Mental Toughness

I had originally reached out to Reebok with a pitch for a short film concept that revolved around their CrossFit apparel line. They liked the concept but felt that it may be too costly to pull off. They asked if I was interested in directing a commercial with the 2015 CrossFit Games champion Katrin Davidsdottir. They had passed along a Ronda Rousey spot that they wanted to emulate and asked that the focus of the spot be Katrin’s mental toughness.

I wrote a script that focused on Katrin not qualifying for the 2014 CrossFit Games, watching it at home on the TV, training her ass off for the next year and winning the games in 2015.

When the script was approved, I assembled a team that I knew could work fast and dirty. I tapped Jay Vera to produce and Jon Gilbert as my DP. Jon has a great eye, understands the sport of CrossFit and had a Red Dragon package available for the shoot. Jay is the type of producer that makes a director’s life easy. He handled a lot of logistical things with crewing, lighting and scheduling as well as the “B” camera from time to time.

The shoot was held in and around CrossFit New England, where Katrin was training at the time. We had two shoots days scheduled with a third pickup day in case anything went wrong. Like any shoot, things don’t always go the way you plan them. On this shoot, we were informed that Katrin could not adjust her training schedule for the shoot. We would have to shoot all her workouts on day 1. Luckily there was enough time in between each workout for outfit changes and to light the workout area. She was also dealing with an injury at the time and was limited as to what she could actually do. Olympic lifting was off the table, which was rough because visually, those are some of the most aesthetically pleasing things to capture. In the six workouts she completed that day, we captured more than enough footage. The only staged workout footage was the rope climb which was a must to parallel the rope climb flashback.


The biggest hurdle on the shoot was the end of the script. Originally, the VO was going to speak to want mental toughness looks like in real life. We were going to use actual footage of her on the podium after winning the CrossFit Games. We wanted to cut to a tight green screen shot of Katrin saying, “It looks like this.” All we needed to make that happen was the medal and the shirt she wore on the podium. We had hair and makeup to get as close to her appearance on the podium. I was under the impression that those things would be available for the shoot. Going into day 2, we discovered that those items were in fact in her home country of Iceland.

We very quickly had to come up with an alternate ending to this spot. After spending two-thirds of the day getting the interior house shots, we ventured out looking for a location for the final shoot. We thought the concept could still work if she was continuing to work out. We found a park not too far away and had the idea of her running and training with a sandbag. She could run up to it, pick it up, deliver the same line and run off. It was not nearly as powerful, but under the circumstances, it worked and it got the job done.

I was very happy with how the feature turned out in the end. Katrin was a delight to work with and made our jobs very easy. As a team, we overcame any obstacles in our path. Rather than freaking out or giving up, we solved our problems and got the job done to the best of our abilities. Chalk it up to mental toughness.

My Equipment List