I recently came across this lovely idea. It’s a forum for directors (and creatives, i think) to talk about their very first shoot.
My old partner turned Hollywood director Justin Reardon was profiled in it recently.
I love ideas like this. I love stealing from the hard-won wisdom of others. And I really don’t care what the topic is.
One of my all time favorite things to listen to is a podcast with songwriter Stephen Sondheim talking about crafting Broadway musicals. He is just such a natural at it, yet he struggles so much. Being a protege of Oscar Hammerstein really paid off. And meeting Hal Prince was a real meeting of equals, wasn’t it? Their collaborations, coupled with Hal’s directorial vision and gift for epic musical theater, are surely his finest hours.
Sounds like I know a lot about Broadway musicals, doesn’t it? I don’t. I’ve just completely ingested and absorbed everything he said. I find the experiences of others so fascinating.
So, without being invited to contribute, I thought I would give an account of my first shoot.
My first shoot was about as big as a first shoot could be.
It was a two-spot package for Bud Light in the mid 90s. This was back when the Bud Light brand was galloping away from its competitors and the advertising was clearly fueling this growth. Consequently the brewery was pumping lots of money into the production of TV ads. This was the Seinfeld era. The truly golden age of TV advertising. Internet? Never heard of it. If a spot came in under half a million bucks, it was considered a frugal shoot.
I was aiming for a big hit spot with this one and I got it. I had come the USA in 1990 and I knew from TV that Americans love slapstick. So I came up with an epic slapstick spot. A guy chasing after his departing girlfriend runs onto a steam train platform and tries to woo her back. He communicates with her via hastily scribbled notes that he holds up to the train window as the train pulls out of the station and then smacks into a pole. The spot was rather imaginatively titled “POLE!”.
It was directed by a Canadian director named Steve Chase who was then in favor at the brewery for his comedic flair. I told Steve that my vision for this was the Road Runner meets Dr. Zhivago.
Steve had a great idea. Film it at night. When steam trains look their most dramatic.
No expense was spared. We rented out the Sacramento rail museum for two nights. We even had these amazing movie lights that bathed the whole scene in moonlight from miles away. They were huge.
I learned on this shoot that you have to stick to your guns. A couple of times Steve tried to strong arm me into things I didn’t feel were right. And I wouldn’t budge. Looking back, that was pretty ballsy. But I instinctively understood story and nuance. And, hey, it was my f**king idea and I was willing to go down in flames for it. That was a good instinct too.
The spot was voted best beer spot of the year by Ad Age magazine. But more importantly it debuted to thunderous applause at the Anheuser-Busch distributor convention before it went on TV. Everybody loved this aggressively stupid spot.
I remember being in a sports bar full of NCAA basketball fans and seeing everyone in the bar actually applaud the spot. They spontaneously clapped for a commercial! My commercial. If it could have gone viral, it would have.
This was like smoking crack for me. I wanted this feeling again!