- Friday, Nov. 3, 2000
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PROPAGANDA FILMS, BICOASTAL/INTERNATIONAL
The influence of music videos on commercial production wasaif not born at Propagandaaarguably matured and took full force there. Earlier this year (SHOOT, 4/14, p. 8, and 4/21, p. 20), the Eastman Kodak Lifetime Achievement honor was bestowed during the Music Video Producers Association (MVPA) Awards ceremony to Propagandas six founding fathers. They are former co-chairmen Steve Golin (now CEO of bicoastal Anonymous) and Joni Sighvatsson (now president/CEO of Los Angeles-based Palomar Pictures); and directors David Fincher (repped by Anonymous), Nigel Dick (repped via A Band Apart, Los Angeles), Greg Gold (now an executive producer/partner in Los Angeles-headquartered production services company Milk & Honey Films) and Dominic Sena.
Sighvatsson describes Propaganda as one of the first professionally run music video companies. Moreover, Propaganda was in the right place at the right time. MTV was starting to take off in the mid-1980s, creating a greater demand for videos and the professional approach cited by Sighvatsson. And this made an indelible mark on spotmaking. Golin confirms that scenario. I think there was a big changing of the guard between the initial directors that established the [video] businessaBritish directors like Russell Mulcahy, Julien Temple and Steve Barronaand [those of us] who started the new wave of American directors. I think the influence that Greg, Nigel, Dom and David had over the video business really established a whole look that influenced TV commercials and movies.
Propaganda has been a spawning ground for directorial, editorial and producing talent over the years. On the latter two scores, freelance editors like Jim Haygood (now a principal at the longstanding Superior Assembly Editing Company, Santa Monica), Tom Muldoon and John Murray (now partnered in Nomad Editing Company, Santa Monica) established themselves at Propaganda. On the production front, former Propaganda producer Howard Woffinden is now executive producer at Milk & Honey Films, in which hes partnered with Gold and others. Among others who worked at Propaganda is Michael Bodnarchek, now co-president of A Band Apart Commercials and Music Videos.
But this particular spawning ground took on a new dimension last year, with the sale of Propagandas commercial, music video and talent management divisionsaand the subsequent exodus of key executives. These have gone on to form other companies, creating a ripple effect throughout the business. Steve Dickstein, formerly president of Propagandas commercial operation, resurfaced at bicoastal Partizan (SHOOT, 9/10/99, p. 1). Tim Clawson, Propagandas longtime head of production, heads Shooting Gallery Productions, the New York-headquartered commercial/music video shop that marked feature company The Shooting Gallerys diversification into the ad/clip arena (SHOOT, 10/8/99, p. 1). Dave Morrison, former head of commercial development at Propaganda, came aboard the aforementioned Anonymous, which was founded by Golin. Jeff Armstrong, who exited his executive producers post at Propaganda sister company bicoastal/international Satellite, has gone on to form Drive Media in Venice, Calif. (SHOOT, 6/2, p. 1). And Susanne Preissler, who left her executive producership at Propaganda Independent in 99 continues, after a stint in association with bicoastal RSA USA, to handle select feature filmmakers for spots (SHOOT, 8/25, p. 1).
Michael Bay is the latest director to depart Propaganda, as hes in the midst of forming his own commercial shop with executive producer Scott Gardenhour (SHOOT, 9/22, p. 1). Noted helmers such as Fincher, Jeffery Plansker, Dominic Sena, David Kellogg, Andrew Douglas, Gore Verbinski and Malcolm Venville have hitched up with Anonymous. Feature director Lasse Hallstrom shifted his spot representation to bicoastal/international @radical.media. Earlier, Satellites Pam Thomas moved to bicoastal Moxie Pictures (SHOOT, 10/8/99, p. 1).
