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L.A. is a key destination for shooting Super Bowl ads

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The project took five months of planning, 11 days to film and a specially rigged SUV to conceal six puppeteers.

A crew of 100 people shot some scenes in Malibu, Pico Canyon, Stevenson Ranch, Playa del Rey and Universal City.

This wasn't for a movie or television episode, but a Muppet commercial for Toyota that will air during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

The 60-second "Joyride" advertisement — created by Saatchi & Saatchi LA for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. of Torrance — promotes the launch of the 2014 Toyota Highlander and the upcoming Disney movie "Muppets Most Wanted."

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"We shot the whole thing in L.A.," said Jack Hollis, marketing vice president at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. "It's a huge, huge undertaking. When you are in the Super Bowl, you have to deliver more than a car ad — it has to be entertaining and tell a story."

As the Super Bowl grows in value, big flashy commercials — even ones with Muppets — have become more prevalent, a trend that has benefited Los Angeles, where most of the commercials are filmed. This year there will be 55 commercials in the big game.

Spending on the ad time by advertisers has increased more than 70% in the last 10 years, rising to a current average of $4 million for each 30-second spot. Some companies spend an additional $2 million on production costs, which can hike the total cost of a 60-second Super Bowl ad to nearly $10 million.

The increase reflects the unique and growing value of the Super Bowl to advertisers. More than 110 million people in the U.S. watched last year's football championship, with at least half of those people tuning in to see the commercials as much as for the action on the field.

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"It's incredibly important to have these types of brand-name commercials here," said Matt Miller, president of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers, which has 223 members in the Los Angeles region. "It's not only employing a great deal of people, it drops a lot of money in the ecosystem. It also lends the scenery of Los Angeles to the biggest stage that media has today."

In addition to the year-round sunny weather, several factors make L.A. a key destination for shooting Super Bowl ads, including the proximity to the Hollywood pool of directors, actors, visual-effect shops and Web producers who can expand campaigns to social media.

The rise in advertising spending has been largely driven by the resurgence of the auto industry after the Great Recession. For last year's Super Bowl alone, auto companies spent $92 million for less than 12 minutes of airtime to pitch nine car brands, according to Kantar Media.

This year's numbers are expected to match or exceed that figure, with ads from major U.S. carmakers as well as VW, Audi, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota. The latter three each have their U.S. sales operations in Southern California, whose auto industry has helped to build the West Coast counterpart to Madison Ave.

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The Super Bowl ads have been a bonanza for L.A.'s postproduction houses, ad agencies, producers, directors, animation companies and visual-effects shops, which are increasingly used to enhance commercials.

For example, German carmaker Audi's locally shot Super Bowl ad features a digital mash-up of Doberman pinscher and Chihuahua called "Doberhuahua," which terrorizes a neighborhood.

Super Bowl ads, most of which are filmed in the fourth quarter, contributed to a record level of commercial production in Los Angeles County last year.

Although L.A.'s commercial sector has lost business to rival states and countries in recent years, location filming for commercials was up 18% in 2013 compared with the category's five-year average, according to a recent report by FilmL.A. Inc.

The report cited rapid growth in Web-based ads and the fact that more producers are filming on location rather than on soundstages to save money. The Super Bowl is traditionally a big driver of commercial production in the fourth quarter.

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"Super Bowl commercials are produced by only the best commercial production companies, and when they chose to invest in Los Angeles and California, that says a lot about the attractiveness of this region to those productions and also promises big economic benefits to the communities that host filming," FilmL.A. spokesman Phil Sokoloski said. "Certainly, during the end of the year and the early part of the next, we can count on there being a big benefit of Super Bowl ads."

Anheuser-Busch, traditionally the largest advertiser in the Super Bowl, this year has five spots, including its high-profile Clydesdale Budweiser commercial, which filmed for three days at ranches in Thousand Oaks.

Director Jake Scott, son of famed director Ridley Scott, filmed 60 scenes for "Puppy Love," which required 17 Clydesdale horses and eight 10-week-old puppies. Trainers spent three months working with the horses so they would be comfortable rubbing noses with the puppies.

"This is something that is so big, it's great to be a part of it," said Don Jeanes, the actor who reprises his role from last year as the Clydesdale horse trainer. "And even though it's not a long-term job, it certainly helps get other projects and it legitimizes your career to be on such a big stage."

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South Korean automaker Hyundai, whose U.S. operations are in Orange County, filmed two 30-second Super Bowl spots in L.A., including one in the lush residential neighborhoods of Pasadena, to promote the 2015 Hyundai Genesis.

For the father-and-son story, Innocean USA of Huntington Beach employed Hollywood "aging" techniques to show the father in various stages of his life. Hundreds of children auditioned for four roles depicting the son at various ages, and the San Fernando Valley's Lake Balboa doubled as a fishing spot in the Ozarks.

Hyundai's other spot, for the 2014 Elantra, was filmed in the gritty Arts District east of downtown L.A. and starred Johnny Galecki from "The Big Bang Theory."

To promote its new Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups candy, Nestle USA of Glendale took out its first Super Bowl ad. Called "Relationship Rehab," it was shot entirely in L.A. The commercial, about a couple named Peanut Butter and Chocolate, took months of preparation.

"It's the biggest advertising event of the year," said Tom Lehr, chief executive of Dailey, the West Hollywood agency that created the ad, its first Super Bowl project in more than a decade. "It's critical for marketers because they have made a big bet just by being in the Super Bowl. Yes, there's pressure, but it's also a great opportunity."

meg.james@latimes.com

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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