January 22, 2014 | Volume 101 / Number 4

The Cameraman And Weatherman In iPad Commercial

One image started it all. Local photographer Sean Heavey paired up with Mike Fransen, a local meteorologist, and they went out to chase a storm in July 2010. That storm ended up opening a world of opportunity for Heavey.

Bonnie Davidson / The Courier
Mike Fransen, left, and Sean Heavey look at an iPad to see what the radar shows them. The two played a role in an Apple commercial shot in Montana that focuses on iPads. Heavey and Fransen use an app on their iPad to track storms.

Heavey met Fransen and his wife, Tanja, at a car show where he was selling his pictures. That friendship is what started Heavey's weather watching. It was three years of talking about chasing a storm before the big storm in 2010 arrived. That day Mike saw the storm on the radar coming in from Canada and he picked up the phone to call Heavey. The two went off to chase a storm and collect an image that became internationally known.

From that fateful day Heavey's image, titled "The Mothership," brought several opportunities. The large photo is actually four panoramic images stitched together. One of the most recent opportunities from that image was to be part of an Apple commercial that focused on the use of an iPad. As the famous image collected here in Montana made its rounds in "National Geographic," "USA Today" and "Le Monde," a major French publication, it helped Heavey continue sharing and selling his passion, photography.

"The photo went viral and has even been stolen a few times and sold as someone else's," Heavey said. "It's now one of the most recognized storm images out there."

Heavey ended up going through a media company out of London to build on his photos and his image. The company wanted to do a story on his storm chasing and Heavey had explained to the company how he used his iPad to track storms on a radar app. They wrote the article about his use of the iPad, which may have been what lead to the Apple commercial.

"Apple called this summer and interviewed me but I didn't know exactly what it was about," Heavey said.

Nothing immediately happened after the call, but a few months later they called him if he was interested in taking a job. They were still fairly vague on the job, but Heavey said he decided to take that opportunity, not knowing where it was going to lead.

Just as Heavey was taken on a ride to chase storms, he called Mike and asked him to join in on the next big opportunity. Unfortunately that day, Mike was busy. Heavey had called several times trying to reach him right away, but he was in the middle of some training for his day job. Eventually Heavey got a hold of him and asked him to be a part of what they were going to do.

The commercial was filmed in Montana. They were the first stop of many stops that stitched together a 90 second commercial. In the first release of the commercial you don't really see much of either Mike or Heavey, a hand on an iPad, a person running in front of a truck to track a storm. It was an intense few days of filming for only about 10 seconds on the commercial.

"We didn't know when the commercial would be released," Mike said. "We thought maybe Thanksgiving but that passed and so we thought maybe around New Year's."

The commercial played during the Broncos game on Sunday, Jan. 12. Later they saw the commercial on during the Golden Globes and during American Idol. Heavey said he even saw a condensed version as well. While they only hold a small part in the commercials, Heavey suspects that it's just the beginning of a series of things to come and that perhaps they might play a bigger part in the future. Either way both Mike and Heavey felt like it was a positive experience.

"It was a big learning experience, I've never been around filming, I got the call from Sean on Wednesday and we were filming by Sunday," Mike said. "Like Sean I went for the opportunity because I may never have that experience again, especially from a notable tech company."

Their short experience in a film would allow them to join SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and be part of the union for actors. That thought seemed pretty foreign and almost comical to the humble pair. Tanja joked about how sometimes she worked as the public relations for the pair, who never seemed to toot their own horn when they achieve something great.

The two said that they never foresaw the opportunity coming but they were glad to be a part of it. Tanja added that Heavey's photo that started his notoriety didn't just open doors for him but it also helped open some avenues on people in the eastern part of the state. Mike said that they weren't really storm chasers, that it was more of a hobby.

The use of the iPad was the focus of the commercial and how small uses of technology can help take on a big task. Heavey said that his use of the iPad is what brought this opportunity to them, but he's always a photographer first.

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