Cat Herders is an award-winning commercial made by Fallon for Electronic Data Systems (EDS). Alluding to the management-speak idiom "It's like herding cats" that refers to the impossibility of controlling the uncontrollable, it posits an analogy between herding cats and the solution of seemingly impossible problems by EDS.
Using a "giant Western metaphor", it features "grizzled cowboys" herding thousands of cats across the Montana prairie, terminating in the satisfactory resolution "EDSolved". The commercial was shown on 30 January 2000 at the Super Bowl XXXIV and was cited by then-President Bill Clinton as his favorite commercial.
Title and Cat Herders campaign
EDS retained Fallon in 1999 to create a campaign with strong brand awareness with a dual purpose: to change the company's image for present and future growth and also to improve the morale and self-image of its employees. Fulfilling this remit, the advertisement "gave EDS employees an image that was serious, despite the humor of the commercial, and it highlighted EDS’s problem-solving capabilities for its customers."
The title "Cat Herders" applied to both the initial advertisement and the campaign, which was presented as a trilogy. The two sequels, "Airplane" and "Running with Squirrels", had visual impact but did not replicate the success of "Cat Herders".
- Steven Lane
- Tony Becker
- Mark Brooks
- Tim Carroll
- David Cleveland
- Jeremy Cluff
- Walter Doran
- Jake Sanders
- Kent Wakefield Smith
- Susan Smith
- Gene McLaughlin
- Clif Stokes
- David Jean Thomas
- R. J. Chambers - Stunts
- Brian Burrows -Stunts
Notwithstanding the listing of only two participants as stunt performers, many of the actors are skilled cowboy professionals, with credits as horse trainers, wranglers, doubles, trick-roper and also as stunt performers. A few operate ranches or rodeo or stunt performing services, as per the citations given above.
For the shoot, some actors wore their own clothes, but their faces were made up to look cat-scratched, tanned or weatherbeaten.
Numbers of cats used to create the illusion of thousands running wild vary from 50 to 60. According to Becker, "only about 60 cats were used in the actual filming (with about 1 trainer per 5 cats). The rest were computer-generated".
Location and conditions
Cat Herders was filmed during December 1999 at Tejon Ranch, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. Established in 1843, it is, at nearly 270,000 acres, the largest continuous expanse of private land in California. The landscape features a "dramatic tapestry of rugged mountains, steep canyons, oak-covered rolling hills, and broad valleys" and cowboys on horseback still herd cattle along the open grazing land.
Filming was accomplished over five days of wintry conditions, workers in goggles and full face masks battling through rain, snow, fog, sleet, blowing sand and fierce 40mph winds. As one worker recalls: "Shooting this spot was the most cold and miserable shooting days I've ever had. Out in the plains, freezing cold, wind so strong it would catch your car door and bend it back." On set, the cats were housed in individual cages in "trucks filled with movie cats". At night, "interspecies bonding" occurred with crew members bringing cats back to their hotels:
"we actually snuck a cat into our motel room because he had had surgery and needed to recuperate. So he lived under the bed".
Cat training and filming
The commercial called for differing feline skills, including running, water scenes, or staying motionless. To prepare for filming, 50 cats and their trainers travelled to Tejon Ranch a week before the crew.
For the dramatic river-crossing, Art Director Dean Hanson told Adweek,
Trainers taught the cats to swim by starting them out in one-quarter inch of water, then gradually building the pool to swimming depth. . . . Since we were shooting in nippy weather, our 'river' was actually a small pool warmed by a portable heater, like a little cat Jacuzzi.
Cats worked in shifts to film the herding scenes, with head trainer Karin McElhatton hiding in tumbleweeds to issue verbal directions.
The illusion of cats stampeding was achieved by using clickers normally associated with food. During filming, clickers prompted the felines to run downhill, towards food which was out of shot. At other times, cats were lured by "strategically smeared tuna".
For scenes where both are required, a computer-operated motion-control camera is used to film the same shot over and over with each animal. The horses, background and layers of kitties are filmed separately, and each will be stripped in during post-production to create the illusion of an elaborate cat drive.
