Hill, Holliday sent some scripts for WANG commercials. WANG was a big deal in computers then despite the name.
How many WANG jokes must there have been? I never met the WANG people just the ad guys.
The spots were sorta clever, equating parallel experience with computers. They both dealt with music. One had a young woman going to a church for an audition for organist, and the other was a young man who was part of a choir.
Jeremy, the producer who I had met in the Riney’s Henry’s commercial a few years earlier, suggested we work out of our own office rather than use a British company. I was skeptical, but agreed.
I had looked at St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. They were brilliant but impossible. So we started to look for alternatives. One of the important issues was the placement of the organ. I don’t remember the circumstances of the scout. I just remember putting a lot of miles on the road in an uncomfortable van. I felt guilty about Jeremy doing all the driving, so I volunteered even though I had never driven in England before. That didn’t last long. We’re in country roads in the Cotswolds so it shouldn’t have been that big a deal, but I drove close to the berms (paranoia) and the hedgerow debris and overgrowth tossed the top heavy van few times so Jeremy, who couldn’t sleep anyway, took over.
We approached Exeter Cathedral and there was a green with cricketeers playing wearing whites. I wish I had stopped to get the shot.
The placement of the organ was perfect, but the cathedral didn’t compare to what I had in mind and seen, Westminster and St. Paul’s. It was also an overnight from London, crew, talent, what have you, but it was the best we had seen and they were willing (actually more than willing).
There were some other issues back in London. I had wanted to shoot part of the other spot in the quadrangle at Eton College. I had remembered the location from the film, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, but they wouldn’t grant permission because I was an American director. They resented having their asses kicked in two previous wars with the U. S. I also thought that had we worked with a British company we might have gotten permission.
We got news of another cathedral that might work north of London so we made contact and planned a scout. Whoa! Exeter Cathedral heard of this and threatened that if we didn’t film there we would be denied access to anywhere in England.
The Church of England?
Well, anyway, the Church was started by a profligate King that used it as an excuse to avoid divorce, wasn’t it? The king was fat as well, or was in the pictures I have seen. Henry the Eighth, I am, I am.
It may have been the Weinstein effect.
Anyway, King ‘Enery had his own unique way of divorce.
So the Church doesn’t like me and the colleges don’t like me and I thought that we saved England from Hitler and I’m staying in the shitty Brown’s Hotel and eating crappy food (whitebait) and no wonder Hitchcock came to America.
Jeremy keeps saying, ‘Everything is going to be alright, Joe, I promise.’
We find an estate that resembles Eton so that part’s okay, for now.
I’m scouting with the representative of the Cathedral. It seems that the place does a thriving business. They charge fifty pence for photo permits and the place is full of tourists (maybe not ‘full’). I’m taking polaroids (remember them?) of different angles, windows, and the representative leaves to take a call. Two minutes later I’m confronted (assaulted?) by an elderly lady shouting ’50p! 50p!’ She’s standing in a pool of her spittle while I’m staring at her, bewildered. It turns out I don’t have a 50p badge that you have to purchase for a photo permit. She continues to berate me, stridently, while I’m speechless. The rep returns and tells her that we are together and in a millisecond, she changes back to a sweet old lady. What an act!
Blackmail, and now beration.
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
I want beams of light for effect. ARCS and BEE SMOKE.
Bee smoke was legal then. It’s the same incense that is used in the Mass, in the Catholic Church. I’m sure it was used in the Anglican Church as well. When I was an altar boy, I used to love walking down the aisle waving the THURIBLE with the smell and smoke of the incense filling the Church. It was the same stuff that the Wisemen brought to the baby Jesus.
ARCS are lights that use Carbon to create a precise beam of light. It was one of the first sources of electric lighting the late 1800’s. It is the closest artificial light to sunlight, even today. It’s a complicated deal as you need two men for each light. One to trim the carbon and the other to hold the ladder. The lights created by a spark between two pieces of carbon (Carbon Arc) and the operator must maintain a proper distance between the two carbons (trim) or the light will flicker. These lights don’t exist any more, being replaced by a newer technology, but their quality hasn’t been replaced.
