Fox Sports’ NASCAR ‘Best. Season. Ever.’ Promo Offers Best Sound Ever
Audio stars in spot to whet viewers’ appetite for a very diverse season
Shoehorning all the elements that make NASCAR what it is into a 60-second promo spot is tricky enough. Accomplishing that in barely a week while working internationally and remotely under COVID constrictions is hard and featured a major emphasis on audio.
“Getting that done in just eight days was insane,” recalls Bill Battin, SVP, on-air promotion, Fox Sports.
But that’s what Creative Directors Gary Van Dzura and Steve Lewis were aiming for with “Best. Season. Ever.” The one-minute tease to whet viewers’ appetites for the upcoming NASCAR season was completed in just over a week after being shot on location at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC, by Director Joseph Kahn. The spot takes viewers on an accelerated ride through the various types of races that the organization will sanction once the season begins with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14. Among the races are one on a dirt track at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 28 and the first-ever NASCAR Cup race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX, on May 23 on a Grand Prix track, requiring (gasp!) right-hand turns.
Audio is the star of the spot, combining a slew of sound effects drawn from Fox’s own libraries; an underscore using the electro-jazzy “Rito A Los Angeles” by late Italian composer Peppino De Luca; and a cinema-trailer voiceover by Sons of Anarchy star Ron Perlman seasoned with just the right touch of snark.
“Fox Sports video editors worked right off the dailies from Charlotte,” recalls Mic Brooling, the sound designer and audio mixer on the spot. “We were all working off [collaboration platforms] Slack and Frame.io, and we did a month’s worth of work in less than 10 days.”
Brooling — his first name is Mike but he acquired “Mic” as a studio nickname, although it’s pronounced “mick” — says the way to arrange audio for a spot like this is to look for the “big opportunities”: the pivotal moments in the visual when the audio can underline and frame cuts in the picture but without necessarily strictly following each and every one, which would induce whiplash in a brief quick-cut video like this one.
“We wanted to make the audio a player in the piece, to create its own dynamics and contrast,” he explains. “We’ll change the beat, change the pitch as needed; the music has its stops and breaks. We’re making changes as the [narrative] goes along. The trick is not to chase the picture so much as to focus on key moments. And it’s also very narrative- and personality-driven, and we have to watch out not to compete with that.”
Battin says that, along those lines, priority was given to locking the audio to scenes that had visual effects applied. Once those were approved, the elements were uploaded to Jerome Debeve, owner, post facility La Huella EFX in Madrid, to begin working on them.
“Debeve being ahead of us time zone-wise actually helped, because he’d post updates for us as we got to work in the morning and could give him feedback by end of our day, which was the beginning of his,” Battin explains. “He wouldn’t lose any production time waiting for feedback. From there, we’d send approved VFX scenes to Portland to be dropped in the edit, which we’d then send to Mic so he could be mixing and designing off the most current timeline.”
Complicated but Authentic
If that sounds complicated, it is, but it became more so when successive edits from Fox Sport’s remote video-editing location in Portland, OR, kept evolving. Brooling adapted the audio both thematically and to match the changes in narrative. The key sound-effects elements, however, remained intact, particularly NASCAR’s iconic engine sounds, which Brooling says are part of what gives the spot its authenticity.
Those sounds are also the sonic foundational thread undergirding the spot’s succession of inside jokes, including intimating a booth-cage match between intensely rival announcers NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer; driver Ryan Blaney channeling Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now; and two-time NASCAR Cup Series champ Kyle Busch at a faux press conference not channeling former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch while deadpanning, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”
Notes Brooling, “Engine sounds are a trademark of NASCAR, and they provide a lot of authenticity and integrity of the spot.” He notes that they have to match picture to a considerable extent, such as the Doppler effect on a pass shot or the bass-heavy downshift of a braking shot, to keep it credible. “But we’ll also stretch them, like taking a high-rev RPM whine and combining it with an explosion or an earthquake rumble, to take it from realistic to hyper-realistic to surreal.”
The musical underscore is heavily edited, with such elements as drum fills time-shifted to lead in perfectly to sudden stops in the flow to allow for a joke or as a transition between race venues. Brooling uses extreme panning for separation of the music stems — the electric guitar is hard left and the Hammond B-3 hard right, for instance — but also has to balance that to match the 5.1 surround that the spot is mixed in, which keeps it consistent with the programming around it.
“It has to sound good everywhere, because not everyone can hear it in 5.1,” he explains. “When going from 5.1 to stereo, you have to make sure the translation from 5.1 is stereo-friendly, to maintain the proper relationship between elements in both formats, because all the elements may not make the trip during fold down.”
All of this also has to be able to maintain its phase and timbral integrity once it’s folded down from 5.1 to stereo. Brooling downloads the audio tracks as Avid AAF files along with a QuickTime reference video at his home studio. The tracks are imported as a Pro Tools session, and he mixes them “in the box,” although he does use an Avid Command-D console as a MIDI controller.
The spot’s nearly 50,000 views on YouTube more than a week before the Daytona 500 have featured comments like “Not even a NASCAR fan, but this commercial is awesome!” — the ultimate accolade. It has attracted viewers who encountered it while watching other games and events on Fox and may have no affinity at all for NASCAR, the kind of boost that stock-car racing needs right now.
It’s also a testament to how audio can make a huge difference when it comes to a piece of media’s impact.
“We’re trying to make you feel a certain way,” says Brooling. “And I believe we succeeded.”
Others who made “Best. Season. Ever.” come together include Fox Sports EVP/Head of Marketing Robert Gottlieb; VP, Creative, Blake Danforth; VP, Production, Claudina Mercado; Shoot/Post Production Producer Meghan DeAndrade; VP, Brand Marketing, Keri Gajewki; and Brand Manager Tyler Warner.