We are thrilled to present an interview with Micky Coyne, an advertising legend who was part of the creative team behind the live action commercial for Metroid: Other M, Past is Prologue. After our interview with the lead actress, Lenka Volfová, we wanted to know more about what went into the commercial’s writing, filming and casting. We’re happy to say that Micky had a lot to share, including two alternate concepts for the commercial, and a version with a different voiceover from Samus!
I’ve always been a huge gamer. Still am. And like many, I grew up playing Nintendo, SNES, Genesis, and PlayStation. And of course the original Metroid was one of my favorites. And like many I remember being shocked when they revealed Samus was a girl. 🙂
I was lucky enough to land a job at one of the best ad agencies in the world, Goodby, Silverstein and Partners (they did Got Milk, some of the best work for Budweiser, Comcast etc.). Around my third year in, they got Nintendo as a client. Even though I was still relatively junior, I fought to get on that account.
My first assignment was for Wii Fit. We made a couple great spots (same director as Metroid M btw!), and because of our work the game by itself out sold the PlayStation 3 that year. Which was huge. On the set, I bonded with the marketing director Amit Singh, and I was telling him what a huge fan I was of Nintendo and specifically Metroid. Unknown to me at the time, they were getting ready to launch Metroid: Other M. So during the next round of work he requested my partner and I, Jesse Gazoulo, to work on helping launch the next campaign.
It had been a while since there had been a high quality game that was building on Samus and her canon. I remember that [Yoshio] Sakamoto was personally coming back to direct the game and was a driving force behind the next chapter in her story. This was a big deal. And so that led us creatively to focus on her back story. Both as a nod to Sakamoto but as a way to help introduce Samus to a new generation of gamers. So while they (young gamers) may have heard of Metroid or even Samus they might not have been aware of the deep history Sakamoto and [Satoru] Okada had established for her. My partner, and the writer, Jesse Gazoulo, pulled in this great quote from Shakespeare “the past is prologue.” And that really became the line that tied the story we were trying to tell with the ad and the deep history of the franchise.
Originally the script followed the comic that came out in the 2000s. [the origin manga from 2003] We were told that it was a cannon and a good place to pull details from her past. We originally had chosen moments that were a bit more straightforward. Her parents were killed. Her training with her mentor. Her first mission etc. Sakamoto saw the script and word came down that the scenes you see in the current films were what he wanted. The two scenes we had written that stuck were her parents being killed by Ridley (though we wanted to depict her parents actually being killed and instead we were asked to show the moment after where Ridley almost killed Samus), and the scene in the warehouse where she has the suit and is killing the alien pirates.
Sakamoto requested the scene in the cave, the thumbs down with her commander, and the moment the baby Metroid is killed by Mother Brain. It was a struggle between talking to diehard fans like you guys who would get all these references and making a film that was comprehensible to gamers who weren’t as close to the material. Don’t get me wrong, proud of the final product, but I do kinda wish we had kept the training scene over the thumbs down and I would have loved to show the parents getting killed. The former would’ve added more action and the latter more emotional impact. But Sakamoto is a genius and it’s his franchise so who am I to disagree?
There were a lot of special effects. So I feel like we had about 4 months to pull this off. Nintendo was generous and connected us with Team Ninja and provided the in game 3D models. This was rare. Usually they keep that under lock and key. So that helped a lot. But The Mill (our post production partner) had to rebuild everything pretty much from scratch and had used those as reference more than anything. We shot in Prague in old abandoned Soviet factories, a real cave, an empty field, and on top of a garage at a mall. The rain is real! It was freezing out. I felt bad for the extras and actors.
Very very little. They had this game under wraps. Another reason we focused the ad on her past and not the story in the game. They were so secretive.
Boy it’s been years. I’m sure there were more. But I vaguely remember these two:
We had an idea where you’d watch a baby pirate or foot soldier grow up. We’d see his parents, homeworld, friends etc. Watch him go through training camp, bond with fellow bad guys. And then on his first mission, step off the ship, power up his gun and then immediately get his head blown off. As his body slumped and fell away it would reveal Samus pointing her cannon at the camera. We’d then cut to action sequences from the game. Still love that idea. I think they bought the right campaign. But there’s humor in there that I like a lot.
We also had this great cover of Eye Of The Tiger, and wanted to show Samus losing a fight. Really getting her ass kicked. Face in the mud. Everything is going wrong. And then rallying, digging deep and then finding the strength to rally and of course win the day.
We had so little information about the game, we were trying to play with what little we knew and try to reveal or show her character while flying blind. It was tricky!
They were great! Like I mentioned before they gave access to the 3D and game assets. Bought a really cool film. And Sakamoto weighed in a lot. So all of that was really exciting.
I mentioned this above. But I would’ve liked to swap out the thumbs down scene and would have liked to make the parents dying part of the opening scene. Both for emotional impact and clarity. I think everyone (it’s a classic super hero trope) understands that tragic orphan origin story. And what we have in the opening scene is one step removed. I think establishing that on clearer footing would’ve helped with narrative.
It was never direct. I think we presented directly to him once. But Japanese corporate culture is very different than in America. Here it’s more of a conversation. While there you present up to your superiors and they are very quiet and you get almost no reaction in the room. The feedback comes later through from their assistants and is usually pretty final. So Sakamoto would review the work, scripts, boards, pre-vis and final product. But that all happened very far away.
