In this interview, Australian commercials director Steve Rogers shares the secret stories behind his multiple award-winning advertising campaigns. Represented by Revolver, Steve has directed adverts for brands including Nike, Southern Comfort, WWF, Old Spice and Dodge. Renowned for his wry observations, tongue-in-cheek humour and intimate cinematography, this is Australian advertising at its finest.
I only needed five. Just five very small clowns. Five very small clowns who were capable of a few negligible stunts: a slow run, an easy fall, things like that.
It didn’t seem that difficult. We would just go to the agent who represented ‘little actors’.
Fortunately, a few of the little actors available worked as stunt doubles and we were told could easily handle what was required. In addition, we were told that some of them were part of the US team who had participated in the World Dwarf Games (I hadn’t realised there was an Olympic equivalent for little people prior to this).
I felt confident going into our wardrobe check on the day before the shoot that our cast would be wonderful, physically adept, dynamic and lissom, like very small white panthers, sort of. Our first very small clown arrived, reeling from side to side, with a walking stick and the stench of bourbon heavy on his breath. He told us that he had once been in a circus many years ago, but of late had spent his days drinking and soliciting women in Winnipeg bars.
His legs were basically shot. He tried on the costume without complaint and then headed to the nearest bar in preparation for a stunt test we had planned for later that day.
The next actor arrived, our ‘little Olympian’, our ‘lead’, our ‘redeemer’. He couldn’t really walk at all, although he professed to having been part of the renowned US dwarf soccer team. He told us that none of the costume was suitable, in particular his clown shoes, and that if we insisted on him wearing them he would call his agent and extract himself from the project for breach of contract.
I was a little puzzled that an actor who took on the job of a clown was surprised about wearing a clown outfit. He wobbled away furiously to sit outside the production office, replete with harlequin makeup, a Parliament blue and a bad attitude.
To see a very small clown sitting in the gutter of a Vancouver backstreet, gasping hard on a cigarette and swearing at passersby is quite disconcerting, particularly for the client who had a serious case of Coulrophobia and couldn’t look at them to approve their costume anyway.
Anyway, it sort of got worse before it got better, but we managed to get through in the end.
It’s like that though. Someone you’ve never met sends you an idea, you read it, consider it and before you know it, those same people have decided that something you said made the most sense and now you have to make it.
That’s when the panic sets in.
It’s not uninformed, rather, it’s the idea of dragging something intangible, an idea, a concept, an approach, into the real world, a world where cameras can shoot it, sound can be recorded and people can sit in tents and watch it come to life – just as you said it would.
The Schweppes Tumble piece also made sense on paper. I wanted to do everything with as much realism as we could, which meant that I would take an actor to the top of a glacier and get him to jump off. It wasn’t that sophisticated to be honest. Yet when you take an actor up 4,000 feet, with a freezing wind whistling past your ice-covered face that’s now unable to form words and somehow make them jump off, it’s not always going to work out as planned.
The helicopter seemed to be in the right position, the cameraman appeared ready, although none of us could speak any longer to inform each other that we were prepared. Yet, he jumped and the cameras rolled and then he went to hospital with frost bitten lips and a suspected fractured arm. This was the first morning of the first of six sequential shoot days.
I’ve had footballers playing in once-in-a-century heatwaves, locations roofs torn off in cyclones and been holed up in hotels as hurricanes churned outside.
I’ve had actors so drunk they could barely stand up and stunt drivers so witless they’ve run into actors.
I’ve had DPs walk off, not turn up and miscarry.
I’ve had shoots shut down because sports stars insisted on doing their own stunts and then others who never turned up at all.
I’ve had a fight with an actor in the Fontana Della Barcaccia, sung karaoke with Malcolm McLaren and had a son born, much too early, during a shoot on the other side of the world for a sports shoe.
It’s just how it goes, although somehow my son’s mother never saw my side of things. She never wears that brand anymore.
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