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New UDM TV ads star real students

By Maggie Jackson/ VN Editor-in-Chief
On October 7, 2014

If you are watching the season premieres of your favorite fall TV shows, you may find that you recognize a few familiar faces because UDM has just released new promotional commercials.

These commercials, the first new ones since 2010, were made to attract high school students to UDM.

Jon Whitener, a web information specialist in the marketing and public affairs department, said that the idea for the commercials was to show four main points about UDM.

“Great academics, a great city, a great mission and a great future,” said Whitener. “We tried, as much as possible, to get these ideas across.”

When the initial idea was finished, Whitener and the rest of the department went to the production company, Detroit Lives, to help create the commercials.

“After we hired Detroit Lives, I gave them a draft of the first script,” said Whitener. “They came back and suggested that we do at least two commercials. In previous commercials, there has been voiceover, but we wanted to focus on the students. They suggested the idea of a ‘Day in the Life,’ where we would have two commercials focusing on a guy’s day at UDM and a girl’s day at UDM.”

With a plan in place, Whitener had the job to find a group of students to participate in the commercial.

Third-year software engineer student Colton Wirgau was one of the students who responded to an email sent to students over the summer.

“I was here over the summer and my boss – I work at the Learning Center – she sent me an email saying that they were looking for people to try out for this,” said Wirgau. “I was around and I decided to try out, just for fun.”

Students who responded to the email were invited to a casting session where they met the producers and had a screen test.

Fourth-year political science major Sean Rucker said that after the first meeting with the producers, he thought that he did terribly and that he was not going to be chosen.

“I thought that we did horribly because it was kind of awkward,” said Rucker. “We had this one scenario where they had us fold a piece of paper into a triangle while we were talking about what we had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had to do this at the same time, but I guess we did well.”

After the initial screen tests, Whitener and the production team called back a few students to see how they would work with one another.

“We wanted to find students who were confident and friendly,” said Whitener. “After the initial casting process, we called back a few students who we filmed interacting with each other. We needed them to look like they knew each other.”

Wirgau and Rucker were invited to be a part of the commercial. Also invited were third-year biology major Sandra Alias and third-year biochemistry major Ashlee Washington.

The students and the production team shot various scenes around campus as well as downtown. One of these scenes involved a community-service project.

“I think that the production team really captured the essence of UDM with that service project,” said Alias. “We were painting some walls a few blocks away from campus and there were a couple of neighborhood kids riding around on their bikes and we invited them to come and help us.”

The day the service project was shot, a news company also showed up creating a segment about how UDM students were helping the community.

 “We went there. There was a small park that we were going to clean up, and Jon had to get permission to do that,” said Wirgau. “The group that ran the park thought that it was great, but they kind of blew it out of proportion. They thought that we were coming to do a ton of community service, which was bad because the news showed up there.

“We ended up on the news that night and it was like, ‘UDM Cleaning up Detroit,’ when we really only cleaned up this little spot,” Wirgau said. “We kind of felt bad about it because it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was cool because a lot of people on campus do community service and it was nice that they showed that.”

A scene was also shot outside of Comerica Park on the first day. Various other scenes were shot throughout the city, capturing another of Whitener’s main points of UDM: a great city.

 “The coolest part for me was shooting outside Comerica,” said Washington. “I think that was the first time we got out there and we all had no clue what we were doing, so that was pretty fun. Another fun part was when we were filming the girls’ segment along the RiverWalk. They had us play around and eat ice cream, so that was fun.”

Overall, Whitener said that about 70 hours were put into making the new commercials and during those filming days everyone became close.

 “Making these commercials, all of the cast members bonded,” said Alias. “The producers really captured the essence of what makes this school great and one of those things are the friendships. The bond that we made while shooting was a UDM friendship. Here you get to meet people who you would normally never encounter and that is amazing.”

The commercials were released on YouTube before they were shown on TV. All of the cast members said that family, friends and even some of their professors have seen the commercials.

“A few of my classmates and a few of my friends saw them and they called me after they did,” said Alias. “They were very surprised and impressed with the result. The commercials portray the school the way it should be.”

The cast members, as well as Whitener, agree that the commercials capture what they believe makes UDM great.

“They got some shots of us in class and they got the scenes of us doing the community service. Those are the fabric of the university and I think that they captured the essence of everything pretty well,” said Rucker. “If the commercials help to attract at least one new student who wouldn’t have thought about coming here had they not seen the commercials, then I think that we did our job.”

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