In creating ABC-TV’s promo campaign for season nine of Dancing with the Stars, Leroy and Clarkson and Creative Director Daniel Fries drew inspiration from classic Western duels, delivering a sultry dance battle that takes place against a burning horizon.
Fries says the goal of the campaign was to reach a younger, hipper audience without turning off the show’s loyal viewers. That meant taking ballroom dance away from its theatrical roots and shaping it into something more cinematic.
“This is the biggest season ever of Dancing with the Stars—featuring a live premiere event, bigger stars on the show and a new elimination format—so ABC challenged us to take this campaign to a much more epic place,” Fries says.
“Duel in the Desert” (:30)
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The Leroy and Clarkson creative team responded with “Duel in the Desert,” a trailer-like promo that captures the scale and drama the client was looking for.
Set to a dramatic score by music house Musikvergnügen (Hollywood), the spot begins with a shot of a brilliant sunset and a slow-motion shot of a silhouetted man and woman strolling confidently toward the camera. Their destination: a shiny black stage, surrounded by huge LED screens, scaffolding and a cheering audience of thousands. As the silhouetted couple takes the stage, we see other couples size them up warily.
Suddenly the competition begins and the couples exhibit their best moves. Using a variety of lenses, frame rates and tracking shots, Fries’ camera captures all the sultry moves in vibrant detail. As 3D-animated embers cascade on the LED screens, the spot comes to a climatic end with the woman in red hoisting the coveted trophy high above her head.
One of Fries’ primary challenges was dealing with the environmental conditions—namely, shooting physically demanding choreography under a 110-degree desert sun on a lit, black stage. “It was important that we minimize everyone’s time out in the sun,” Fries says. “We had to be very economical in terms of how we used the talent so they would last the entire day.”
Equally important were the visual effects, which included the 3D animated LED screens and scaffolding. These are also used throughout the season in a comprehensive toolkit that carries the look and feel for episodic promos.
“I didn’t want this to feel too theatrical and synchronized like a musical,” Fries notes. “We wanted it to feel raw and explosive. That gave us the emotion and action of a more cinematic style.”
Fries adds, “This was one of those projects in which every facet of Leroy and Clarkson was tested—from creating the concept to mounting a complex live-action production through the intricate post process. And all of this for one of the biggest shows on television.”