Theatre Dept. Chair, and friend and colleague of Bernie's, Jim Fritzler, orates to his Intro to Theatre class.
I then flew back to Las Vegas and continued to shoot more scenes that included my girlfriend, Getti Kehayova, and her mother, Annie, and her two sons Maximus and Zander. I then began the post-production process.
Shooting with the Lite Pro Gear Feather Crane Plus and the Varavon Birdycam II Gimbal with Getti, Maximus and Zander.
The commercials were shot, but I still needed a poignant score to echo the sentiments of “Life is a Book,” as well as something more playful for “Jane & Dwight.” The easier of the two was the latter. I pulled the themes and motifs from our Prairie Books campaign two years ago, but then I completely re-arranged it to be lighter and more playful.
The “Life is a Book” Theme took longer to develop, and existed originally in a 90-second and 60-second form, and finally into a 30-second spot that I feel really complements the sentimental and slice-of-life approach to the campaign. The score was ready. Soon after, the first edits were ready.
The process of composing the "Life is a Book" theme shot in a time-lapse.
I flew back two weeks later, October 4th, and showed mom, dad and family the rough cuts of the spots. They loved them. We showed everyone we could at Perkins Rehabilitation Center as well, from nurses to other patients. Dad was very proud. I also did a couple pick-up shots with Jane and Dwight to change one of their scenes from day to night to make the flow of the edit make more sense.
Video links to the 4 spots of the campaign:
Stills from the campaign.
Special Thanks to Blake Peshek & Provident Promotions for providing the lighting gear for the Hastings locations shoot.
Stacy Bierman and her daughters and their friends from the local Girl Scout Troop
Abby braving the heights in her Grandma's tree.
Jeremy and Robyn sitting on the back of their truck in a local farmer's field.
Shelly, Abby & Molly
Jane and Molly.
Ty Hoffman and Ashley Scott in their former gym, which they now own and manage Beauty and the Beast Fitness Center.
Annie and her Bible.
Two weeks later, I again came back and showed dad and the family the final cuts while he then lay in hospice. On October 21st, two days later, after 25 years of teaching college, and 40 years in business selling books, Bernie Tushaus passed away. He talked about the commercials till literally the very end. One of his dying wishes was to make sure that we would get them on the air in time for the holidays--and, later, enter them into the Regional Emmys, as we had done the two years prior.
We did air them, and we did enter the Regional Emmys® again, and we did get nominated for our third year in a row. We went up against dozens of other larger, corporate commercial campaigns such as Frontier Airlines, Safeway, Oklahoma Tourism, KUSA Denver, and many, many more. Despite the odds, and the dozens of other entires we went up against each year, we have maintained being nominated for Commercial Campaign or Commercial Spot as well as Original Music Score for threes years in a row now--each and every year we have entered the Heartland Emmy Chapter thus far.
And though we didn't actually win an Emmy again this year, I still can recall my 2014 win, and how excited we as a family were at the time. And, one moment really shined in my memory. It was after winning at the 2014 gala. The ceremony was winding down and we had all gotten our photos at the step-and-repeat with trophy in hand. After that, my dad and I had a moment when we walked over to the cash bar, and dad ordered the two of us Manhattans--which, were our special drink of choice. We made a little toast. It was one of those golden, perfect moments in my memory that will never go away. I will always remember how big his and my smiles were at that moment, and how happy we were all as a family in that moment of success. The best part about memories like this is that they will live on. They never die.
Photos from this year's Emmys Gala held in Downtown Denver at the Grand Seawell Ballroom in the Denver Center for Performing Arts. Our group included Jane Marsh, Shelly & Abby, Don Cook, Getti & Maximus, my mom, Jane, and myself.
Abby & Shelly Mutum, Jane Marsh, Jane Tushaus, Don Cook
My mom, Jane, me, and Getti.
The Seawell Grand Ballroom filled to maximum capacity this year.
Maximus and Getti.
Me, Getti, Jane Marsh, Jane Tushaus, Shelly & Abby, Don, Maximus - a beautiful and handsome group indeed!
And, meanwhile, the local response in Hastings was overwhelming. In fact, a week before the commercials were to air, in response to my dad’s passing and my parents’ dedication to bookselling, the Hastings Downtown Association awarded Prairie Books & Gifts with their “2015 Business of the Year.” I was able to quickly add the graphic at the end to include the news.
The "Business of the year" Key to Downtown Plaque proudly displayed behind my very honored and thankful mother, Jane, and my sister, Shelly.
My mother, Jane, alongside Jane Marsh, my sisters Robyn, Laurie and Shelly, my nieces Jessyca and Abby, my girlfriend, Getti and I, and the entire Downtown Association of Hastings on April 1st, 2016, receiving Prairie Books' 40-year plaque after receiving their "2015 Business of the Year Award" in November of 2015.
These commercials are dedicated to the memory of Bernie Tushaus—a life well-lived. Dad's life, as all of ours, was truly a beautiful, adventure-filled, intriguing, funny, sometimes serious and dramatic, out-reaching, selfless, moral-driven, educational, heart-warming, touching and poignant book that was well-read, very much appreciated and a story well-told.