Meanwhile, Propaganda has retrenched, securing Charles Wolford as VP/executive producer of Satellite. Wolford formerly headed up European production for Wieden+Kennedy, working out of that agencys Amsterdam office (SHOOT, 9/15, p. 1). Sam Walsh, general manager of Propagandas Commercial and Music Video Division for the past year, relinquished that post last month to enter into a first-look production deal with Propaganda. Walsh remains part of the Propaganda family and will primarily be involved in developing traditional TV programming, as well as new media content for advertisers. There are no plans to name a successor to Walshs GM role, as those responsibilities have been apportioned between Wolford and continuing VP/executive producer of Propaganda Films, Colin Hickson, who both report directly to overall Propaganda COO Trevor Macy and president Rick Hess.
Propaganda also most recently added the directorial team known as Big TV! (SHOOT, 10/20, p. 1), and helmers Luis Mandoki (SHOOT, 9/15, p. 1) and Mark Pellington (SHOOT, 4/21, p. 1). Also key was the renewal of director Spike Jonzes contract with Satellite for another three years (SHOOT, 2/18, p. 1). The company continues to score impressively on the awards circuit, having won its second consecutive Palme dOr this past Juneaits third in the last four years. But several of the directors who contributed to the latest Cannes honoraDoug Liman (whos with Preissler), Kellogg and Hallstromaare no longer part of the Propaganda family.
MPO, NEW YORK
This venerable full-service shop was in its heyday during the 60s and into the very early 70s. A production house with a full editorial and opticals operation, MPO was in on projects from start to finish. Among the directors to come out of the studio were Michael Cimino, Bob Reagan, Dave Nagada, Marshall Stone and Joe Kohn. Morty Dubin, a former MPO VP, is now president of Iris Films (see Dubins recollections in On The Spot, a retrospective of the past 40-plus years in commercialmaking, p. 4). MPO also proved to be a spawning ground for editorial talent; cutters like Bob Lynch and Frank Minerva left to run New York-based Editors Hideaway, for example.
MPO exited the production biz in 74, after an explosion rocked its 45th Street premises, the result of a massive natural gas leak. The boom could be felt throughout Manhattan, rattling buildings as far as 90th Street, according to some reports. But other factors led to the companys closure long before the big boom. MPOs star directors, cameramen and editors departed the company in the late 60s to form their own shops. Ironically, MPO found itself competing against many of these newly formed boutiques. Also cited as contributing to MPOs rise and decline was its volume deal to do some 70 percent of Procter & Gambles commercialmaking. When P&G decided not to renew that contract in the early 70s, MPO was left reeling, and several agencies which had been bound by the pact to work with MPO immediately took their business elsewhere. Dubin described MPO as having had some of the best talents ever to get together in one place in the entire motion picture industry.
JOHN URIE AND ASSOCIATES, LOS ANGELES
Some contend that anyone looking up the term spawning ground in the industry dictionary, will find a picture of director/entrepreneur John Urie right next to the definition. Urie established amazing credibility with the agency community; his guarantee that the work would turn out well was often enough to get ad shops to try out unknown talent during the 1960s.
The directors who cut their teeth at his studio included Ron Dexter, Stu Hagmann, Joe Hanwright, Remi Kramer, David Stern, Ahmed Lateef, Dick Bailey and David Impastato. Young cameramen broke into commercials via the Urie studio, among them John Hora, Ed Martin, Alan Daviau, Woody Omens, Caleb Deschanel and Kent Wakeford (later of the highly influential, now defunct Wakeford/Orloffasee History of Los Angeles Commercial Production, p. 8). Editors also emerged from the Urie fold, including cutter Pete Verity, and editor-turned-helmer David Dryer. A key grip at Urie, David Farrow, became a leading automotive spot director. Additionally, casting director Niki Minter made the transition to director. Also in the Urie fold were animation directors Jean Guy Jacques and Bob Curtis.
GRINER/HORN, NEW YORK
Two leading still photographersaNorman Griner and Steve Hornawere partnered in this shop, with noted executive and AICP founding father Dick Hall (see On The Spot, p. 4) and sales maestro Phil Peyton (who passed away earlier this year). Both Griner and Horn successfully diversified into commercials, establishing themselves as preeminent spot directors. The company flourished in the late 60s and early 70s as this diversification took hold. Griner and Horn split in 74, each opening his own separate shop. But a wealth of creative and executive talent came up through the ranks at Griner/ Horn, perhaps most notably Jon Kamen, now a co-proprietor of bicoastal/international @radical.media. Griner has since retired from the business. Steve Horn continues to direct via Steve and Linda Horn Inc., New York.
