Hitachi "Power Unleashed"Commercial / 2006 Composed / Edited
As we were wrapping up the dub to Superman Returns, I got a call from my agent that a production firm was wondering if I was available to edit and score a commercial. My mind was gearing up for martinis and colorful fish, not another Avid. But I still haven't learned the word, "no." So in a week's time I was visiting the set of a Hitachi commercial. As with cases like this, I just show up where I'm told, not even asking any questions about what the project is. Someday I'll drive up to some abandoned dock like Unis in What's Up Dock? But eventually I walked into a soundstage full of French people and met the production coordinator. I still wasn't sure who wanted me for the job, but I went with the flow. In the distance was the director, Jean Paul Goude. In the commercial and art world, Jean Paul is an internationally famous artist. But I had no idea who he was - and likewise, he had no clue about me. Although behind many famous ads, this was the first he was producing in the US. I get the impression he hadn't been to an American film since Lawrence of Arabia.
At first glance, Jean would seem to be a stereotype: A smaller framed, grey-haired 50-something with the facial structure of Warren-Beatty; he was wearing the dark sunglasses, a little white cap on his head with a matching sweater around his shoulders. Underneath was a little blue-striped "sailor-like" shirt with black parachute pants ending above his ankles, finished off by slipper-like black shoes. Refreshingly missing was the cigarette on a stem. I'm usually oblivious to this kind of stuff, but knowing I was walking into the even more bizarre world of advertising, I was sort of taking it all in with a smile. When introduced to me, Jean Paul's first words were (with no French accent), "You're nothing I'd expect," I wasn't sure how to take that, but I'm hoping it's because I seemed younger. That's always the hope, anyhow.
The spot was a simple concept: a leopard pulling along a beautiful girl whose dress is often obscuring him (representing that true details are often hidden by inferior plasma screen technology). He then breaks free from his leash ("unleashing" the true power of plasma as his colorful leash explodes), and jumps out of the screen. The challenge in the spot was to create the illusion of constant left to right motion using footage that was shot separately. (The girl and cat were never actually together). The other challenge was that a :60, :30, :27, :15 and :10 spot had to be created.
On the first full day of editing I had a rough :60 assembled. Then I heard that Jean Paul liked coming in and sitting with his editors - doing it together. Eeeek. This is always bad news for an editor - or composer for that matter. I had visions of esoteric comments, constant cell phone calls, ego trips, attention deficit, goodness knows. Jean Paul walked in. Dread. He wasn't there more than a few minutes when my cell phone rang:
"John, this is Mr. Tate."
"Mr. Tate, of Tate and Partners."
"Um, I'm not sure .... Tate and ..."
"Tate and Partners. We worked on the Skyy Blue Spots with you, and I just wanted to call and say we're happy to have you back."
This is why you gotta know what the heck is going on. I get a call from the head of the entire firm and I'm asking who he is. Ugh, he probably thought I was a jerk. I hadn't even considered there might be a connection between the people who hired me for this and the past spots I did (Skyy Blue). I barely knew who I was working for then.
Back to editing and now feeling like an idiot: As the hours went on sitting with Jean Paul, I came to realize that this guy was the real deal. If there were any stereotypes to be made, it would be those that were patterned after him. In other words, he's the original, not the imitator. During down time while I was making edits or rendering effects, Jean Paul would sit on the couch, take out a sketchpad and doodle. No cell phone calls, no entourage, no masseuse, no bull. He was always drawing. I then recognized from his sketches that the detailed storyboards for the ad were his own. He was also extremely specific and eloquent in his direction. Nothing arty-fartsy or vague, no panic attacks. Gentle, assertive, collaborative. He also was a fascinating man with an intriguing history - all of it driven by his passion for art and expression, period. He also enjoyed sharing his life experiences in a genuine way. His marriage to and history with Grace Jones was an intriguing chapter, for instance. After a couple long days with him in a room, Tina (my terrific assistant editor) and I became admirers, and I even went out to buy his book to sign for me. This is why I always say that every job has surprises and, at the very least, experiences you won't forget.
As for the music, there was so little time to prepare for the project that I temped with a piece from the French band, The Gotan Project. I wish I had had the time to write something of my own for the guide track. But I just needed a catchy rhythm to start editing, and that piece from the Gotan Project just keeps coming back. Temp love is as much a part of the commercial world as in film, so when coming up with the original music for the spot, it all had the tango approach of Gotan. But then I felt a little more traditional/sophisticated flair spiced in would add what the spot needed. So after all parties (many) agreed to the music, it was put to bed.
Mr. Tate, if you ever call me again, I'll put two and two together, I promise.