1996??? Eek. Doesn’t time fly?
Tell you what though, the way this one came about makes for a good tale.
Not of the good ol' days, or how it was once amazing. I mean, some
things were, but there was plenty that wasn’t.
This is a story of being creative, collaborative and of being open to magic.
Let’s rewind a bit and set the scene.
It’s 1996 and in a now deceased Knightsbridge agency, the brief comes in for the Vauxhall Corsa. Of course, it goes to the big boys first, they didn’t crack it. So, like all good juniors should, my art director Wayne and I hustled to get a shot at the brief. We went to the pub, burned the midnight oil, and with some blood, sweat, tears and beers, we arrived at an idea.
An idea that involved the celeb du jour, Ruby Wax. She was huge at the time. Her interview show Ruby Wax Meets landed loads of big names from Pamela Anderson to Burt Reynolds—culturally she seemed the right fit for our cheeky Vauxhall Corsa.
Et voila, our campaign was born: The small car with the big personality.
Cute right? Our creative director at the time certainly thought so.
It was campaignable, populist and bang on the money.
No research needed other than the experience and opinion of talented people and a trusting client. It was so much fun writing those ads. I love comedy dialogue, so this was a dream gig.
Next thing you know, we’re flying first class Virgin to LA, staying in the Four Seasons Beverly Hills with Ruby Wax.
I saw Lisa Stansfield (I assume she was going around the world, looking for her baby) and Forest Whitaker at breakfast. We were also reliably informed that The Rolling Stones were taking up four floors of the hotel. This was just day one. Mad.
We arrived early to the shoot to acclimatise. Actually 10 days early—read into that what you will. Turned out they’d hired us all cars so I drove a Camaro (not a Corsa) to Universal Studios and Venice Beach. Got lost once, which was hairy, lots of burning bins, and no mobile phones in those days so when you were lost - you were truly lost.
However, I digress.
The night before the shoot, Ruby had invited her friend, Hungarian actress, socialite and nine-time wedding enthusiast, Zsa Zsa Gabor to the hotel bar, like you do. Zsa Zsa, Ruby and the client are chatting over a wee tipple.
One, two skip a few and Ruby says: Wouldn’t it be fun if we got Zsa Zsa in the ad?
Immediately our wonderful client said ‘YES!’. Cut to us in the middle of an LA bar all coming up with possible ways to write her in.
The script we were shooting was to demonstrate the roominess of the Corsa, despite its diminutive exterior.
To do this, we had Ruby shopping
for designer clobber, as she fills up the car with all her shopping
bags. We decided that Zsa Zsa would bump into Ruby with the line “Ruby,
my darling!”, only to be shut down as Ruby retorts, “not now Zsa Zsa, I’m
The next day we’re up at the crack of dawn and limo'ed out to Rodeo Drive. They’d shut it down as if a Hollywood movie was being filmed, not a humble car ad.
The Vauxhall Corsa was there being fluffed with feather-dusted ready for its close up. Now, of course, it rained, but that was no problem for the Hollywood crew. They simply tarped up and covered the street. Side bar, I fan-girled the cinematographer on the job, the highly esteemed Joseph Yacoe, who’d been DP on Levi’s Creek, one of the greatest ads of all time. * Scream.*
I also seem to remember Carrie Fisher popped by, and that Zsa Zsa’s daughter had a taken a shine to our client and seemed to be very close to him wherever he went.
Again, I digress.
There didn’t seem to be a moment when something unexpected wouldn’t crop up, or a huge star would just meander over on their way to breakfast or their own filming.
What I learned on that shoot was the best grounding, and it set me up for all the work I’ve done since.
It was also shot on film, a rare occurrence now, but one that brings something magical to the party.
Would an ad and its cast be changed the night before filming these days though? Very unlikely.
The time, the energy, the space to just create and to be truly present on set is, alas, something that I miss.
These days creative teams get briefed on other jobs while on shoots, a personal bugbear of mine. I think it truly does a disservice to the wonder of filmmaking.
Clients come to agencies for that little bit of sparkle, but to get that, you need to give space for it to happen.
So, here's what I learned and my advice to you.
If you’re shooting, you’re shooting. Be present.
Look at what everyone is doing and ask questions.
If you’re a junior, hustle for the briefs and shoot for the stars.
Work hard. There are no shortcuts.
And whoever you are, creative or client, always keep the door open to let the magic in. Or in this case, the car boot.
Oh, and a client who loves creative always helps.
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