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Larry David has never been a commercial pitchman — until today.
David debuted in a big way right before halftime of the Super Bowl on NBC as part of a campaign with cryptocurrency platform FTX in a spot titled “Don’t Miss Out.” In it, he plays a version of himself (well-known to fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm) as a disagreeable skeptic who travels through time and scoffs at such inventions as the wheel, forks, a toilet, a lightbulb and portable music players.
It ends with David, seated behind a desk, being pitched FTX as a safe and easy way to get into crypto. “Ehhh, I don’t think so,” he says. “And I’m never wrong about this stuff. Never.” Jeff Schaffer, David’s longtime creative collaborator, Curb comrade and close friend, tells The Hollywood Reporter that they’ve been approached by “endless” ad suitors over the years, but when they tried to punch up concepts, negotiations inevitably went south. However, when ad agency dentsuMB floated the idea of David playing a time-traveling idiot, it was too perfect to pass up.
“We hadn’t done one of these before, and we had an absolute blast,” Schaffer said via Zoom on Friday, hours after finishing a final cut of the spot, which was shot in early January. “Never have I spent more hours on one minute and enjoyed every second of it. And Larry, who’s not known to enjoy many things, also loved it.”
Drafting David as an “anti-sponsor” of sorts comes as cryptocurrency makes a giant leap for the mainstream. Today’s Super Bowl featured several crypto-related spots, including one for Coinbase, and the weekend saw a slew of high-profile events sponsored by crypto platforms or accompanied by digital offerings like free NFTs. “We need to meet people where they are, and that means embracing skepticism,” said FTX co-founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried. “A lot of people who are now the biggest advocates of crypto once had significant reservations.”
Schaffer spoke with THR about why the concept was a perfect fit for the pair, whether they were paid in crypto and how he feels about those, like actor Ben McKenzie, who say that celebrity crypto shilling is a moral disaster.
How did you get Larry David to agree to be in his first commercial — and one for a crypto platform?
Larry’s been courted for commercials before, and we’ve taken a look at a lot of different premises. Every time, we would try to spin it somehow so we thought it was funnier. Like, “This would be funny, but we’d like to do it this way.” All these [ad people] would say, “Well, no, we want to do it the way we want to do it.” So we said, “That’s fine,” [and moved on].
This was the first idea that came by that was perfect as it was. Who better than Larry to belittle the sum total of human achievement and be wrong? It was a funny idea, and we didn’t have to do another spin. He got excited by the idea, and that’s what got him to do it. Then we started to think about all the periods of time, different inventions, and the agency lobbed all these ideas and we were lobbing ideas. At that point, the hard part became winnowing it down to how many we could fit in 60 seconds.
That’s the fun of the ad, seeing the different time periods and all the costumes and co-stars that come with each one. Do you have a favorite?
One of my favorite parts was putting Larry in all of these different period costumes with period hairstyles and facial hair. Remember the old kid’s toy Wooly Willy? It started out with a bald face, and you used magnetic shavings to create different looks. We basically just Wooly Willy-ed Larry through time. My favorite of the costumes is the Elizabethan one with the line about the toilet. Seeing him with that Van Dyke [beard] and that stupid hat and feather … and his leggings were totally on point along with that almost adult diaper that they wore at the time with the billowy shorts. That was a favorite, and the set was beautiful, so that one I really liked a lot.
Also, just the fact that these people are laughing because no, of course, they’re going to have to go to the bathroom outside. At any moment, their stomachs are going to rumble and they’re going to have to hit the woods.
How did Larry feel about his wigs and accessories?
He loved it. On [Curb Your Enthusiasm], we don’t do a lot of wig work. It’s basically Larry as Larry. Getting to step into different periods and do everything from toupees and comb-overs to sideburns, he totally got into it and loved them all. Because we shot the scenes in a scrambled order, we wound up with some very odd moments behind the scenes where Larry, still wearing his Elizabethan garb, was practicing Japanese for another scene. That is one of the weirder images that I will always remember from this four-day shoot.
That was my next question. Four days, and where did you shoot?
It was a very complicated shoot. It was basically like shooting 12 different commercials because each scene had its own very specific costumes and very specific set design. We had to fit it all in four days, and we moved from Anaheim to Simi Valley. In Anaheim, where Knott’s Berry Farm is located, there is a full-size replica of the Continental Congress, just because. Our production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft, had shot there before, so he knew that it existed and suggested it. We checked that box, but that means then that you have to fill the rest of your day somehow at Knott’s Berry Farm. We figured out a way to make [Thomas Edison’s] lab in a hallway.
Then for a scene like the one featuring the wheel, we wanted to be in a beautiful, almost biblical valley with a beautiful vista. We found an amazing mesa out in Simi Valley, but then the question becomes, what else can we do here? Because it can’t be just one scene that day. Luckily, down the hill there was a company that mines and exports sand. Why they do this, I don’t know. I’ve never been anywhere and said, “Hey, this just needs more sand.” But I guess if that’s your desire, these are the people who make your dreams come true.
So, we stuck a tent in the middle of a big sand excavation pit with extra piles of sand around, and we figured it out. The other two days, we filmed on a soundstage. We did all of this right after the new year, so it was right in the middle of this omicron blizzard, which was very challenging. Every day, each crewmember had to get a rapid PCR test, so that took a while, and then we lost crewmembers [because of positive tests]. We lost one of our camera operators — our Steadicam guy — and that forced us to adapt. We couldn’t do a planned Steadicam shot, so we came up with a new shot using a dolly. We had to be nimble, which, quite frankly, made it feel like Curb.
