Joy of Toys

A large-scale TV and Web campaign for Toys “R” Us® created by agency The Escape Pod, produced by Wondros with director Ray Dillman and cut by Hootenanny turns an everyday field trip to the forest into the best trip ever for busloads of underprivileged kids.

What started as a promise to “Meet the Trees” became a dream come true for over 200 unsuspecting kids when they were instead driven to a Toys “R” Us store in Middletown, NY. Having the store all to themselves, they played to their hearts content and then got to shop for a gift, any toy in the store, to make their holiday wishes come true. Pulling off this covert stunt was an elaborate undertaking. The scheme was put into action through some good-natured trickery on behalf of everyone involved - including the parents.

Toys “R” Us relates the holiday campaign to making wishes come true, especially for those who are less fortunate. Dillman captures every nuance of emotion from the kids, to launch a diversified campaign that spans multiple platforms, integrating broadcast, print and digital media. The expansive campaign includes a 90-second online commercial, a number of 60 and 30-second TV commercials, and several 15-second spots that capture the genuine surprise of these oblivious children. #WishinAccomplished punctuates each of these spots to push the social media effort.

This is the second collaboration for Chicago-based The Escape Pod with Wondros and Dillman. A former agency creative, Dillman praises the agency’s open-minded approach, treating their projects as ever evolving entities, always looking for ways to improve or add to the idea throughout the process. Dillman was especially excited by the unique challenge in executing the gag, while capturing genuine reactions from the kids.

“Not knowing whether the kids would go crazy, be confused or apathetic was the big mystery.” Dillman also made the point, “From the very beginning, I wanted to make sure that we were intimate with the camera, down on the children’s level, not from the point of view where you are looking at the tops of their heads with a shouldered camera.”

Sound was given equal importance, which presented its own challenges. “We didn’t want to miss a single gasp, giggle or whisper,” notes Dillman. He insured delivery of his signature style of storytelling by implementing over 40 cameras.

On the bus, there were hidden GoPros at every single seat, a Red Epic recording in 4K and a pair of hidden surveillance cameras. In the store, once the secret was revealed, the kids were followed by five full-camera units including a Steadicam, each with a boom operator for sound. A pair of robotic cameras with remote operators and planted GoPros were also implemented.

Organizing and monitoring so much information, coming from so many places, in real time, was quite a challenge. Dillman remarks that it was a “Herculean task” for his long time video assist technician, R. Scott Lawrence, feeding all the information to him, the agency and clients. His crew and team members also included an on-set editor, who was instrumental in overcoming issues such as keeping the shots organized and knowing what they had at the end of each day of shooting.

New York-based cinematographer, Stefan Czapsky was brought on board as Director of Photography. He was not only an expert on fielding the production, but also lent his expertise on the overall look and feel of the spot. Czapsky is known for his work on films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman Returns (1992), and Ed Wood (1994). Dillman says, “Stefan was my field general. He was the perfect man for the job; a wonderful, talented collaborator and a genuinely sweet guy.”

Finally, Dillman adds, “The very best part of the whole production was seeing the joy on the kid’s faces when they posed with the toys they had chosen.”

Beth Melsky handled casting key talent on the Toys “R” Us side of the story and Strickman-Ripps Casting + Research was enlisted with the arduous casting of children of all ethnicities between the ages of 6 and 13. It was a three-week massive and complex effort to keep the project top secret while pulling together work permits and accounts to insure that not only each individual child take home a toy, but also got paid. The company reached out to organizations supporting underprivileged children such as the Boys & Girls Club of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Neighborhood Housing Services. There’s been an overwhelming response from the kids, the parents, and members of the organizations, expressing their gratitude for an incredible and fulfilling day that most kids can only dream of. #WishinAccomplished is well on its way to helping families achieve their children’s hopes and desires this holiday season.

CREDITS Agency: The Escape Pod Managing Director: Norm Billow ECD: Vinny Warren Executive Producer: Kent Kwiatt CW: Matt Wilcox Associate Producer: Mary Ann Holecek Production: Wondros Director: Ray Dillman Executive Producer: Gina Zapata Head of Production: Kimberly Bryant Line Producer: Greg Ferguson Casting: Beth Melsky Casting Strickman-Ripps Casting + Research DP: Stefan Czapsky Editorial: Hootenanny Editor: Graham Metzger Executive Producer: Don Avila