Creative Web series promotes Priority Mail
If something odd started happening at work — cables began snaking their way around
your neck, photocopiers started stampeding your coworkers, the paper shredder developed a sudden taste for blood — to whom would you turn for help? Your boss? Your secretary? The office temp? Maybe. But perhaps salvation would come from someone trained to deliver in snow, rain, heat, or gloom of night.
This is the concept behind Mark of the Eagle, a four webisode series developed in house by the U.S. Postal Service to promote its Priority Mail, Express Mail, and ground package services. The webisodes follow a group of employees dealing with office equipment that suddenly comes to life and attacks. Trapped inside with no easy escape, it’s the efforts of Ed, the office’s USPS letter carrier, who leads the office team in an epic battle of man versus machine.
If the project sounds like an atypical way for a government organization to communicate with the public, that’s the point. “We wanted to create something that had information about our products but did it in a way that’s entertaining and engaging,” said Matthew Zappile, producer/director, USPS-TV. “With webisodes, we could tell a story that allows people to have some fun, gives you a little pride about the Postal Services, and craft how the Postal Service’s brand looks.”
The Mark of the Eagle mini-series was shot over 16 days in an empty section of a USPS building.
The process began in March 2007. After receiving an assignment from USPS corporate communications division to create an infomercial, Zappile suggested that a 30-second TV spot, which would direct people to a Web site for more information, be created instead. But the nascent Mark of the Eagle idea generated the most interest.
After further discussion, the group decided to cut out the television portion and develop the entire project for online distribution. “That was a more of a challenge, because we had to make something more in depth,” Zappile said. “People spend more time on the Web and we wanted to give them something more substantial.”
Over the next few months, Zappile developed the humorous script with a “Hollywood blockbuster feel,” and casted the webisodes using both internal USPS employees and professional actors. Mark of the Eagle was shot over 16 days in June, using an empty section of a USPS office building as its set. The machines that came to life were recycled from existing USPS stock. Everything was shot in HD on Panasonic VariCams (Zapplie’s group has been shooting in HD and downgrading to SD when needed to future proof its work).
“I wanted to make sure that we had people who really knew what we wanted to accomplish. Part of our bid requirement was that they had at least Hollywood experience of some kind,” Zappile said. As a result, he didn’t hire one complete ensemble, but interviewed a number of people and formed a crew that would meet the project’s high standards. “Doing it that way involved a lot more contracting, but in the end, it worked out a lot better. We had a more control and we could really specify what we got.”
Mark of the Eagle had limited resources (Zappile even wrote the orchestral score), and Zappile, part The of a small department, couldn’t dedicate his time solely to the project. Following a short pickup shoot in August, Zappile had to suspend production to focus his attentions elsewhere.
“I was working on all my standard projects,
Mark of the Eagle took more than a year to go from concept to Web series. training or event videos, that kind of thing,” Zappile said. Additionally, each step in the project had to be vetted by corporate and the USPS’s legal department to make sure everything was on message and problem free.
After a two-month hiatus, post production began in October 2007. Zappile began editing using Apple Final Cut Studio 2, managing files on his department’s Apple Xsan SAN file system, and enhancing “Mark of the Eagle with help from Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and Illustrator. “I was doing a lot of the visual effects, all of the music, and all the things that you usually have multiple people working on,” Zappile said.
It took several months, but post wrapped in April 2008. USPS contracted with Magnetic Dreams, a multimedia production house, to create the Mark of the Eagle Web site, which was the first time the USPS developed a completely separate and completely Flash-based site. Last August, the first episode made its debut.
And the results? At press time, there were more than 80,000 total page views and podcast downloads, with another 200 to 300 each week. Mark of the Eagle has also won four Telly Awards, a Cine Golden Eagle Award, and two TIVA-DC Peer Awards.
While some might write off government produced video, Zappile knows better. “Government video production can produce work that can compete with the big guys,” he said. “Government video doesn’t have to be bland or boring. You can do exciting things — you can make great things.”