I met Ted Bell when he was a Young Turk in the waning days of the great Doyle, Dane, Bernbach. He was brilliant when needed, being extremely attractive and engaging, a throwback to the Golden Age of the sixties. He eventually went to Leo Burnett in Chicago in what I thought was a strange move but he eventually became president. He then moved to Young and Rubicam in New York as president there and made huge amounts of money from both places. He retired at a fairly young age and now is a very successful thriller writer, having created the James Bond-like character, HAWKE. He used to send me copies but not lately.
Norman Mews told me that the event that jump-started his rise to fame was a Memorex commercial I did for Ted. When it came time to select the new president for Leo Burnett, the deciding factor was this commercial. Ted and his rival had similar credentials but Ted’s rival had spent his entire career with Leo Burnett and Burnett always promoted from within. Ted’s only edge was this commercial that was completely out of the Leo Burnett mold. The powers that be recognized this and made Ted president, hoping that he would create a new business/creative model for the future. I don’t know whether he did but Ted, himself, became very successful.
The commercial itself almost didn’t survive. Everything went against it. There wasn’t much money, so I had to pull some favors and shoot part of it on a weekend. I shot the other part in my office/studio to save more money. The idea was the parting of two young lovers. The actor I cast was more of a model and I was concerned about him being emotional enough (crying). The day we shot his scenes was cold and the chill made his eyes watery. Luck! I wanted to use a beat-up Porsche Speedster to take advantage of the James Dean mystique but a junior account executive called Porsche on a Saturday morning for clearance and a junior Porsche executive denied permission, despite the fact that this particular model hadn’t been manufactured for over thirty years. I found an old Corvette and shot this scene both ways knowing that the Porsche denial stuff was bullshit. In the end we used the Porsche.
A key issue was the casting of the girl. I was undecided about the cast. My assistant had auditioned for the role but Ted and I liked another girl who was an accomplished actress who could cry on cue. Unfortunately, she looked terrible when she cried. Ted liked her, though, and impetuously told my assistant to book the actress, not knowing that she had auditioned for the part. My assistant came bursting into my office in tears berating me for not telling her myself. I laughed because she looked great crying. I kept her crying for a day or two until we could film her scene. More luck!
Ted had wanted to use some Zydeco music but I thought it was inappropriate (cheesy) and I cut the spot to Ry Cooder’s music for Paris, Texas. The melancholy guitar was more appropriate for the spot and Ted agreed (grudgingly). I tried to talk Ted into buying the track, it wasn’t a great deal of money, but he claimed that they couldn’t afford it. I pointed out that the difference between a new composer’s fees and recording costs would be almost a wash. Still the agency producer said no. Cheap bastards. They had a deal with a music guy and we met in the editing room and went over the tracks. I went to the session and for some reason that I don’t remember (I was being disruptive?) I was asked to leave the room for a while. I went to their video room and played PONG and I actually had to use quarters. Here I am playing a primitive video game using my own money. What a crock! After a while, my editor, Marcus Stevens, came in with a sheepish look and said, You better come in there. You’re not going to like what they’re doing. I went into the studio and the musicians were wrapping up, some of them having already left. They played the track and it was completely wrong — completely different — nothing like we had discussed. I was sitting in a chair beneath the console not being able to see the engineer, producer, and composer. I said, It’s wrong. It’s no good. A voice came over the console and said, I like it, it’s fine.
I rose and said, ‘Who are you?’
‘I’m the music producer.’
‘Well it sucks and you better redo it. ‘
He started to get up.
‘You better not get up.
The composer interrupted and stammered a bit.
‘Get the musicians back.’
‘I can do it with these guys.’
He knocked a good version off in about fifteen minutes.
‘Why didn’t you do that in the first place?’
He just looked stupid. I found out later that he was a friend of Ry Cooder’s and didn’t want to seem like he was ripping him off.
There’s more. The agency does the mix and when I hear it, it sucks. I go back to the studio with Marcus and they play it for me. The engineer says it’s fine. I say, Play the original tempmix. It sounds great. When I question the engineer, he says that’s stereo! I said why didn’t you mix in stereo? He says the agency producer didn’t want to spend the money.
‘Two hundred dollars.’
I give the guy two hundred out of my pocket, crumpled bills. He pushes a single button on the console and the music opens up. Does it ever end? The majority of the spot buy was on MTV. What’s that about penny wise pound foolish. Dickens?
Ted always had good luck. He’s always ‘depended on the kindness of strangers.’ Tennessee Williams.