Never mind the 40-yard dash or the Wonderlic intelligence test.

USC football stars Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, LenDale White prepped for the upcoming NFL draft by strutting down a runway in fake fur coats, "Matrix"-style get-ups, top hats and canes.

The trio along with Memphis University standout DeAngelo Williams worked out on a catwalk complete with klieg lights and machine-made smoke in a Burbank studio. The mock fashion show was staged by L.A.-based MRB Productions Inc., to be used as an intro and closing segment on ESPN's draft day coverage on April 29 and 30.

"This is by far the most ambitious shoot we've done," said Josh Hoffman, an ESPN producer working on the NFL Draft shoot.

The spots are the latest efforts by MRB to make its mark and earn the attention of advertising agencies. The firm is best known for sports-themed shorts, including a promo featuring the NFL's Terrell Owens and "Desperate Housewives" star Nicolette Sheridan. The steamy locker room spot aired prior to a Monday night football game in 2004 and got plenty of attention, not all positive. Walt Disney Co.'s ABC issued an apology in the wake of intense criticism.

"Most people who watch TV know our work, but don't know who we are," said Matthew Brady, MRB's chief executive and president. "We're trying to change that, and we're a diversified company with a lot under our belt."

Brady launched the company in 2001, and MRB produces about 75 projects each year, including promotional spots, commercials, shorts and series. In addition to producing the openings for the "Monday Night Football" and this year's BCS National Championship football game for ABC Sports, the firm provided the opening sequence for ABC's Super Bowl XL. It also did promos for ESPN's "X Games" and did an award-winning segment for the network's awards show, the ESPYs. MRB director Mark Teitelman was nominated for two Emmys last week, one for his Monday Night Football work.

"Matt really grew up with us," said Maura Mandt, the executive producer of ESPN's awards show. "We don't have a lot of money to spend, or big budgets like other awards shows, but we can't compromise quality. Matt can bring it in; he makes it possible for us to do a lot that we wouldn't be able to otherwise."

Lower costs
Brady got his start working as a production assistant while still in college. He was hired to work on the ESPY Awards show in 1998, and was brought back for subsequent productions, starting as a line producer on the 1999 awards show.

Brady a Spanish major in college said he ended up starting his own production company somewhat earlier than he imagined, simply for convenience.

"When I started to produce for networks, the crew would invoice the networks directly, but they are so big it took forever to get things paid," he said. "I would have production assistants calling and asking for their $100 check three months after we wrapped, so I started paying people myself so they wouldn't have to wait, then just submitting the bills to the network."

Typically, a company or network will want to hire a specific director, and the production company, like MRB, comes attached, as part of a package deal. Over the past five years, Brady has assembled a stable of directorial talent, including Rico Labbe, Mark "T Man" Teitelman, Michael Wang, Branson Veal, Brian O'Connell, Gary Califano, and Jeremy Haft.

It was while working for ESPN that he hooked up with Teitelman and Labbe, a former defensive back who played with the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers in the early 1990s. They have become the anchors of his company's director roster.

"We all just want to be working, doing what we love all the time, and Matt makes that happen," Labbe said. "I am a creative person, not a details person, and he really knows how to get it all done the whole support system so we don't have to worry about the little things."

MRB submits bids for each production, and to do that, Brady has to know the cost of everything: renting the location, the lights, paying the crew and talent.

The directors take their fees out of the lump sum paid for the entire project, making it crucial for Brady to have heavy hitters on his roster to attract work, while still keeping costs down.

Brady estimated that on average, Hollywood directors make about $25,000 a day for a promo shoot, but some big-name directors command as much as $40,000 a day for large campaigns, an impossibly high sum for many of MRB's clients.

By contrast, the overall cost of many of MRB's promotional spots fall in the $50,000 to $150,000 range, Brady said, depending on where it's shot and how long the project runs.

Many of the stars volunteer their time for the promos, since the end result is positive publicity for their show, movie or upcoming project.

Brady is putting money into building the company's demo reels so he can attract attention from ad agencies. MRB has representatives in the Midwest and on the East and West Coasts to promote the company's work to the firms, which select directors to present to their clients.

Brady is hoping that his directors' reels and his reputation for being able to do more with less, as well as get things done quickly, will bring even more big-leaguers to MRB's door.

"It's harder to do bigger things on a shoestring budget, but you have to try. That's why I'm not driving a new BMW, I take the money I make and put it back in here," Brady said. "I love what we're doing. I just want to do more of it."

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