Early on, Nike is still an emerging company taking risks. They are getting involved in international soccer (Football) and Warren Eakins comes up with a terrific idea of posters coming to life across the world, with various soccer players passing (kicking) the ball and trying to score. The cities are Paris, London, Berlin, Milan, New York, and Rio. The players are the world’s best and include Romario and Bebeto, the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of soccer. I had no idea at the time. I also had no idea how to make the commercial convincing. This was pre-digital.
Filming the various athletes proved to be tricky.
We first shot in Barcelona, where several of the players lived and played (at that time). Jorge Campos was one that was also to meet us there. No show.
We went to London to film Ian Wright and Cantona and Campos. Campos, no show.
I set up the greenscreen for Wright to do a bicycle kick, a difficult move but one we need for that ‘special moment.’ We speak directly and he does one perfectly. His agent/handler rushes up to me screaming:
That’s a dangerous maneuver! I won’t allow it!
You have to see an angry Brit. They are comical in their demeanor. It’s almost acting. They can quickly change character as well, going from anger to propriety in less than an instant.
I tell him that the kick was perfect and we’re finished.
Cantona was a pain in the ass as well, doing a less than iconic move but we got what we needed.
Campos finally agrees to meet us in Mexico City where we were to film him at his team’s training facility. We wait…and wait (we don’t have a spot without him). He shows up with his entourage, but there’s a commotion there. We wait on our side of the field while they stare towards us from theirs. Finally a representative from their side comes over toward our side. It reminds me of a scene in the Western FORT APACHE where the Custer based character played by Henry Fonda meets the Sitting Bull character with their forces facing each other.
Through an interpreter:
Campos wants to know who the director has worked with before he does this. (Are you fucking serious? All he has to do is block a goal. Ten minutes max.)
I begin my resume with Michael Jordan through Madonna, and when I get to Michael Jackson, the go-between and Campos agree to do it. The one hitch is that Campos can’t do much as he is hurting. I turn the camera sideways and make it look like he’s jumping laterally. Done.
Back in the USA, we begin to edit. Although Rob Watske did the editing, my editor, Adam Liebowitz, supervised all the post work, color correction, and compositing.
We had gone to every post house to make the posters convincing but couldn’t find any that could do much more than put the actual photography into them. The work needed an artist’s touch, not just a compositor. Adam discovered an artist in an unlikely place. The only problem is that she could only work on a Paint Box, which was archaic and primitive. The work had to be done frame by frame, rather than using a FLAME, which was a much more sophisticated tool.
Adam sat there, day after day (with Warren), ensuring that the work didn’t take a bad turn, since it was so tedious.
I also thought that the spot needed another special moment. The ball was crossing the Atlantic and instead of just shooting a shot of the ocean, I shot (stole) a helicopter shot over the Irish sea on a GE shoot. A tiny contribution from one exploitive company to another.
This is a cheap shot at these companies. I benefitted greatly by working with them and ignored their abuses in their various business sectors because of the exhilaration of doing wonderful work with great profit, more from GE than the cheapskate Nike. I should have known better but I didn’t and I wonder what the alternative could have been. I had started filmmaking in the documentary form and the first film I was involved with was a documentary about the decline of the steel industry and its effect on my hometown community of Braddock, Pennsylvania. I then went on to films about migrant worker abuse, air pollution, foster care, music, motorcycle racing, some important, some fun. I tried to carry a sense of truth to commercials, and used the documentary form by recreating an actual wedding with the original bride and groom and wedding party, real people doing real things.
The first GE commercial I shot was a spot that toured the various GE plants in the now infamous Rust Belt. I saw incidents of racism and worker/supervisor conflict but dismissed them as necessary aberrations of the time. I applied a stylized documentary form that ignored those issues (of course).
Nike was a different matter. I admired Phil Knight’s fighting the establishment as a little guy and his courage in hating conventional advertising (as did the legend Hal Riney). The agency, as well, was full of wonderful creative talent who weren’t afraid to take a risk. All this blinded me to facts.
Since then, it appears that Nike has solved its sweatshop problem (or taken major steps). Nike’s model of aggressive marketing of products made in substandard conditions echoes Apple’s. I’m still troubled by that, more so with Apple’s. GE (and Nike) has gone down the path of (legal) tax evasion and foreign outsourcing, costing American jobs and benefits. The two companies are going down different paths, but neither is of any societal benefit.
The finished commercial was a monstrous success and was the world press favorite. It got a Gold Lion in Cannes and was the frontrunner for the Grand Prix but none was given that year because of an absurd notion that the Jury President, Frank Lowe, had about a public service message that he felt really deserved it and wasn’t eligible. I watched him prance and parade onstage in a ridiculous manner while he explained his decision. His gait was so strange, it appeared that he had some defects aside from his limited perception.
Actually his pompous manner on stage was more memorable than winning a prize. He defined absurdity and arrogance, a Shakespearean study in hubris.
No matter, the Beatles saw the spot and asked me to do a video for them.