It is the Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, and Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil is working in the team’s expansive weight room at Bank of America Stadium. He’s not doing biceps curls or running on a treadmill on the team’s day off, but there is unmistakable intensity in how he’s going about his work.
As part of the Panthers’ partnership with POWERHOME Solar, in which the Mooresville, N.C.-based solar company will be installing solar panels at the team’s stadium to reduce the franchise’s electric bills and its carbon footprint, Kalil was approached by the team’s front office staff to potentially star in a commercial featuring the company that also has forged partnerships with three other NFL teams (Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers).
But the five-time Pro Bowl selection wanted something different. The University of Southern California product who owns his own production company didn’t want to be in front of the camera, but behind it. He pitched the idea to POWERHOME Solar ownership about directing it, and got the green light to make the magic happen. How he did it was equal parts fascinating and hilarious — not because he was out of his element, but because he was totally in it.
Kalil enlisted the help of teammates Curtis Samuel, Greg Van Roten, Marshall Newhouse and Luke Kuechly (there may have been some dinners involved as participation gifts) to appear in a commercial where he also used comedian Ryan O’Flanagan (a lifelong Panthers fan and friend of Kalil’s) as the star.
On this day, Kalil’s afternoon started at 2:30 and finished at 8 p.m. While many of you no doubt are disappointed that Solar Dog did not make another cameo appearance in the latest POWERHOME Solar commercial, we know Kalil did the right thing, because his direction left all in attendance laughing at several points during the shoot.
The idea behind the commercial was to showcase players in various modes of exercise generating the power necessary to energize the stadium. What we humorously learned along the way was that it was an incredibly inefficient way to do it — far less efficient than solar panels. Check out the 90-second Internet version as proof.
You’ll notice that the commercial begins in the locker room, but in actuality, the day’s shoot began in the weight room. What follows is the order in which the scenes were shot — and the fun that was had at each stop.
SCENE 1 – Curtis Samuel on a treadmill
While initial setup for the shoot lasted 90 minutes, go time arrived at 4 p.m., with Panthers second-year receiver Curtis Samuel and O’Flanagan up first. You may recognize O’Flanagan from his work from the Dead Kevin sketches, which are not suitable for work or this family website but are absolutely hilarious. He also did some overly excited tourist videos that are similarly must-watch cinema. As a comedian well-versed in improv, O’Flanagan helped Kalil write some of the commercial’s lines but had latitude to ad lib. Both Kalil and O’Flanagan reveled in it and worked to make each scene better through it.
Perhaps the best ad lib from this scene came when O’Flanagan threw in an energetic Panthers growl to open one of the takes. It was difficult not to burst out laughing in hearing it, but everyone heeded Kalil’s words for quiet on the set. The lack of reaction was a little puzzling for O’Flanagan, until Kalil asked that he throw the growl back in, knowing the reaction it got.
“I did it one time, and no one said anything, so I was like ‘Alright, I’m not going to do that again,'” O’Flanagan said. “But then a couple of times later, they said, ‘You should do that growl again. People were laughing back here.’ So OK, I’ll try it again.”
What they had went a little something like this:
In all, it took about 20 takes before Kalil got what he wanted, which tired Samuel out a little bit, but the former Ohio State standout kept his composure incredibly well amid all the ad-libbing. His job was to be emotionless while putting in his work. “It’s hard (to keep a straight face), man,” Samuel said after one of the takes. “I’m trying not to laugh.”
For Samuel, it was an honor to be asked by Kalil to be part of this project, which was his first commercial.
“I put in a lot of work on that treadmill just now,” Samuel chuckled.
How Ryan met Ryan
For O’Flanagan, working with Kalil on this commercial was pure joy. He grew up a Panthers fan in the Boston area because his New York Jets-fan dad didn’t want him to shoulder the heartache of supporting his team, and the Patriots weren’t in the picture because of dad’s rooting interests. In need of a hat as a 7-year-old, O’Flanagan’s dad took him to a Reebok store with all kinds of NFL hats and told him to pick out one. A Panthers fan was born. Little did O’Flanagan know that a decision he made as a youngster would turn into doing a commercial with his favorite team and with some of its best players.
How did this all happen? Just after Super Bowl 50, when the Panthers lost to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, O’Flanagan’s agent set up a meeting with Kalil’s production company, knowing how big of a fan O’Flanagan was of the Panthers. O’Flanagan even wore his Panthers watch to the meeting, not even knowing if Kalil would be there. Fortunately, he was.
