"I like to create," reports Morris resident Dave Herbert. "If I had to have a title, creator would describe what I do."
If that name sounds familiar, it's because he and brother Joe Herbert, Batesville, earned a $1 million bonus for their Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Contest commercial in 2009 when it beat professionally-produced ads.
Did that accolade boost their careers? Herbert points out, "It was never a career path to be a production company. It was more just us being entrepreneurial and creative and just not wanting to have real jobs. When that happened (they were Doritos commercial finalists for the first time in 2007), we just made ourselves believe this is something we can do on a higher level." When their commercial aired during the Super Bowl, the brothers decided, "OK, we can do this."
After their Doritos visibility, "work came to us and we'd take work to" production companies. During the recession, the men started their own company, Herbert Brothers (herbertbrothers.com), where Dave has the title Secret Weapon because he's the problem solver.
Herbert just wrapped up a solo job as set designer and builder for the upcoming movie “Ms. White Light,” made by independent film company Pigasus Pictures (PigasusPictures.com), based in Bloomington. The Indiana University alumni co-founders, Zachary Spicer and John Armstrong, have made a commitment to create Indiana jobs and develop Hoosier talent, according to Jessica Redden, Bohlsen Group, Indianapolis, event publicity and promotions director.
How did the oldest son of John and Diane Herbert, West Harrison, get the job? He recalls, "They hired Jim Timperman (who shot the brothers' first Doritos ad) to be director of photography and they were location scouting and looking for the right location" for a hospital scene that would be filmed using anamorphic lenses, wider than widescreen. When no hospital room could be found, Timperman recommended a hospital room set be constructed. "Pigasus is great at what they do, but I don't know if they had experience building sets on their own. Tim contacted me. I had built sets before, but always for myself."
The filmmakers needed four separate sets with the same dimensions, one office building and three hospital rooms. The 41-year-old decided to maximize their dollars. "You give me $100, I'll make it look like $1,000."
"I love a challenge. If something became difficult, I thrive on that."
So he constructed one set, then reconfigured it. There was a problem to solve. "The original room was 16 by 20 feet. I extended it to 28 feet, but even that wasn't deep enough" for the framing by the cinematographer in some scenes. Herbert ended up building three walls with the fourth wall on wheels to move out of way when needed for the camera's anamorphic lenses.
Herbert, sometimes with the help of his dad, commuted to a Bloomington to create the initial set, working long hours. "They would have accommodations for me to stay there." Then the art director and other staff would paint walls and add wall art, hospital beds and other equipment.
After one set's final scene was shot, the art department cleared out the trimmings, then Herbert began changing windows and floors for the next set. Another challenge was the office set. A door had to match exterior shots of one at an outdoor mall. He points out, "A door costs in the thousands (of dollars) and is heavy. I built them a door to match the exterior location, which was fun."
The greatest reward of this work was "connecting with additional people that have the same passion I have of creating great stories .... I'd love to work with them again." Pigasus Pictures executives have planned four upcoming feature films and two television pilots over the next two years.
“Ms. White Light” is the story of Lex Cole, a young woman who counsels terminally ill clients that have trouble letting go. While proving uniquely talented in her ability to connect with the dying, Lex is at a total loss when it comes to dealing with everyone else. She struggles to help Valerie (Judith Light), her most challenging client yet, because she refuses to play by Lex's rules.
Ironically, the movie is about mortality, which Herbert brushed up against in 2012.
It's been five years since he fell while installing a restaurant sign with his dad. After hitting his head, the man was in a coma for two weeks. "It was a pretty unique experience," Herbert recalls. "I just remember waking up one day and I was locked in a hospital bed."
Of the brain trauma, he asked physicians, "'What can I expect?' One said, 'I can't tell you ... The probability of a human living through what you lived through is about 0 percent.'" A nurse told him, "'We expected it to take you a year to learn how to walk and talk again, but you're already doing that.'" It was "a much quicker, better recovery than anyone expected."
Herbert's path to his current career is a weaving one. The five brothers "would just always do everything ourselves," which developed broad skill sets. At his dad's construction company, as teens "all of my brothers would work with him in the summers and just build."
According to the East Central High School graduate, as a freshman, English teacher Betty Bourquein allowed her students to do video reports instead of written book reports. "I always enjoyed that ... and kept doing that for fun. I don't watch television or commercials, but I like making them."
He went to Marietta College in Ohio "specifically to play baseball. It's the winningest baseball school in NCAA Division 3." Herbert played there for two years and graduated early with an economics degree.
In addition to the quintet's success with commercials and films, "we're official game inventors," he observes. A week after they were chatting with Jay Leno on the "Tonight" show in 2009 about their Doritos commercial triumph, the clan was at the New York Toy Fair to launch Triviathon.
It was licensed by U.S. Playing Card, which asked for more. The Herberts created One 2 Ten for that company, then Word Around (nominated for Game of the Year in 2014) and Last Letter for Thinkfun, Crazy Letters for Mindware and Box of Rocks for the Haywire Group. That last game was launched at Gen Con last year and "did really well."
To keep up to date with the gaming field, the brothers are set to attend this year's fair Feb. 17-20. Herbert reports he's working on a new game called Beat a Cheetah. "It's a racing game where everyone works together."
The brothers (also Joe, Batesville; Matt, an animator for "The Simpsons," Merrillville; Pete, senior copywriter for the Possible Cincinnati ad agency, Guilford; and Josh, a Lawrenceburg teacher, Bright) have overcome one disappointment. "We were approached at the end of 2013 about my brothers and I being in a reality show that followed us doing what we do in Indiana."
That spurred the family to create seven ads that were filmed here. When Mercola wanted a commercial about its health website, "Matt had the idea of Wizard of Oz in the future," so characters included a lion cub, scarecrow kid and Dorothy as a teacher at a Munchkins school. They rented the former Bee Active Gym School building in Batesville and constructed a yellow brick road, corn field, fences and other sets, then greenscreened around them to add digital effects.
For a Zappos shoes commercial, the men shot exteriors in Greensburg and built an interior office space set at Bee Active. A mall set was built there for a Bare Necessities ad, too.
Unfortunately, A&E originally bought the series, but it never aired.
In 2015 Herbert spent a week in Florida, helping two of his siblings, Joe and Pete, as they directed the feature film "Between Waves" (formerly titled "In Between Days").
He says, "Joe and I always work together. When we have a project, we will generally say, 'Pick one of the brothers who has the vision for that one.'"
Recently the duo shot one commercial for LCNB National Bank and a couple for Tom Tepe Autocenter. "Any time we need help from the other brothers, they are always willing to help when they can."
What advice does Herbert have for others who want to work in the film industry? "There's really no right or wrong way to get into it. You have to decide to do it. Our path to it was far from typical. I don't think you have to go to film school, but you can. You can certainly learn a lot there and make connections."
He advised, "Do what you do for the right reasons. If you're looking for fame and fortune ... they call it starving artist for a reason."
Once a specialty is chosen, "the more you do it, the better you get. Then you get noticed."
When asked about his favorite job in the past five years, Herbert can't decide.
"It's less about specifics and who I'm doing it with. Just being able to work with my brothers, father and mother, who would do some catering, and having my kids and nieces and nephews and sisters-in-law" around while working on a project "is just a pretty neat thing to be able to do.
"My four brothers are my best friends .... Sometimes we butt heads, but in the end we have the same goal, which is to make great stuff ... We push each other to do better."
Debbie Blank can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.