Monday, March 22, 2010

Ad Mann

There is, in certain auteurist circles, a stigma attached to commercials. "A director should never advertise a product." But of course most good films are themselves the products of an industry, and directors invariably advertise their work, ideas they support (and even ones they don't) and the work of the producers who put their projects together. And countless good directors cut their teeth making commercials, and many even better ones used commercial money to pay for projects that didn't have a chance of getting financing. The truth is that the real test of an artist is what he or she does on commission.

Advertising is a funny industry, even stranger than Hollywood: they offer a tiny canvas and vast resources. The same people who wouldn't give $10,000 to fund a feature film (and nowadays it's possible to make a pretty damn good movie on that kind of budget) will gladly drop $1 million to make a minute-long ad.

Ferrari California (Michael Mann, 2008)

Since the start of the 2000s, Michael Mann has directed three ads: two for cars, and one for Nike. The most recent ad, and the least interesting, is a promotional film he directed for the launch of the Ferrari California at the Paris Auto Show in 2008. Like a lot of wealthy men, Mann likes sports cars. And, like (hopefully) every director, he likes filming things. So, for this fairly undemanding project, Ferrari gave him money to do some things he likes for a few minutes. With the exception of the fact that Mann is better at filming fast cars (and private jets and speed boats) than anyone in the history of cinema, it's nothing to write home about. That is, the beauty of Mann's cars is how they fit into the plans of his films; as standalone homages to automotive design, they would be, like this ad, merely pretty.

Lucky Star (Michael Mann, 2002)

Lucky Star is much better, and the best, messiest and most fully-realized of Mann's 2000s commercials. It's a two-minute ad for Mercedes-Benz which Mann originally directed for the UK market in 2002. It ended up being the test drive of the approach he'd take for his subsequent features, the first tryout of the digital aesthetic (and of some casting ideas as well -- you'll recognize the Portuguese bartender from Miami Vice as one of the "leads" here; in fact the whole short seems like a screen test for that film -- Benicio Del Toro has never more closely resembled Colin Farrell than here). Part of what makes it seem "fully-formed" is the fact that Mann developed the ad as a "real movie," and his contract included the stipulation that he could turn it into a feature if he wanted to. He even hired his regular production staff. It's a pretty good set-up: Benicio Del Toro's a professional gambler and stock trader with preternatural luck who arouses everyone's suspicions because of his winning streaks.

Leave Nothing (Michael Mann, 2007)

Leave Nothing, a Nike ad that ran during the Super Bowl, is more of a standard "trick film" commercial, a neat little minute made possible by a lot fancy special effects. It's as straight as Lucky Star is confusing. Per Mann's famous tendency to revisit his own work, the score from Last of the Mohicans is used. But what's actually better than the morphing effect that connects disparate shots in the ad is the kinetic quality of the images and the tactile sound effects. The trick is less impressive than the tackles and passes. Leave Nothing does something no film has managed: it makes American football look like an exciting sport. The "how did they do that?" quality that makes these sorts of commercials successful viral videos isn't in the CGI, but in the movement of the players.


thomas said...

hi -

thanks for efforts, it's highly appreciated!

however, just a heads up: the soundtrack of the ferrari clip is not the original one. there's a lot of heated discussion in the video comments regarding this matter.

you might want to take this video

which features, as far as i know, the original soundtrack of the clip.


Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Much thanks, thomas.

I've embedded the clip you recommended. I hadn't been aware that the music in the previous one was not part of the ad. And you're right -- the original sound makes quite a difference.