Impossibly beautiful and intense location

While the house in long gone (a wind storm literally knocked it down 2 days after shooting!), the actual commercial is being built right now. In less than a month it’ll be complete and I’ll post it right here. So far it’s looking very good. We got the rough cut approved. The CGI house in Paris (Mikros) is creating the tidal wave, deep-sea fish, etc.

Thank you for your patience. And for asking about it in the first place.

FYI: Next week’s post will be about FEAR and FEAR DRIVEN PEOPLE and how they can paralyze a creative department.


It’s a wrap!

March 6, 2008

While the gods of advertising showed us all manner of bewitching weather we got it done…and done well. I’ve seen the rushes and the live action is gorgeous. If our director Marc Wilkins is reading this: Nice job! Our actor is perfect. The locations breathtaking. And even the goldfish (they feature prominently in the film) deserve Oscars for their role in occupying a bowl with aplomb. Bravo all!

The critical technical shots were a mixed bag. Even with 40,000 tons of water being dumped we had trouble filling the set. And you should have seen the crew dragging the miniature into the crashing surf. But all told there will soon be a magnificent tidal wave coming to your TV set. The CG work is being done in Paris -tres bien- and we will have to wait for our wave like hungry Americans in a bistro.

The director will be in Chicago next week helping us edit. Very excited for that. I will let him create his masterpiece before ripping it to shreds. Kidding. Having him take first crack can only help us…and me. I told the director he need only garner a Silver Lion at Cannes for this film. So no pressure.

I look forward to coming home (though not to Chicago’s dubious spring) and returning to work. Thank you Monica Wilkins (our producer), Paranoid films, Cabot Stains and the lovely people of South Africa. If not for you this would have been merely a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.


Cape of Hope

March 4, 2008

Tomorrow we unleash 40,000 tons of water on our house and deck. The set is a replica of the deck we built over the ocean (see previous photo) but this one was built in a parking lot near the hotel. What makes this so exciting is that no one really knows what will happen. Testing this kind of event is impossible. If the set collapses on the first pass then that is all she wrote. Therefore the “water dump” must be filmed the very first time it happens. If we are able to go again we will. If not, I am sure we will have seen something dramatic. As will our cameras.

So far the shoot has gone well despite various weather events: unremitting fog, gale force winds, relentless sun -sometimes all in the same day. But that, as the local crew tells us, is South Africa.

Speaking of Cape Town, I should point out that all around us people are shooting print and TV advertisements. This place really is the new Hollywood. It even looks like LA, especially in the more elegant sections. Winding roads take one past pricey villas dotted with palm trees and tropical flowers. Throw in a little Palm Springs (arid, sandy, hilly) and finish off the look with bits of genuine Africa. We saw a baboon noshing on something-or-other just up the road from our first location.

On a less pleasant note one can’t help but be moved by the shanties flanking this city. Wooden and aluminum hovels, they go on for miles. With limited electricity and almost no running water, the conditions are undoubtedly brutal. The irony of building and destroying a gorgeous beach house is not lost on me.

The gods of advertising are not always in sync with the God of us all.

Just went to the location. Very gorgeous, though it was shrouded in fog, which is not the look we are looking for. Misty cliffs of Dover vs. Malibu sunshine? We will let the God’s of Advertising decide.

Currently, I’m listening to the producers (Euro and Paranoid) debate whether we finish the commercial in HD, standard def or some permutation. It’s almost impossible to make a winning decision. Neither avenue is completely right or completely wrong. No matter what we decide, somewhere somebody will see the spot on television cropped improperly. The only failsafe is finishing both ways, which costs a ton of money. Very frustrating. The more they explain my options (or lack thereof) the madder I get. And since I am now a “client” my approval is necessary in order to move forward.

Mostly, however, it is good to finally be the “client.” I am fussed over and fretted about. Cute girls bring me Diet Cokes. When I make inane comments about wardrobe (like I know fashion), people actually listen! I feel like the Godfather. A true God of Advertising.

So we are driving to view a TABLE and a selection of GOLDFISH BOWLS, which are key elements in our commercial. The TABLE and DECK and BOWLS have to be exactly right because –duh- we are making an advert for wood stain. Still, it seems silly to be driving en masse to a warehouse in order to spec a table. But that’s the trans-mundane part of production. Everything is scrutinized. If it will be visible in camera then it will be fussed over endlessly –like a client! The French call these crucial items mise-en-scene (sp?) meaning ‘what you put.’ (thank you film school) Much of production involves managing mise en scene. In advertising, God is truly in the details.

I’ve tried to upload a photo of our deck being built. The PDF is in the previous post. But Apple and WordPress are having a spat and the photos are caught in the middle. Do try and I will continue to post as well…

Day 3: I am reborn

February 27, 2008

I’ve been in Cape Town for 3 days and I’m finally getting my sea legs. The jet lag from Chicago (10 hours) is significant. No matter how fantastic a place is, if you’re zonked it’s going to seem bleak that first day. Such was the case for me: The hotel sucked. The service lax. Even the famous scenery was a let down. Having my bags lost made me feel like I was laid over in Baltimore. I was angry, lonely and most of all tired.

But today I awake refreshed and full of appreciation for this place, my job and the many new faces. I am less whiny. The glass is half full. Business-wise, we are through casting and numerous other details. Our pre-production meeting is set for the morning. I do not anticipate any real problems. Perhaps the client will prefer our second choice for actor but we will get our man in the end.

About midway through my career I’d lost appreciation for the production process. Not the importance of it mind you, but the joy of making small films had left me. I’d grown weary of all the meetings and approvals and subsequent waiting around. And while that’s still a big part of the process, I now feel gratitude being able to participate.

Meeting new people –most smart, focused & creative- is one of the great pleasures of our business, if not life itself. Having written the script that will soon become a big time TV commercial makes the whole thing even sweeter. Creating a tidal wave on film has reawakened the little boy in me. The potential for manufacturing this terrible beauty excites me like having (making?) a baby. I am glad to be here. I am glad to be alive.

I’d like to think this was the part of our job Paul Tilley liked most: writing, creating and producing. Maybe the politics of managing a creative department took him away for too far and too long. Like me, maybe he’d forgotten how fantastic our ad-world can be and, in turn, the world in general. Again, I don’t pretend to know what unraveled for Paul, or even if it had anything to do with his work at all. But I do know I’m rethinking my own cynicism. It’s not only boring it’s deadly. For I have the greatest job in the world. And each day is a living reminder.


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