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 Terry Richardson meets M.Night Shyamalan. It was a simple, clean idea, that was visually beautiful, much like the 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. I’ve heard of this happening in advertising, but as I was young, it never happened to me before. I was gutted, it feels horrible when your creativity is stolen from you.

It bothered me to no end, and I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t concentrate on other projects, other pitches. I just kept thinking “what’s stopping someone else from just stealing the idea?” … there is no repercussion when this happens, and it completely destroyed my faith in not just the industry I dedicated my life to, but humanity as a whole. 

My friends and creative partners saw this funk, and new how bad it feels having it happen to them too. Fortunately, I have amazing friends, so with nothing but donated time and skill, we made the original concept on our own dime:

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. I suppose. 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.

In the end I honestly 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 which do I like better? Well, mine. Not for any other reason then I see a bunch of people in it that gave a shit about creativity, and not making money. I don’t know what Brian Atwood spent on their commercial, but I guarantee it was more then the lunch I bought everyone and about 20 bucks worth of paint at the hardware store. 

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 commercial 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 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. That’s all it takes to make an idea come together. 

Obviously 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 original 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;). I guess stealing (or borrowing exactly) is just part of the creative game.  

If you wanna check it … the paint part is around 1m30s: