Webster graduates work behind-the-scenes on Super Bowl commercials


With tears choking his voice, a man describes how he found his daughter on the bathroom floor. She had just overdosed on painkillers.

This is the scene set by “Safe,” one of the two drug awareness commercials that played during the 2017 Super Bowl in St. Louis.

Webster University graduate Sean Funcik was on the other side of the camera lens as the director of photography on the project.

Funcik collaborated with a number of St. Louis professionals to produce “Safe” and “Smart Phone.” Both commercials focus on the dangers of prescription medicine and the importance of keeping them out of the hands of children and susceptible teenagers.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA) is a health agency that works to reduce or prevent the harms of drugs and alcohol through education, intervention and advocacy. The organization produced the two commercials for this year’s Super Bowl. Both commercials intended to increase awareness about teenage overdose caused by prescription medications.

Brian Verbarg assists in shooting a scene from "Safe." CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Brian Verbarg assists in shooting a scene from “Safe.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was a strong supporter of the projects this year and provided most of the funding.

“The DEA and their DEA 360 Strategy purchased the television time this year, enabling us to air these ads during the Super Bowl,” Howard Weissman, executive director of the NCADA, said.

Weissman said the creative team had been assembled by Mark Schupp after he agreed to work on a PSA in 2014. Three years later, Schupp continues to work on each year’s PSA, including one for 2018 currently in discussion.

“The first thing Mark did was find the best director. He turned to Scott Ferguson, an established and highly successful commercial director located here in St. Louis,” Weissman said.

Funcik said he met and worked with Ferguson after graduating. Ferguson had directed commercials for the NCADA for previous Super Bowls and returned to film two more commercials this year.

“The entire creative team believed in the power and purpose of these ads,” Weissman said.

Ferguson recruited Funcik to work on the project and asked Funcik for recommended set assistants.

“I was actually told about the commercials by Sean,” Webster Graduate Brian Verbarg said.

Verbarg freelances as a Photography Assistant. He also has experience in film and television. He finds most of his work by word of mouth through an ever expanding network of filmmakers from St. Louis and in the surrounding areas.

“Because it’s such a small market here, everyone knows one another whether they’ve worked together or not,” Funcik said. “I actually helped Brian find his interview with Greg Rannells Photography.”

The commercials took three days to shoot. Verbarg said the crew worked about ten hours each day.

“We spent one day on the one with the guy and the guns, and two on the woman and the smart phone,” Verbarg said.

The NCADA first entered the scene  with “That’s How,” a 2015 Super Bowl commercial which told the story of a teenage son hiding his heroin use from his mother.

The NCADA’s goal to not only reduce drug abuse but to prevent it adds a sobering weight to their productions.

“Making something that’s beautiful and has a good message, that’s why I do what I do,” Funcik said.

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