Larry Bridges and I were experimenting on the limits of what we could do on film and we had a number of willing clients at that time: Nike, Lee Jeans, John Hancock, Michael Jackson videos, especially Dirty Diana. The experiments included extremely quick cuts, fragmented soundtracks, hand held cameras, rephotographing the film on television monitors, flash frames, camera stops, hand cranked cameras, super eight film, a lot of other stuff. I had experimented with this stuff a decade before when I did documentaries but in the decade and half that had passed, these techniques had been ignored during the boring and conservative seventies. That time, a wonderful time for films became a black hole for commercials.
I had shot a MICHELOB commercial with the lame idea of a guy and a girl trying to meet on a date and just missing each other. She got caught in a traffic jam or something…
The initial cut wasn’t going anywhere, so I went out for a few nights with my trusty Arri 2C and some prime lenses and few friends and a few favors, and no clients, shot some extra improvised footage, and a lot of random stuff and we recut the commercial. It freaked out the Michelob people and the cassette sat on a desk for quite a while.
As the story is told, August Busch IV, then a young man, spotted the cassette one evening and put it into the cassette deck and watched the commercial. He then went to his father, who ran the place, and asked why they weren’t running the spot as it was just what the campaign needed.
The spot ran and Stanley Kubrick saw it and said:
It’s interesting to see that Kubrick recognized the problems we were trying to solve. He never addressed these issues in his subsequent films and the experiments Larry and I did had a short life as well. When I saw Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, the visual techniques reminded me of Levi’s commercials that Mike Koelker and I did twenty years before. Maybe this visual (and aural) freedom kept me doing commercials for such a long time. Maybe there’s still hope. Maybe not.