If you tuned in to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Thanksgiving Day NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, NBC’s latest commercial promoting the Paris 2024 Olympic Games may have caught your attention. Rapper Megan Thee Stallion stars in the commercial alongside six U.S. Dressage athletes and their horses performing piaffe, passage, and canter pirouettes in front of a (green-screened) Palace of Versailles. The shoot for the riding sequence took place at Olympian and U.S. Dressage athlete Ashley Holzer’s farm in Wellington, Fla., a few weeks before the commercial aired. US Equestrian spoke with Holzer about being part of the commercial shoot and an exciting mainstream moment for equestrian sport.
Setting the Stage
When NBC reached out to US Equestrian about helping make their latest Paris 2024 Olympic Games commercial come to life, Holzer generously offered her facility for the shoot. NBC crews were on site at her farm for three days, from set-up to tear-down.
“They actually did it very, very quickly. They came in with the green screen the night before, then they shot the next day,” said Holzer. “If my memory serves me correctly, they had most of it down that afternoon, then just some small stuff that had to be picked up the next day. They were in and out.”
Despite having a crew of 60 people on site, Holzer said she wasn’t stressed by the shoot taking place at her farm.
“There were so many people there,” said Holzer. “They are incredible and very well organized. They were so polite. They were in and out so quickly and very helpful. It was a great staff. They literally did not leave a speck of dirt when they left. If you missed it, you wouldn’t have even known that they were there.”
NBC’s crew set up cameras, lights, and a 70’-by-20’ green screen in Holzer’s covered arena. They also took care of feeding everyone on site that day.
The NBC commercial wasn’t Holzer’s first time being involved with a commercial, and her children, Emma and Harrison, have acted in movies.
“I have been to sets because of my kids, so I know how it is run normally, and this was very impressive,” Holzer said of the NBC commercial shoot.
Lights, Camera, Action!
On the day of the video shoot, one of Holzer’s working students brought in a horse to prep the lighting before the athletes and horses entered the arena. Holzer noted that the lights are surprisingly hot when you are in the spotlight.
Holzer rode Valentine, and they were joined by Katherine Bateson-Chandler with Grand Charmeur, Anna Buffini with Beach Boy, Susie Dutta with Don Design DC, Laura Graves with SenSation FOD, and Kasey Perry-Glass with Heartbeat W.P. The athletes wore their Charles Ancona shadbelly team coats as well as helmets spray-painted gold. Their mounts wore gold-colored ear bonnets, bridles, boots, and bell boots, as well as flashy gold saddle pads. US Equestrian worked with Charles Owen and SmartPak, who quickly provided the equipment to be spray-painted ahead of the shoot.
Holzer said the shoot took about three hours with the crew filming combinations individually as well as the six combinations together as a group.
“They took us all separately and asked us to do certain things separately in different directions. Then, they asked us to all get together and do some stuff together,” said Holzer. “Some of the horses were a little bit better behaved than the other horses, but there were a lot of lights, a lot of music, a lot of stimuli.”
Holzer said the combinations were able to do some familiarization in front of the green screen, but it was a new experience for the athletes and the horses that required patience.
“In general, it was a great shoot,” said Holzer. “The people who organized it were top-notch. They really knew what they were doing, and the director [Ryan Sage] was amazing. He was patient with us when we were like, ‘Yeah, no, we can’t get the horse to do that there. Can we do it over here?’ He was very good about it.”
The Finished Product
Holzer said she was thrilled to see the commercial air on NBC, noting that the best moments were weaved together for the finished product. While Megan Thee Stallion appears to be dancing with the combinations in the commercial, her portions were filmed at a separate location.
“It was an amazing editing job,” said Holzer. “They are obviously very skilled at what they do.”
It was a memorable experience for Holzer and her fellow athletes getting to take part in something creative with their peers.
“What was the most fun about it was we had such a great time as a group of riders doing it together,” said Holzer. “It is just fun to do something different and not be at a horse show competing. It was fun to go in and have fun with our horses and work all together.”
Holzer noted that it was a significant moment for equestrian sport, specifically dressage, in the spotlight.
“I think it was so great for our sport to actually be called on to do this commercial,” said Holzer. “I’m so grateful to NBC for including us and to the staff there who were so understanding of the horses. It was a really fun day of shooting. NBC’s crew made it a really great experience.”