The Michelob Wars

I’m in a casual pre pro in Palm Springs for a Michelob Dark commercial.  It’s based on Miami Vice, using the Phil Collins song, IN THE AIR TONIGHT. The agency sent an unproduceable rip, for reference. The AB people, Jack McDonough, has asked to shoot the material two ways, once with Michelob Dark and again with regular Michelob.  The Michelob account has been up for grabs, and Riney has been pitching the account. I’ve seen his work and it’s really not Michelob, more suited to Budweiser. I think Riney is expecting some bright light to see that and give him Bud business.

McDonough is a bright light and he sees something in this spot. After our pre pro he pulls me aside and tells me to make the work as stylish as possible, so stylish that eventually he doesn’t really want to see the beer.

I never forgot that.

At that time, the restrictions on beer advertising, driving, etc. were astonishing. When I started to do homework, I found that there were very few things we could shoot. The spot was going to be mostly about attitude.

I don’t think I worked so hard on anything in my life.

I remember the agency producer busting my chops one night when I was filming airplanes landing at LAX. The planes flew over a brightly lit parking area so you could see them clearly. I kept shooting and shooting while he seethed. I also wanted the film to be filmed in slow motion but the restrictions of pulsing neon and other issues were overwhelming. Eventually I finished and the spot languished until AB made up their minds about the campaign.

Riney saw the spot and we argued about it one evening, him saying that the spot had no substance. I responded by saying that the Henry’s stuff we had done to such acclaim was just a bunch of old man jokes.  Anyway, Michelob was awarded to Needham, so I won that battle.

I couldn’t do the next batch so they used another director.  He squeezed the life out of the look I had done and when I got back on board, I tried to come up with a new look, always remembering McDonough’s dictum.  I had begun to work with Larry Bridges, a brilliant editor/ filmmaker. We met on a Nike shoot and his work was astonishing.  I could take risks with him that I couldn’t with conventional editors.

I was shooting a new idea with a simple, boy meets girl story.  A guy is going to bar to meet a girl and he’s late (I think).  I shot the required days and fought with the agency about the coverage. Their thinking was extremely conventional and I was trying to discover new ways of seeing things- mistakes. Of course, while I was filming mistakes, the agency was complaining that I was filming mistakes.

Larry did a cut with the existing material that was just okay, but missing something. I had go to France to film a Perrier commercial.  I didn’t get the thought of the Michelob spot out of my mind and I didn’t quite know what to do but I knew that there wasn’t enough stuff there.  When I got back to LA, I had Billy Hayden get some of his Herb Ritts friends and we went out and shot some more stuff at night, just arbitrary.  Then I took some of the more mundane footage and refilmed it on television sets.  Larry slammed all the shit together and sent it.

It scared the shit out of the agency.

The story is that it sat on someone’s desk at AB for a long time and August IV saw the cassette there, put it into a deck, and liked it.  He went to his father and said ‘this is the stuff we should be doing.’ So…

We did a bunch of stuff like that, chaos.

I still hadn’t discovered the formula to eliminate the product and McDoough left.  He was replaced by a guy from Schlitz.  By then Schlitz was out of business.

Go figure.

AB felt I was out of control but they still liked the work so they had the agency re hire  Dave Lamb who had a bad experience with Riney (thanks to me, but that’s another story).  David was hired to ‘control’ me but that lasted not a while.  On a Saturday, with a bunch of extras milling about (on double time)  I was asked to film a number of beer pour clichés, drops of condensation running down labels, glasses, etc. and I snapped.  I hurled a chair across the room.

All I could remember is my frustration of never being able to reach the apex of filming a commercial without a product.

After that, the agency got Adrian Lyne and Ridley Scott to shoot the next campaign. For some reason, Ridley’s spot never ran and they went into my library to add to Adrian’s work.  I found out about that in a strange manner.  I was in Cannes when a journalist asked how I liked co directing with Adrian (a longtime friend).  I had no idea what he was speaking of until I saw the spot, an amalgam of my footage and his.

I’m sure that Ridley and Adrian wouldn’t have suffered the foolishness I did.  Later, David talked AB into having him direct a commercial or two, but the campaign fizzled after that. A sad end to a great story.