The idea was to have beams of light (intimidating) falling in the cathedral. The sharpness of the lights illuminating the beams could create that effect but it meant coordinating the multiple lights and crews and bee smoke. The stained glass of the windows masked the effectiveness of the beam effect so we had to build scaffolding to raise the lights for the effect. Then we had to balance the amount of bee smoke as well.
Be patient, there is a point to be made.
Filming, balancing the lighting issue with the performances was a pain in the ass. A blessing were the British actors who are always prepared and professional and patient. So we struggled through a day and a half, mostly because of the balancing of the lighting issues to give the work substance. Then magic happened. I was filming organ inserts and everything took on a heavenly glow. The sun had come out after days of gloom and the Nave was radiant. I called the AD and had him quickly gather the actors to film under the natural light. The light was something I had envisioned and could never achieve. We were lucky because I was able to reshoot much (most) of the material quickly because I knew exactly what was needed. One shot especially, a wide shot of the Nave that I wasn’t able to get properly before, but now set the tone for the whole spot.
…but into each life a little rain must fall.
During the filming, a new creative team came in. Why? I have no idea. They hadn’t been part of anything but were full of attitude. I tried to explain what we had already done. We weren’t using video playback. I disliked it and felt it was a time waster (still do). I was doing a shot of the organist leaving a small church before her audition and was in the middle of the first take and one of the new agency guys starts screaming that there is a camera case in the shot. There was indeed a lens case a few feet in front of the tripod, but I was filming with a 600mm lens that saw only the young lady and little else.
I had agency guy look through the camera.
Pat Burnham told me he heard a story of my letting a writer look through the viewfinder and I then asked him if he saw any words there. I probably did.
The real idiocy is that the editor on his edit didn’t use the great Nave shot. Jay Hill, one of the principals of the agency, who had been on the shoot, defended the editor’s decision. I made a very strong statement about this shot and may have threatened them both, but the shot finally wound up in the spot.
Back in the day, we always did a director’s cut but agencies then began to exert more control. A lot was geographic, we’d film in California and the agency would want to edit in New York (or Chicago). I always had my own editor and could put a cut together in a few hours, but it always took days for the agency.
Things were stupid in choir as well.
The idea of the spot was that a member of a choir was rushing to get to a performance. Simple, no? We had cast a real choir from a university but at the last minute, the college held us up for an additional fee and made us film there.
Another dumb thing was that I wanted to film the guys running outside at dusk, but the gaffers refused to work the overtime. The grips were okay, but the gaffers refused and they were allowed to under the terms of their contracts, even though we had discussed scheduling at prior meetings.
Margaret fixed all that later. The (in)famous Iron Lady was crushing the British trade unions. The problem on the shoot was that there was a conflict between the trade unions and the government and the unions encouraged their members to ‘work to rule,’ that is, just do the basic requirements of their job. I got caught up in the middle of that, but, as Jeremy said, things came out alright in the end
The organ spot got a Gold Lion at Cannes the next year and led to the Hancock Campaign getting the Grand Prix a year later.
The Gift of the Magi
‘On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.’
Both frankincense and myrrh have been traded in North Africa and The Middle East for at least five thousand years. According to the Hebrew Bible they were components of holy incense ritually burned in Jerusalem’s holy temples. The Catholic Church incorporated the use in specific rites, especially The Stations of the Cross and Benediction.
While Elizabeth rejected the use of incense in their new church, its use was re introduced into the Church of England in the nineteenth century. Some complained that it hurt their eyes.
Bee smoke is simply incense.
Some time goes by and we get an invoice from the Cathedral claiming damages from the bee smoke we used in the filming.
I think the little old lady complained.