Overcoming setbacks is the theme of Liberty Mutual’s Rise campaign, which features the inspiring comeback stories of notable Olympic athletes. But with all due respect to featured Olympians like Picabo Street and Jessica Jerome, perhaps no Rise story is as dramatic as that of Heidi Kloser. The Team USA freestyle skier was on her way to living her Olympics dream in Sochi earlier this month when she was injured during a practice run the day before the Games started, destroying her chances of competing. And yet, when she asked her parents afterward if she was still an Olympian, their response was unequivocal: “Yes.”
Seizing on the timeliness of Heidi’s dramatic tale, Liberty Mutual decided to feature her in a Rise commercial to be broadcast during the Olympics, on February 19. Havas Worldwide tapped director Lauren Greenfield for the job, which went from concept to broadcast in just a few whirlwind days—practically an Olympian feat in itself.
Chelsea Pictures, which represents Lauren as a director, booked the job on midday Friday, February 14, and within a few hours, Lauren and her DP were on flights to the Kloser family home in Vail, Colorado, where Heidi had returned after appearing (on crutches) at the opening ceremonies. But it was President’s Day weekend, so they couldn’t find seats on the same flight. And the terrible weather complicated things further.
“My DP had to make two connections and then had to drive through a snowstorm to get there,” says Lauren, who was also delayed by the weather. She and her producer, Jonathan Gribetz, got stuck on the tarmac in Los Angeles for four hours. “It was a surreal scene,” says Lauren. “The plane was full of rich people worried about getting to the slopes. And at the same time, there were police surrounding the plane because there was a fallen soldier on the aircraft beside us. So there was an American-flag-covered hearse being lowered, and people were saluting a war hero.”
She finally made it to her hotel at 3 AM, had a call with the agency at 8, and was on set at 9. “Heidi and her parents were absolutely wonderful,” says Lauren, who spent close to 12 hours shooting at the Kloser home. In addition to interviewing Heidi and her parents and photographing a portrait of them, she collected archival items, going through their home movies and filming Heidi’s medals. “We stayed true to the documentary process,” notes Lauren. “We did real interviews. Nothing was scripted. They opened their home and their hearts to us.”
Because the commercial was meant to air just a few days later, Lauren had a digital tech sending the footage to New York, where the editor was ingesting it. On Sunday they cut it, on Monday they colored and shipped it, and on Wednesday the 30-second spot aired on NBC. There’s also a two-and-a-half-minute spot; both are on view at Liberty Mutual’s YouTube Channel.
“It was really fun because it was almost like doing a news story but for advertising,” says Lauren. She knew that there had to be a considered narrative arc, especially in the 30-second spot, and she recalled Heidi having told a Denver newspaper about seeing her parents after her fall in Sochi and asking them, “Am I still an Olympian?”
“So in my head, I was thinking about the arc being the lead-up and excitement about going to the Olympics, and then the fall, and the question ‘Am I still an Olympian?,’ and the answer being yes—and her walking in the opening ceremonies on crutches, because that was a triumphant and tragic moment, and we knew there were pictures of it.”
Lauren says that although Heidi did get a little emotional in her interview, she mostly was focused on the 2018 Olympics. “She’s such a positive person,” says Lauren. “Even in the moment when she fell, she was thinking that this must have happened for a reason and that it will be a good story for 2018. That was part of why I was happy to tell the parents’ story too. The parents were able to express how crushing the accident was.”
As for Heidi and her family’s response to the finished spots, the truth is in the tweet, as it were. Heidi (@HeidiKloser) took to Twitter to say, “Thanks for making such a great piece on me and my family!”