Agency and creative credits
- For the Fallon agency, Minneapolis, David Lubars (Creative Director), Dean Hanson (Art Director), Greg Hahn (Copywriter), Judy Brink (Executive Producer) and Marty Wetherall (Agency Producer).
- Agency Producer and Agency Visual Effects Supervisor: Bob Wendt
- The film company was Hungry Man. Director John O'Hagan worked with producer JD Davison.
- CGI: Sight Effects, Venice, California.
- Editor: Gordon Carey for FilmCore
- Music: Asche & Spencer, Minneapolis
- Sound and music mixing: Margarita Mix, Santa Monica, under the direction of chief engineer Jimmy Hite
- Sound Design: Framework Sound, Burbank
Awards and accolades
- James Fox on "EDS' Herding Cats" (2000) on Momentology, "The Most Memorable Super Bowl Ads of All Time". Accessed 7 April 2016.
- Becky Ebenkamp, "Creative: On Location: Kitty Slickers", AdWeek, January 17, 2000. Accessed 9 April 2016
- Marketing Case Studies blogspot, "Cat Herders Campaign", Wednesday, September 17, 2008. Accessed 7 April 2016
- Tony Becker page on website for The Hunters (Human productions, 2009). Accessed 9 April 2016. He states that details were supplied by Brenna Brelie, Global Communications Coordinator (from 2003-2007) at Fallon ad agency, who produced the commercial.
- Biography on tv.com. Accessed 11 April 2016. This bio states "Mark's most memorable performance so far may have been as the actor and voiceover artist in the classic EDS Cat Herders Super Bowl commercial."
- Biography with photo. Accessed 11 April 2016
- IMDb entry on Tim Carroll. Accessed 11 April 2016
- Horse tamer, Jeremy Cluff. Accessed 11 April 2016
- IMDb entry on Kent Wakefield Smith. Accessed 11 April 2016
- Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi, The Time of my Life, (New York: Atria Books, 2009), p. 124, mentions a Gene McLaughlin who was a "world champion trick-roper" who also performed in rodeos.
- David Kelly, "The Life of a Cowboy is Knowing the Ropes", Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2001. Accessed 11 April 2016
- Inducted into Senior Rodeo Hall of Fame, 2003. Accessed 11 April 2016 2016
- "Rockin Chair Cowboy", tribute to Gene McLaughlin by Terry Brown. Accessed 11 April 2016
- Photo of Clif Stokes. Accessed 11 April 2016
- IMDb entry on Clif Stokes. Accessed 11 April 2016
- IMDb entry on David Jean Thomas. Accessed 11 April 2016
- Glory Ann Kurtz, Horse City website, "A starlight is a star bright", 30 October 2000[permanent dead link] Revised article states: "His company has also been responsible for some of the best commercials, including the one for Electronic Data Systems with cowboys herding cats that was first shown during last year's Super Bowl".
- IMDb entry on Brian Burrows. Accessed 11 April 2016
- Tejon Ranch website, Ranch page. Accessed 9 April 2016
- Knapp, J.J. and D.J. Knapp. 2010. Tejon Ranch Weed Management Strategy. Unpublished Report submitted to The Tejon Ranch Conservancy, Frazier Park, California. 62 pp. Page 5. Accessed 9 April 2016
- Friends in Film website, page write by an unidentified author who worked on the film. Accessed 15 April 2016
- Campaign website bio for Greg Hahn. Accessed 11 April 2016
- Duncan Macleod, "EDS Cat Herders Herding Cats", The Inspiration Room, May 26, 2005. Macleod supplies the agency and creative credits in this post. For his revised details on Bob Wendt, see Bob Wendt, Cat Herders Producer, July 31 2005. Accessed 10 April 2016
- Sound Design credit appears in Clio Awards: 42nd Annual Awards Competition (Gloucester, Mass: Rockport Publishers, 2002), p. 37.
- Emmy website. Accessed 7 April 2016