ROBERT ABEL & ASSOCIATES, HOLLYWOOD
During its heyday spanning much of the 70s and 80s, this pioneering visual effects/computer animation/live-action studio turned out numerous classic spots (the Levis Walking Dog logo, 7-Ups Bubbles and the ground-breaking CG commercial BrillianceaSexy Robot for the Canned Food Information Council). The Abel shop also proved to be a spawning ground for filmmaking talent such as directors Peter Smillie, Randy Roberts, Richard Taylor, Bruce Dorn and Rod Davis. Production and business talent got its start at the Abel stable, too, including John Hughes (principal in Rhythm & Hues, Los Angeles) and producer Clint Goldman (now at Pandemonium, San Francisco, after a long tenure at Industrial Light+ Magic Commercial Productions, San Rafael. Calif.). Robert Abel & Associates amassed a slew of industry awards, including 33 Clios, a pair of Emmys and a technical Oscar. The company is credited with helping to innovate the slit-scan effect employed in Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as making major breakthroughs in motion control camera systems and computer animation of human movement. An ill-fated merger with Omnibus resulted in the Abel studios closure in 87.
Bob Abel is currently executive VP, convergent strategies, at Culver City, Calif.-based Random/Order.
R/GREENBERG ASSOCIATES, NEW YORK
Last years decision by R/GA Digital Studios (R/GA-DS) to close its production, broadcast design, computer graphics and digital post division, R/Greenberg Associates (R/GA), to focus fully on interactive endeavors (SHOOT, 11/26/99, p. 1), ended a long and distinguished chapter in commercialmaking for a house that was also bicoastal during much of the 90s. In its rich 23-year history, R/GA collaborated on more than 4,000 commercials and 400 theatrical features. Among its notable credits was Diet Cokes Nightclub via Lintas: New York (now Lowe Lintas & Partners), which melded footage of iconic entertainers such as Louis Armstrong, Gene Kelly and James Cagney with contemporary performers including Elton John and Paula Abdul. (R/GA did the visual effects on the spot, which was directed by Steve Horn of Steve & Linda Horn Inc., New York.)
Artisans from R/GA are sprinkled throughout the industry. Most recently, R/GA alumni executive producers Rick Wagonheim and Michael Miller have been reuniting key members of the R/GA team at their new roost, New York-based Rhinoceros Visual Effects & Design. These artists include: visual effects supervisor Arman Matin, CG artist Natasha Saenko, animators Jeff Guerrero and Patrick Porter, and graphic designer Marc Steinberg. R/GAs former Los Angeles facility mainstays Kyle Cooper, Chip Houghton and Peter Frankfurt broke off to form Imaginary Forces in 98. Last year, R/GAs Jakob Trollback exited to launch New York-based Trollback & Company, and noted director Mark Voelpel joined Black Logic, a New York shop thats part of The Tape House family of companies.
EUE SCREEN GEMS, NEW YORK
Screen Gems has a long and storied industry history as a dominant force in commercial production. The company remains a part of the spot landscape today, and holds a majority interest in worldwide independent film distributor Overseas Filmgroup, per a recent equity deal executed via Screen Gems investment vehicle, Rosemary Street Productions. EUE stands for Elliot Unger Elliot, and in some historical accounts, Steve Elliot is credited with having directed the first moving-picture commercialafor a car advertiserain the late 1940s. The company grew into prominence when it was purchased by Columbia Pictures in 59. George Cooney, who joined EUE Screen Gems as an executive in 64 and assumed the title of executive VP and general manager in 72, bought the shop from Columbia Pictures in 83. It spawned considerable talent via its satellites over the years, which have included now defunct Murray Bruce Productions, Ian Leech and Associates, Andreas Zahler Productions and Catherine Lefebvre & Associates. Executives who have come out of the EUE fold include Jerry Bernstein, Dick Kerns (see On The Spot story, p. 4) and Larry DeLeon; the latter headed up the now defunct Highlight Commercials. Current Screen Gems satellites include Highway 61, Independent Artists, The Directors Chair and Cine International, all based in New York. Screen Gems also maintains stage complexes in Manhattan and in Wilmington, N.C.
