It’s fall, and it’s a good time for reflection. So here is a good lesson in humility. Take heed.
Sometimes, I am lucky enough to be brought in a room with a bunch of other creative people and offer an idea to help sell their product. A while back I had a concept for a sexy shoe designer that I thought was particularly cool, if not sexy and cool. A winning combo. So I brought it in to an agency.
Here was the concept: a painter wakes up and seems to start painting a picture of his girl still lying in the bed. His brushstrokes wake the woman, and she begins to stretch and move in the bed, as if the brushstrokes are driving her. Soon the energy is frantic, and the paint on the canvas is now dripping on the woman in bed, as if the painter is magically painting her. The paint flows down her body onto her foot where it begins to form a shoe. The colorful shoe forms, she walks off, the shoe still “wet” from being painted leaves bright puddles of paint behind. The painting is revealed: he was never painting the woman, he was painting the shoe. Yes, the shoe, like the woman, is a work of art.
It’s a little Skinamax meets Twilight Zone, or Terry Richardson meets M.Night if you want to sound more smhat-like. Regardless, it was a simple, clean idea, that was visually beautiful, much like the dope shoes that Atwood designs. Lots of bright South Beach color against porcelain skin, sexy-euro undertones, and a wink at the end. All solid elements for eye-catching spot, or at least I thought. I brought it into the room and pitched the hell out of it (I was watching Mad Men at the time and was inspired to say the least, and yes I was wearing a hat) and the meeting went great. I actually got… applause. I thought, “oh, this went well.”
Then no one called. No one wrote. We called. We asked. Nothing was said. Someone was out-of-town, money was tied up, timing wasn’t right. After a month or so we stopped calling. I guess they didn’t like the idea that much, and didn’t think much of it, as these thing happen in the ad world. So be it.
Then, one day, in the back of the cab, I saw this:
Now… I believe in String Theory, so technically it is “possible” that someone else had the exact same idea as I had, usually though, it would be in a parallel universe and not my own. Nevertheless it stirred something inside of me. It was strange to see something you thought of done by someone else. The core concept was there, visually it looks fantastic, but I felt that the heart, the soul of it, and mainly the story, were gone. So I decided to remake my own commercial on my own dime:
I will be honest with you; it wasn’t out of hurt or some sense of revenge that made me want to remake the spot. It’s not like being dumped and then finding a supermodel to make love to, and posting it all over Facebook to show your ex that I was doing not just “fine”, but better, and the supermodel was rich and totally into me, and bi-sexual, very bi-sexual. It was something else, something that really comes out of the love of an idea, and hear lies the point:
If you work in an industry where it is your job to come up with ideas, you must resign that your ideas are not your own, and in so, people cannot steal them. They can hear them, and they can make their own versions of them, but your idea really doesn’t exist until you execute it. Until then, it’s just cosmic current moving creativity along, shared by everyone.
Some producers and account people at the office I worked at were not as zen as I was about this, and I suppose that is to be expected. I mean, we are a business providing a service, so it’s never nice to see your commodity taken from you. That however was not my concern, and honestly, I loved seeing how two people can take one concept and execute them totally differently. I immediately thought of Gus Van Sant remaking Psycho, or even better, my main man Haneke remaking his own film, Funny Games (seriously, go see Cache RIGHT NOW). Perspective like this is something that artists struggle with all the time since it is very hard to judge if you could have done something different, and if it would be better or worse. This was, in effect, a gift.
So what’s my take? Well, I don’t think one film is better then the other. I think that each film is totally different, with amazing qualities in different areas. For me, it really taught me how two different creative minds can birth a concept so obtusely, and how the same idea can be marketed to two very different segments. It’s not something they teach you in school, nor is it something you can easily learn out in the world, but when it does happen, it is a very sobering moment, at least on a creative tip.
In the end, I’m really happy the film I made because it came from a place where the best ideas should come from; the desire to make something exist. If necessity is the mother of all creation, it would stand reason that all the people who helped bring it to life did so for passion, not paycheck. We shot it at my office, on a 5D, with two friends. The painter, is a super talented editor Richard Mettler who isn’t even an actor. The model is the incomparable Natasha King who I’ve used in dozens of films. The DP is my business partner Mikko Timonen who’s work speaks for itself, and it was produced by Erin Judd who makes magic happen daily. Beyond that we had support from a few other friends who were just interested in helping out. Thats all it takes to make an idea come together. That and about $200.00 for some paint, canvas, and sheets you can throw out.
I would say everyone worked for free, but they didn’t; they worked for the idea they believed in which is always payment enough. Well, that and lunch; I am Italian after all, no one works hungry on my set.
In the end my only real regret is not to have been able to work with the agency that produced the real spot. I would have loved to collaborated with like minded artist and can only imagine what we would have come up with, together. The synthesis of creative combination. I will say it was sort of wonderful to anonymously write the Creative Director of their spot and ask him where they got such an wonderful idea. His response was poetry to the ears of the general consumer, and if nothing else, fortified my belief that you should never believe anything you see on TV.
P.S. If you’re wondering where I stole the concept from (as no ideas are ever original) I had done a similar effect for one of the first music videos I ever shot which, I say blushing, did the entire thing in my tiny East Village apartment on a greenscreen (this is how I taught myself After Effects). The idea came from Michelle Vergara who based the look on Maxi Priest’s “That Girl” by the genius Hype Williams. Again, a concept, some willing friends, and a few bottles of Tito’s and you too can have an award winning music video;)
If you wanna check it … the paint part is around 1m30s: