Water World

A behind-the-scenes tour of TV's wettest commercial.

BY now you may have seen the TV commercial for Pacific Life Insurance, in which Tommy Haas and Mark Philippoussis (pix, right) slug it out on an aqua-blue court. Haas dives for a shot and is engulfed by a gigantic splash. Play resumes underwater, where balls surge with trails of bubbles.

How'd they do it?

The 30-second commercial was produced by Kovel/Fuller, a Culver City, California agency. Most of the scenes were shot underwater without any effects "The more you can shoot real, then the eye doesn't know when you're faking it," says executive producer Eric Harnett.

Haas and Philippoussis made like aquamen in a Los Angeles-area pool for up to 45 minutes at a time during the five-hour shoot. "Our eyes were pure red," Haas says. "No Visine helped at all." The guys strapped 35 pounds of weight to their bodies to keep from floating while divers fed them oxygen periodically.

"They're telling you to breathe out like you're hitting a regular shot," Haas says, "and make sure that your teeth are closed so that you don't get a mouthful of water."

Haas jokes about how Philippoussis initially used the breathing apparatus incorrectly and took in a noseful of bubbles. Panicked, he quickly swam 6 feet to the surface to catch his breath.

Not all of the action was wet and wild. Haas and Philippoussis spent another day filming in a Venice Beach, California, studio. "In a wide underwater shot with both players and the net, the camera can't get a sharp image of the guy in the far court," Harnett says. For the studio shots, the players wore extra-large clothes that were blown by wind machines. "So when you splice the studio footage with the underwater footage, the clothes move the way they would underwater," Harnett says.

The commercial, which debuted on ESPN for its Australian Open coverage, will continue to run this year on various programmes, including the USA Network's broadcast of the U.S. Open.

Steve Borelli