One funny story, the night the spot was shipping we were doing the final voice over record, and had the actress who plays Samus in the English translation of the game read the VO for the film. In America, you have to read a legal disclaimer that says what the game is rated. We didn’t think much about it, and of course had her read the final line “rated T for teen”. But when we shipped it to Nintendo for final review, they informed us we could never break character. And that we had to have a different voice read that one line. Without getting into the intricacies of SAG rules, this essentially meant it would cost another $40-80k to pay that talent to read that line. It was also like 11pm at night and we had to ship the film in less than 1 hour to get it out on time. So they put me in the booth had me read the line and sent two copies to Japan with the caveat that my dumb voice would cost an extra $40k minimum. Well, I’m not sure if they hated my voice or the price tag or both, but in the end they decided to make an exception and kept the original actress and cut me. I was soooo close to buying a new car! Ha.
It’s been a long long time. And I do remember it came down to two women. And I remember feeling strongly that Lenka had the better look and better acting chops. I don’t remember much about the other woman. But you always have to have a solid back up, just in case. Just in case the upper brass at Nintendo doesn’t like your first choice. Or there’s a contract issue or your first choice gets booked or sick etc. My memory is that we all agreed she was the clear winner and we had a strong reco for Lenka. Nintendo and Sakamoto agreed and she did great! So it all worked out.
Boy that I don’t have a lot of details on. They all did great. And I remember how cute little Samus was on set. She was also super brave and a real trooper. I think we threw that poor child into that pad like 15 times. But the other actors weren’t asked to do much. No speaking lines. Just really had to hold a look. So we were casting strictly on how close they looked. They looked like the original characters.
I agree! We used Human, a music house in Los Angeles. Their team really crushed it. My creative director David Kolbouz really pushed us to find something unsettling and dream-like. And Human had just done the music for this Halo spot, which was KILLER. So we went to them to really push it. And, well they delivered. I also remember our editor Paul Martinez really finding the right tone with a piece of scrap music from another movie. It was a collaboration. But I do remember when we all heard the first version of this song. It was lightning in a bottle. We knew it was it and really honed in on it.
It was! I mentioned this above. In the first version of the script we really leaned on the manga to fill out the scenes. And that was one of the key scenes.
Yes, what “Other M” meant and represented was all meant to be hinted at in the final scene. Was “M” mother? Meaning Samus was the mother of baby Metroid? Was “M” Mother Brain? A new Metroid? Gotta have some kind of cliff hanger to get people to buy the game, right? 🙂
It had a ton. And it was a long process with a lot of back and forth with the client. And while I’m proud of the version that hit the airways, there’s another version I have on my Vimeo account that I think is a bit stronger. I asked the guy doing the mix to make a version for my reel as I preferred it. You don’t win every battle in advertising!
Yes! Pete Harvey (who replaced Jesse when he left to take on a new job at Martin) and I directed her. She was great. And real pleasure to work with. Love her performance. Serious and deep. With subtleties. You can feel her character’s grief and strength. Lovely lovely performance.
We shot in Prague. Lots of old abandoned soviet era factories and buildings. While we had some set design, like those eggs were made custom for the shoot, most of it was either already part of the location or was done in CG. I had one of those eggs in my office forever! It got lost when I moved to New York sadly. It was a 3 or 4 day shoot. Shooting most at night. The cave was a real cave and we had to go down in small groups to see the set design. And unlike most shots, where you are up with the director, we had to be about 3000 meters away. I also remember there was no signal so we couldn’t even watch the monitors for those shots either. Just had to trust Filip.
Agree. Filip crushed it. And regrettably I gave him a real hard time about her suit. At the time I thought the lycra looked cheap and weirdly like 80s bondage or something. I really gave him a hard time about it. But I know when I’m wrong. And I was wrong and he was 100% right. In the end I relented and her suit looked killer. Especially in the film. So kids reading at home, trust your director!
I have no idea. My guess is Nintendo might have kept the suit. And It’s probably in storage. But everything else is probably long gone.
Love it! It’s not on my main site any more, but that’s only because you have to keep things fresh. It’s not a great look in my profession if the work on your site is more than 6-7 years old. But it was a fun shoot. Work came out beautiful. It’s a legendary IP. Could not be more proud.
Only the few things I mentioned above. But really we played things right and the stars really aligned.
I did! Boy it’s been years. I had a Wii. And I thought the game was a lot of fun. Cool to play Samus first person. That was fresh. And being super intimate with the back story made the game more rewarding. I find the Wii controllers a bit counter intuitive for this type of game, and would’ve loved to play it on a Switch for example, something with a more traditional controller. But otherwise, it was great!
Well I’ve certainly rambled enough. I will say I love doing video games adverts. When it’s a car or a bottle of bleach no one cares. But with video games, the fans are so invested and passionate that it’s such an honor to have people care about your work. So when you nail it, not only are you excited to make a great spot, but you get this extra high of seeing the fans get excited too. So it means a lot to see that this film resonated, that we did the fans and the franchise right and people are still interested in it so many years later. Mind blowing actually.
Thanks for reaching out!
© 2022 Shinesparkers and Micky Coyne
Special thanks to Darren, Quadraxis and RoyboyX
Interviewed on 24th July 2022