"I'm going to direct commercials!"
Strange as it seems, that is the trend of late. Big name, hot auteurs from Hollywood are turning their lenses on the commercial world, ready to conquer the small screen and sometimes the smaller screen, otherwise known as the computer monitor.
To wit, BMW commissioned a host of celeb directors -- including Ritchie -- to make a series of films that tangentially involve its cars (see "The Brand," issue of July 12-18). The spots, running about six minutes or so each, can't technically be called commercials, but as far as I'm concerned, the proof is in the pudding. He who pays for it dictates what it is.
The series can't be seen in theaters (although you'd think they would have worked them into pre-movie trailers somehow) and they can't be seen on television either. They're only available online. Perhaps this is BMW's way to convince us the short films aren't really expensive, glorified commercials.
Other companies have no problem admitting they're wooing Hollywood directors to their marketing staffs. Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone each have taken a shot at ads for France Telecom's Orange mobile phone unit.
Ridley's own son, Jake Scott (Plunkett & Macleane), has done spots for British Telecom. Legends Ang Lee and John Frankenheimer joined Ritchie in the BMW project.
It used to be that directors would cut their teeth on commercial fare. Adrian Lynne, David Fincher, Alan Parker and Ridley Scott all started in commercials. (Maybe that's why Oscar snubbed Scott this year. They didn't like his background!)
Now established directors are doing it for the paycheck or to fight boredom. Ben Younger (Boiler Room) told The Wall Street Journal he takes on commercials to hone his skills.
"I have to stay sharp in between movies," he said.
Even after Spike Lee hit the big-time in the feature film world, he still was whoring himself out for Nike on the side. Is the money that good?
Reports say Madison Avenue is willing to pay big-time directors $10,000 to $30,000 per day for their services. For that much, you'd think they would also have to pull a retail shift or two. But directors say it isn't always about the money. Ironically, they're given more creative freedom doing commercial advertising than doing a run-of-the-mill studio flick.
But does it blur the line between film as an art and film as a business?
Depends on which filmmakers, probably. Look at Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon). He's been selling out for years. His doing a Coke ad isn't that different from his doing a war picture. They're both all about the benjamins, the bucks, the bottom-line.
But Lee? Fincher? Ritchie?
You'd like to think these cats are above all that. They make their movies the way they want. To see their names on ads just doesn't jive well with the whole indie-king title. What could they prove in a 30-second spot that they can't prove in a feature film?
The flip side to this argument is the effect it has on would-be directors. Those friends of mine, toiling in L.A., waiting for their one big chance to direct an Oreo commercial, are getting shut out. The whole arrangement hardly allows any new blood to break in. It's like the secret fraternity of the Director's Guild of America voted to suspend new memberships.
My problem with this is the effect it has on me, the viewer. (I'm selfish that way.) How am I supposed to experience a new vision if all I get is Michael Bay everywhere? There's Michael Bay's take on Pearl Harbor. There's Michael Bay's take on Miller Lite. Whether I go out or stay in, I've been Michael Bay-ed to death.
Give me a little variety in my commercial life, please. I'll go to see those big-name guys do their thing at the theaters.
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