WILL WORK FOR FOOD
I discovered Venice by accident. I was traveling from Milan to Vienna on a tour of concert halls, La Scala, then to the Vienna State Opera House for the famous New Year’s Concert. The plane from Milan to Vienna was cancelled so I decided to drive to Venice, spend the night, then drive to Vienna in time for the evening opera. I stayed at the Danieli and spent just enough time in Venice to be enchanted fo the rest of my life.
The Venetian Empire lasted for over a thousand years, about a century more than the Roman Empire. The British Empire lasted from Elizabeth I to Churchill and that’s about 350 years. They were part of reigns of monarchs and leaders that did their best to fuck up the rest of the world. When I travel to England, I wonder what they have that represents their reprehensible behavior during their reign, mostly a lot of bricks. Rome has a bunch of ruins but little else. Florence has perhaps more beauty than any place on earth but Venice is magic. Venice’s reign was also known as La Serenissima, ‘most peaceful republic.’ I will use any opportunity to go to Venice. I’ve manipulated LEVI’S, AMEX, CISCO, PITNEY BOWES, KODAK into filming in Venice but the best is IBM.
The idea is a couple on vacation and the wife tells her husband that she may have left the gas on, a nightmare. The house explodes (in her nightmare) but he cleverly uses his phone to ‘turn the gas off’ so they can live happily ever after. The original idea was to have them on a tropical beach.
‘I’d rather fly to Venice than Fiji,’
‘A beach is a beach is a beach; sand and palm trees. You could shoot it in Malibu and it would look the same as Fiji.”
‘But why Venice?’
‘Venice is romantic and it’s obvious that you’re not in Kansas anymore.’
They bought it.
‘I’d rather shoot pigeons in Venice.’
The idea for the spot was a guy using future technology to speak to a distant colleague. He gets excited and raises his voice from time to time causing pigeons to fly. It’s supposed to happen in Central Park.
‘There are real pigeons in Venice, in the Piazza San Marco. In New York, we’ll have to have ten or so pigeon wranglers and a Humane Society Rep monitor and maybe put a disclaimer on the commercial, NO PIGEONS WERE HARMED…’
‘About the disclaimer, yes. The wranglers and pigeons, no. The trained pigeons are cute, pink and blue. They look like doves, not pigeons.’ Plus, it will be a distraction to the actor to set up the pigeons after each shot.’
‘IBM is an international company and the pigeons there don’t need wranglers and monofilament.’
We shot in Venice. It took an hour. Check out the pigeons. See any wires, wranglers?
We were doing an IBM campaign of people on a psychiatrist’s couch and this one was about a guy speaking of a ‘chased by demons’ nightmare. The idea of Venetian masks came up and I suggested filming in Venice at the colonnade of the Doge’s Palace.
‘Why not? You get on a plane and fly east not west. The location is better. The masks and wardrobe are there and you’re in Venice .’
We shoot in Venice.
We all had a good time and the food was good, too.
These Venice victims had a good time as well.
The tiny moment in AMEX was to recall an image from memory. The underrated relative director, Rick Boyko, had a fabulous idea of the presence and importance of the brand in everyday lives. I shot a bunch of mundane and not so mundane moments for the spot. I think I was filming something else in Venice and picked up this fragment, an innocent moment.
I was fortunate to be able to work with Dean Tavolourus, the brilliant production designer of the GODFATHER films. One of the spots takes place on Murano, at a glass factory. Dean and his art director were to build an office set in the factory. When I came to see it, I asked him where the set was and he said you’re standing in it. It was perfect and I was embarrassed. Dean refused to gossip about the GODFATHER films.
I love CAFÉ FLORIAN in Venice although many think of it as a tourist trap. It has been maintained meticulously and sitting there brings back memories of other times.
The lonely man near the docks in Venice is from a Pitney Bowes commercial. It represents a fantasy of fear and communication. I had filmed him being attacked by mysterious people in the white Venetian masks and black robes (IBM) but the clients didn’t use that material because the gentlemen was Black and they thought that that would be insulting. This was before the BLACK LIVES MATTER Movement.
The couple at the docks at sunset had to be filmed at Murano since it was difficult to get a sunrise or sunset isolated in Venice. The bulk of the commercial was filmed in Venice, though.
I think that I coerced every one of these works to be filmed in Venice for selfish reasons, the ride from the airport in a vaporetto, a cappuccino at Florian, dinner at Harry’s Bar and/ or Da Fiore, and a visit to a friend’s shop of antique Venetian glass. Every trip had some adventure to it. One night we bribed a jazz band in San Marco to play especially for us through early hours of the morning. Another time I argued with Count Volpe about Ferraris without realizing he sponsored a racing team, Scuderia Serenissima, for Ferrari. Arrigo Cipriani admonished my brother when he questioned him about Risotto and he gave my brother a bag with the proper rice, and his great cookbook, so my brother would never make that mistake again.