Peter Murphy, the only guy at Riney that wasn’t afraid of Hal, calls about some boards he sent for a Gallo sparkling wine, TOTT’S. They actually called it champagne, illegally. I don’t think Ernest Gallo feared the French. You cannot use the term Champagne for a wine that is not from that region, minus a few legal exceptions, including the United States and Russia.
Peter Murphy was a funny guy with a wicked sense of humor and was fearless and honest. I had worked with him before when he was with a top New York agency and wondered why he went to Riney, as he wasn’t what you would call a ‘Riney guy.’ He was confident in his own right and didn’t seem to defer to Hal. He sent me the boards created by two young guys at the agency and was straightforward about them.
I mentioned that the scripts were very close to one of Ridley Scott’s commercials.
‘Then you should get Ridley to do them.’
‘He redid the boards.’
‘These aren’t his boards?’
Peter then tells me this story. Ridley, probably seeing the similarity to other commercials he had done, redid the idea and incorporated a satyr into the story. A satyr is a pagan half man/half beast that is a symbol of drunkenness and lust. Ernest, a devout Catholic, scrutinized the new script and storyboard, then, arching an eyebrow, asked the young creatives how much this satyr will cost. The young creatives said two million dollars, which was ten times what Ernest ever spent for commercial. Ernest got up and stormed from the room.
‘You knew that would happen.’
‘Why did you let the kids bury themselves?’
‘They gotta learn somehow.’
‘You got two hundred grand.’
Considering that we have to shoot in France, the money (lack of) was a challenge. I wanted to use my wife as the girl. Peter had told me a story of how Hal and Ernest had screwed her out of a glamorous Michelob commercial a while before. She had a tiny part in a pre-Riney Gallo spot and was still holding. Gallo wouldn’t allow her to do the other spot and Hal didn’t go to bat for her. That time had passed and this would make up for it. To save money on a casting session I had Vincent Joliet, then my French producer, contact a handsome friend of his that Ridley had used in a Chanel spot.
The only roadblock was that Jerry Andelin, the ECD, wanted to use another girl, a French model with a nose like DeGaulle. I guess Jerry had taken over after the embarrassment of the ‘satyr’ presentation. I disagreed with the girl as she looked too strange for me and I didn’t think her choice was based on anything but resentment about my wanting to use my wife.
At the pre-pro, Jerry presented the tape of the French model and Ernest’s son David, blurted out that she’s ‘not our kind of girl.’ David had a slight disability that was misunderstood by all but blurted out his feelings immediately. Before Jerry could defend his choice, I played my wife’s tape. Ernest and David immediately liked her and I don’t think that Jerry ever forgave me.
There was still a residue of Ridley’s Chanel in the final approved boards, especially the establishment of a formal garden. I have no idea what lies we had to tell but we got permission to film at Vaux-le-Vicomte, the infamous chateau that led to the design of Versailles. We also picked up a few shots at Chambord, the Pont Alexandre III in Paris, and the Third Street Tunnel in Los Angeles. The reason for all this was that there was a mnemonic left over from the original boards that Ernest had approved. It involved the use of a coupe rather than a flute, an outdated idea, but if it was in the board we had to shoot it. The stylist had made a red dress as in the board but had found a burgundy colored one that ‘flowed’ better. The agency freaked but I assured them that it could be changed in post if it didn’t pass scrutiny. I do think that a Gallo minion objected when he first saw the commercial but it remained.
Ernest took his scripts and storyboards literally. Once, a producer said his agency had to reshoot an expensive scene because it wasn’t precisely how it was presented. The shot was a closeup of a spokesperson pulling back to reveal a helicopter shot of the vineyards, an impossible shot at that time. The producer had complained about Ernest but Ernest was nobody’s fool.
You shouldn’t have promised what you couldn’t deliver.
What I also didn’t know at the time was that Riney was about to resign the Gallo account, and, in the middle of all the shoots, he did.
In post, Jerry had me experiment with various elements, black and white, sepia, bipaks, a whole bunch of stuff that never made the final cut. I was told by the producer to send these overage bills directly to Gallo. They refused to pay, as the material was never used. The satyr got his revenge, but on me.
Somehow Gallo approved the aria O Mio Babbino Caro by Kiri de Kanawa. It’s a famous piece, familiar, and beautiful. A literal translation regarding the commercial makes no sense as it is lament from her to her father. The actual lyrics are awful but no one knows. She sings that if he doesn’t approve of the marriage, she will kill herself.
Sometime later, I commented to a wine clerk on a Tott’s champagne display. He replied by saying the stuff didn’t live up to the marketing. A few years later, Gallo did another Tott’s spot that was a more blatant ripoff of Ridley’s work. Can something be shameful and shameless and the same time?
Gallo had the reputation of being the most difficult client in advertising. Riney had a direct line to Ernest but Ernest’s jealousies led to the breakup. Gallo didn’t want Riney to have any other accounts. Riney had the courage to resign the account without a replacement. Eventually, Hal got the Saturn work from GM, but that turned out to be the beginning of the end. Maybe Hal should have stayed with Ernest. Gallo is still here and Saturn is long gone.