You finished this in January, then, just a few weeks ago? That’s a quick turnaround …
There have been rumblings about an FTX spot for this year’s Super Bowl, but details have been kept secret. How did you manage confidentiality agreements?
This was another thing that we were all in lockstep on from the beginning — the agency [dentsuMB], FTX, all of us — because we wanted it to be a surprise. Larry doesn’t like any spoilers anyway. He doesn’t like them on the show. He wants the show to just appear. Same with this. We really wanted to make sure that everybody was surprised. Luckily for us, a lot of the prep took place over the holidays and everyone was gone. There was nobody to ask, “What are you doing?” Everyone — crew, extras — had to sign confidentiality agreements so that we could keep the surprise. Larry is always good about that, too. He will just stand up and tell everybody, “Don’t spoil it. Nobody likes a spoiler. Don’t be the spoiler.”
FTX has worked with some well-known ambassadors, Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen and Steph Curry. Did that pedigree matter or influence your decision to sign on for this?
It did help. The Tom and Gisele ads are really good, and they were really funny. Seeing those ads was a little daunting because they packed so much good stuff in 60 seconds. I remember watching them with Larry and saying, “Wow, they got all that done in a minute. How are we going to do that?” That was always our big concern: How are we going to pack as many jokes as we want into one minute? So, it helped that FTX has done great ads, but that was really the gravy. The real mashed potatoes were the fact that we loved the idea.
It’s a big moment for crypto and digital assets. A lot of Super Bowl parties were sponsored by crypto/digital platforms, and there will be crypto commercials during the big game. What’s your history with crypto, and do you have any assets?
I have no assets. I had no hesitation doing an ad for a crypto company because unlike most people, I do not fear what I don’t understand. I’m just like, “Great.” It wasn’t an issue for me or Larry. I remember our first meeting and we were speaking to the FTX guys and I said, “Basically, blockchain is the fence between what I know and what I don’t know. I know blockchain exists, but I don’t understand it.” They started to explain it to us and I said, “I don’t know if you can tell over Zoom when our eyes glazed over, but I still don’t understand it, but that’s OK. I don’t have to know everything.”
I will say this: I give FTX a ton of credit for the amazing thing that they did in having the cojones to say, “The best version of this spot is the funniest version of this spot, and it’s the one with Larry saying, ‘I’m not going to use the product.'” It’s consistent with the body of the piece, and it’s consistent with Larry. That is the best version of the ad. I’m so happy that they were that confident and that cool. If it were a movie studio, I’d work with them all the time. For us, it never felt like we were doing an ad. It felt like we were doing this 60-second sketch show. We just wanted to make it the funniest that it could possibly be.
This may be a silly question, but when you do an ad for a platform like FTX, do they pay you in cash or crypto?
We did ask about getting paid in crypto, but I don’t think they were set up for it for us, which was fine. But we definitely did ask.
When ads like this debut, there will be a number of critics who speak out against them, as there are many who do not agree with the concept of crypto or assets like NFTs. Actor Ben McKenzie, who is writing a book on crypto, wrote a piece titled, “Celebrity Crypto Shilling Is a Moral Disaster.” What is your response to critics of celebrities who promote crypto?
To me, this is really an issue of execution. We’re making a funny ad. The 60-second version is funny. The 2-minute-and-30-second version is funny. The 30-second is funny. That’s what we are doing. I feel really good about what we made, and we like it. I’ll speak for Larry, too, on this by saying that what I learned from him at Seinfeld through Curb and all the other stuff I’ve done is this: We’re making stuff that we like, and I just couldn’t give three shits if anybody else doesn’t like it.
Now, not only did you get Larry David to make his first commercial, what you made together is debuting during the most watched television event of the year. How does that feel?
The biggest effect it’s had on me is that I’m not going to the game. I’m going to watch the game with Larry so we can see the commercial live. I had some really good seats. When we did The League, [my wife, Jackie,] and I used to go to the Super Bowl all the time. Honestly, it was a great casting session because we bumped into all the players. I’m a huge football fan, too. I’m a season ticket holder for the Seahawks for the last 26 years. I love going to live sporting events, and I actually love going to the Super Bowl. That’s how it’s really affected me — I’m staying home and watching on the couch.
Do you host Larry at your place?
Oh, neither of us are good at hosting and neither of us are good at planning. Someone else is throwing the party, providing all the logistics, we’re just going to show up and take potshots and talk about the game. I’m the worst planner in the world. My Super Bowl party would be me going, “Oh, wait. Right. You’re here. I don’t know. I guess, sit here.” I didn’t prepare anything. I forgot.
Without the Seahawks in the game, who are you rooting for, the Rams or Bengals?
The NFC West is the best division in football. The division is stacked. I should probably be pro-NFC West, but as a Seahawks fan, I just can’t stomach the idea of the Rams winning the Super Bowl. But I will tell you this because I know you are publishing this after the game: The Rams won. I know they won, and I know why they won: because the weakness of the Cincinnati Bengals, who had a great season and so many great offensive weapons, but their offensive line is their weak spot. The strength of the Rams defense is their D-line with Aaron Donald, [Michael] Brockers and Von Miller. I feel like we are going to see that D-line dominate, and Cincinnati’s not going to be able to score enough points. The Rams, thanks to pushing all their chips into the middle of the table to get Odell Beckham Jr., Matthew Stafford and Von Miller, it all worked.
See the full “Larry’s Cut” of “Don’t Miss Out” below.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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