“And he was there and I got to meet him, and freaked out because I had known him since he was at USC,” O’Flanagan says. “So I totally fan-girled out, I took a picture with him and he was asking me about myself and my sketch group, and I just left, didn’t think of anything of it. Then I guess he started watching my videos on YouTube and he reached out.”
Thus started a friendship and the opportunity to work together here.
“I’m a huge fan of his standup and his comedy,” Kalil said. “He’s got great comedic sensibilities.”
SCENE 2 – Greg Van Roten on the leg press
The next scene involved Kalil’s offensive linemate Greg Van Roten, who was attempting to power the stadium through reps on the leg press. Even teammate Marshall Newhouse got in on the fun by being included in the shot. While O’Flanagan killed it with his line, “This puts out 800 kilowatts … a … a … year,” the guys decided that calling Van Roten by the wrong first name would be even funnier. Was it ever. Another piece of comedic genius done on the fly and an enhancement to this shot.
Oh, and here’s another behind-the-scenes secret: The leg press wasn’t loaded with weight, but even empty, Van Roten was continuously pumping about 100 pounds. No big deal, though. Van Roten was happy to support his friend and teammate.
“I was on the machine a little bit longer (than expected),” Van Roten said. “Ryan keeps saying, “OK, one more time. And then he keeps saying it over and over again. But I guess that’s the life of the director.”
SCENE 3 – Luke Kuechly on the biodex
We move to a scene involving Panthers fan favorite and 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly on the handbike. We’ll cue one of the takes now:
One of the instructions Kalil ended up giving Kuechly was to be more “pissed off” as he cranked hard on the machine. Again, it was another fine improvement by Kalil, who was so into his work that you half forget that football is his real job.
You’ll see one more of those moments below. Despite the fact that Kalil and his director of photography Kevin Sarnoff loved what they were seeing, Kalil still wanted to do one or two more takes. He constantly worked for perfection, and didn’t stop until he achieved it.
Despite all the takes, Kuechly was happy to take all the direction.
“This is what Ryan wants to do and to have the opportunity to be in something that he’s doing I think is a cool deal,” Kuechly said.
SCENE 4 – Inside the Locker Room
So from all the power that Samuel, Van Roten and Kuechly generated comes proof that all the players’ work was worth it. Switches were flipped on a “power meter” (really a digital scale with a stagehand stepping on the scale to make the numbers rise), and lights were strung up along the running backs section of the locker room to further enhance the lighting effect. You’ll notice in the video below that Kalil even cues for the room’s lights to come on by raising his right hand.
But proving that not every take is a perfect one, O’Flanagan trips on some of the faux power cords on the locker room floor. He doesn’t totally eat it, but he trips up enough to make people laugh.
During setup for this scene, there was some downtime for O’Flanagan and others to be by themselves and catch their breath. The most poignant moment of the entire afternoon came in seeing O’Flanagan go up to Christian McCaffrey’s locker, in clear admiration, and just stand there before gently raising his right hand to touch McCaffrey’s helmet. His fandom of the team is indeed real. Either that or he was just trying to pass some good fantasy football vibes on to the second-year star running back.
It was a very cool moment for a comedic star to be in awe of his surroundings, and the fact that he became friends with Kalil is even something of an amazement for him.
“We’ve reached the point where I’m less starstruck, but I think I’ll always have in the back of my head, ‘Man, that’s Ryan Kalil. That’s really cool.’ No matter how good of friends we become, I’ll always think it’s so cool that he knows who I am at all.”
SCENE 5 – The clinching wrap-up
We headed out of the locker room and to the special teams room, which is about the size of a small child’s bedroom. This would be POWERHOME CEO Jayson Waller’s opportunity to break it to O’Flanagan that the way they plan on energizing the stadium was through the company’s solar panels, not from players working their butts off in the weight room. O’Flanagan couldn’t believe it, and you’ll get to see one of the takes here, along with some further instruction from Kalil on how to do the scene a little better.
Shortly after they finished this shot, Kalil placed the camera behind Waller and O’Flanagan for a different perspective. That shot was one that seemed more preferable to Kalil given the optics, and that was the shot he ended up using.
Kalil owned this shoot, and with the help of his teammates and friends, delivered something memorable and excellent. And with Kalil finishing his last year with the Panthers, he’s positioned himself well to transition to the next phase of his career, in whatever form it takes with his Mortal Media production company.
You too can join the Panthers in going solar at your home with help from POWERHOME Solar, which serves customers in six states (North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia). The solar panels installed on your home are American made and come with a 30-year warranty, with many panels expected to last well beyond that.
Please feel free to fill out the form below or contact POWERHOME Solar at 800-765-2715, and one of our solar representatives will help you determine whether your home qualifies for this program.