From the Mouths of Babes
March 27, 2012
MACOMB, IL -- With all the cameras at Super Bowl XLVI focused on quarterbacks Eli Manning and Tom Brady, Western Illinois University might have missed the show put on by one of its own.
A WIU graduate stole the attention of more than 100 million viewers for 30 seconds of the broadcast, and while he may not have been sporting shoulder pads, a helmet or those shiny pants, his brief time in the spotlight was some of the game's most loved and remembered ... the E*Trade Baby commercial directed by WIU alumnus Tim Abshire.
Abshire's spot featured the iconic pint-sized financial wizard dishing out his usual mixture of investing wisdom and offhanded humor to a nervous new father, all while incredulously watching another of his infant friends "speed-dating" on the other side of the glass in a hospital nursery.
He recently "met" with Western broadcasting students via FaceTime, where he fielded students' questions about his E*TRADE commercial, the advertising industry, and career advice in general, which comes after more than 10 years directing spots for some of the biggest players in the business, including Google, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Gamefly (remember the ad with people screaming at their TVs?), and of course, E*Trade. And yet, in spite of the pressure of being in charge of such high-value projects and clients, Abshire said he is having the time of his life.
"I get to do something new every day," he said. "It's an absolute blast of a way to make a living."
Abshire attended WIU in the formative stages of the broadcasting department, when the TV studio was first built.
"It was a pretty interesting time," Abshire recalled. "Everybody was kind of figuring the studio out and learning it together. We did a whole lot of experimenting."
And experiment he did, creating and directing game shows outside of schoolwork where contestants comprised of sororities and fraternities battled it out playing classic games like Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit and Twister. His career's meteoric ascent began after one of his experimental videos won him an internship with MTV On Air Promos after graduation. He started as a intern, then worked his way up revising spots and finally, got the opportunity to direct commercials for MTV's Video Music Awards, the Video Music Awards and everything in-between.
"MTV was like the grad school of filmmaking for me," he said. "I got to work with some seriously cool people – everyone from Ben Stiller and Marilyn Manson to Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, Chris Rock and Courtney Love. It was a very free and crazy and open and nutty experience."
But despite the laundry list of celebrities, Abshire also loves working with "real" people to generate authentic emotions, and adapting his directing style to accomplish the task at hand. "I like to do something new every time I am on set. Whether big or small, I always do something I haven't done before," he said.
Take, for example, the spot he directed for Google, "Chubby Bunny," which depicts three brothers playing the game [which involves speaking through a mouth stuffed with marshmallows] using Google's speech recognition software as the judge.
"I wanted to help viewers get to know this family and highlight how real people might use the technology," he said. "There were four brothers in the spot, but you only see three, because we gave the camera to the fourth. He's the one filming the whole thing. We curtained up the kitchen so the kids couldn't see the production crew, and then let them have at it. They were brothers acting like brothers, and it ended up being very real."
Put that in contrast to the meticulous editing and technological prowess required to make an infant crack jokes with his adult buddy and give thoughtful advice about an online investing firm, and his chameleon-like abilities are apparent.
But all the work has led to one success after another, the secret to which is as simple as the passion he has for his work.
"If you have a positive outlook and continue to push forward, people notice. There's that old saying - whether you believe you can or cannot, you're right," Abshirre said. "Anytime somebody told me 'no, you can't do that,' it made me work even harder. And I did it anyway."
Abshire's work can be found at timabshire.com.