The Man Behind the Moves
Planells' experience and background has allowed him to serve as a basketball choreographer in the film and television industry. Coach Planells choreographed the basketball scenes and trained the actors on movies such as Coach Carter, The Longest Yard, Rebound and Spider-Man 3.
On the set for the WNBA’s “Eight Teams. One Dream.” ad shoot, Planells worked with each WNBA player individually. To start, he walked them through the somewhat complex choreography. Once a player had mastered the steps, the camera began rolling, and he guided the player through all eight moves. The commercial hinges on the players hitting each spot at the same time. Planells was there throughout the shoot, stopwatch in hand, ensuring that each player kept the correct timing.
WNBA.com: Can you give us a quick rundown of the promo?
PLANELLS: “Although we did shoots with players from all 14 teams, the actual spot will start with eight players for the eight playoff teams and as the commercial continues you see it go down to four and then down to two. And then at the end you’ll see the eight ladies again. The end will say ‘WNBA Playoffs: Eight Teams. One Dream.’ It’s a commercial you really haven’t seen in terms of modern sports and production.”
WNBA.com: Who came up with the idea?
PLANELLS: “It was the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners that came up with the idea. They just kind of go ahead and give me the blueprint and I talk with the director, who’s great. It’s good to work with guys who let you have some sort of freedom and suggest a couple things. The choreography isn’t really complex. It’s really just making sure the ladies hit their mark, make their spin move at the same time. The biggest difference is we didn’t have all 14 girls at the same time. They were there individually. What really mattered was the timing of every lady… when they did the spin move, how many dribbles, how many steps, things like that.”
WNBA.com: Since they are WNBA players and they know how to play basketball, how do you choreograph people that already know how to play?
PLANELLS: “When you work with pro athletes, the No. 1 thing is you want to make them feel comfortable. They’re used to a crowd watching them and playing basketball. The court is their comfort zone. When there’s a camera and a director and you’re asking them to do this and that it gets them out of their comfort zone. So I think one of the first things I was there for was to make them feel comfortable. The second part is for the director and me to talk and to see where exactly they want the player to hit their mark. If a player doesn’t hit her mark the first two times, she gets a little nervous and might not know what she's doing wrong. You are basically the buffer. You’re trying to make everybody feel good about themselves.
"You’re also part coach. I’ve coached basketball in the past and you’re trying to push it through to the next move. Since there are 14 ladies, one representing each WNBA team, we had to shoot every single spot. They had to go through spot A on the floor, through spot B, through spot C so that we know where to put them after the editing is done.”
WNBA.com: What was it like dealing with the WNBA players and have you dealt with any in the past?
PLANELLS: “I’ve never really worked with WNBA players. This was my most memorable experience in terms of production in general, simply because the ladies were fantastic. They came in with an open mind. They were laughing. They had a great time. They did everything I asked them to do, which is tough for a pro athlete to do especially when they don’t know you and they are in a different environment. It was a great experience on that end and it is my best memory in terms of dealing with people.”
WNBA.com: Were there any players that stood out to you and had a real presence?
PLANELLS: “One of them was Lindsay Whalen. Candice Dupree from Chicago. Helen Darling from San Antonio. She has a great smile and a great look to her. Those are some of the ladies, but they all came in and knocked it out of the park.”
WNBA.com: None of them were tough to get out of their shell or anything like that?
PLANELLS: “No. The first girl we had was Tangela Smith. You could tell in the beginning that she was a little worried, like ‘What am I going to do?’ And then she loosened up. Then you have someone like Lindsay who appears to be a serious, serious competitor, but she has this very funny, almost sarcastic demeanor to her which I found great. It wasn’t hard at all.”
WNBA.com: Did you see the NBA’s “There Can Only Be One” promos during last year’s playoffs? What did you think of those and do they relate at all to the WNBA promos?
PLANELLS: “It’s a totally different concept. I think what the WNBA does is it really brings the excitement of the playoffs with the remaining teams getting down to the championship. The NBA split screen one was great because you were able to mesh the two different athletes together and it kind of made them look funny all at the same time too.
WNBA.com: Are you a fan of the WNBA at all? Do you watch games? Do you have a favorite team or player?
PLANELLS: “I do. I’m from Los Angeles so I used to go to a lot of L.A. Sparks games when I wasn’t that busy. I’ve always loved Lisa Leslie and I’ve dealt with Michael Cooper in the past, although I don’t think he remembers me very well. I was excited that Candace Parker got there.
"And you know who I really like? I actually like Phoenix. I like Phoenix’s roster. Ten years ago I coached a girls’ AAU team in high school and we played against Diana Taurasi. And I know former coach Paul Westhead. I would say the Sparks and Phoenix are my two favorite teams.”
WNBA.com: I know you’ve touched upon your background a little but can you just go over your experience some more?
PLANELLS: “I’ve done TV shows like Slamball and Extreme Dodgeball. I’ve done movies like Coach Carter, The Longest Yard and I did some stuff in Spider-Man 3, although no one remembers the basketball scene. Last year I actually spent coaching professionally in Japan. And the last four years I’ve actually spent as a scout for Marty Blake. So I’m pretty much the most unstable basketball person you could ever imagine (laughs). I do some work in L.A. I’m in North Carolina now. I’m actually trying to see what the next move for (my family is). I’ve had a very well-rounded basketball career.
“I have been fortunate enough to do work for Don Casey (former Nets and Clippers head coach). He also was asked by USA Basketball to work with the U.S. select team when they were in Vegas with the Olympic team because he is known for his zone defense strategies and books. He is pretty much my mentor and a father figure to me and has helped me so much.”
WNBA.com: What are your favorite movie experiences? Who were your favorite people to work with?
PLANELLS: “I was hired to do Licensed to Wed with Robin Williams. The thing is there are no sports in that. There was a basketball scene that was written out of it. I had a chance to work for two hours with Robin Williams and he is probably the funniest person I’ve ever been around. I was hired to work him out for two hours for basketball and we worked out for seven minutes because everything is a joke. It’s absolutely fantastic. I also loved working with Samuel L. Jackson because he’s serious and he says, ‘What are we going to do with this? What are we going to do with that?’ And I worked with Tobey Maguire from Spider-Man. Did you see Spider-Man 3?
PLANELLS: “Do you remember the basketball scene?”
WNBA.com: Not really.
PLANELLS: “(Laughs) The basketball scene is when Harry comes home from the hospital. They are at the mansion and Tobey Maguire is dribbling the basketball down the stairs and then in the living room, and then that’s it. So when they called me and said they want you to do a basketball scene, they sent over the script and everything else and I called back up and said, ‘Where’s the basketball scene?’ They actually had me come down just to choreograph that and make sure it looked good. Tobey was pretty cool about it. He kind of gave me a look like, ‘Come on, are you serious?’ I was like, ‘Well, that’s what they hired me to do. Let’s make this the best basketball scene ever.’ "