FILMFAIR, STUDIO CITY, CALIF.
This studio enjoyed a 32-year run in commercialmaking before closing its doors in 1992. Two years later, its founding father, director Gus Jekel, passed away. FilmFair was active in both live action and animation, earning leadership status on several fronts. For example, FilmFair launched a successful London studio in 1966, long before international reach became fashionable for U.S. commercial production houses. In 79, the company entered into an association with now defunct Hagmann Impastato Stephens & Kerns (HISK). HISKs formation was billed in some circles as one of the first bonafide satellite deals in the spot production business. This helped to set a prototype for what later became a common practice of setting up satellites, thus infusing smaller boutique-style shops with the financial clout and backing of larger, established companies.
FilmFair developed an array of talent over the years, including animation director Frank Terry, who now chairs the animation department at Cal Arts, Valencia. Much of that talent was cultivated through various satellite operations, among them: Murray & McNamara Moving Pictures (which later became Murray & Blum Moving Pictures); Michael/Daniel Associates, Pelorus; Summerhouse Films; and animation house Cornell/Abood. Michael/ Daniel turned out to be a predecessor company to what is now bicoastal Bedford Falls, part of the Stoney Road family of commercial production houses.
Overshadowed at times by his and FilmFairs influence on the industry was the fact that Jekel served with distinction as a director. He was one of the original judges for the Directors Guild of Americas best commercial director of the year honor. He helmed spots that earned numerous Clios as well as honors at Cannes. Jekel additionally played a key role in helping to establish the animation department at UCLA. He taught classes as part of that curriculum. Another FilmFair mainstay was director/executive producer Ted Goetz, now retired from the business. Goetz played a key role in developing the AICP on the West Coast.
DIRECTING ARTISTS, BICOASTAL
The influence of this repping services firm has been chronicled in both the industry retrospective and mentor sections of this SHOOT Special Issue. Suffice it to say that Ray Lofaro, dubbed by many as the inventor of reppingaand certainly of independent reppingatrained many top sales people and career managers in the business. (See Tom Mooneys remembrance of Lofaro in our Mentorship section.) These included Steve Dickstein, Tim Case, Sarah Holbrook, Peter Ziegler, Carol Biedermann and Andrew Halpern. Lofaro contributed enormously to establishing Propaganda Films. He also served as the first national rep for Chelsea Pictures and helped immeasurably in the development of that house, which is now part of the family of companies under the publicly traded iNTELEFILM umbrella. Directing Artists opened in 86, after Lofaro & Associates was forced into a highly publicized bankruptcy. Directing Artists closed shortly after Lofaros passing in 91, at the age of 54. Lofaro died of heart failure after a nearly year-long struggle with lung cancer.
SNAZELLE FILM GROUP, SAN FRANCISCO
Director/cameraman Gregg Snazelle died a year ago, due to complications from bladder cancer, at the age of 73. He had maintained his own production house in San Franciscoamost recently called Snazelle Film Groupasince 1949. In the mid-70s, he launched Cine Rent West, a San Francisco-based equipment rental/stage facility business, which opened a second operation in Portland, Ore., in 95. Upon Snazelles passing, Snazelle Film Group closed. But Cine Rent West continues under the aegis of Greggs son, Craig Snazelle.
Gregg Snazelle is largely credited with helping to put commercial production on the map in the Bay Area. Among those who got their career starts with Snazelle were noted animator Sally Cuikshank, feature DP Walter Lloyd, Jim Morris (now president of Lucas Digital, San Rafael) and Kip Larson, who produces spots for ILM Commercial Productions, San Rafael and Los Angeles. Over the years, Id say Greggs companies [Snazelle Film Group and Cine Rent West] served as a training ground for more than a thousand people who are now in the San Francisco film industry, relates Gail Morris, a freelance producer who served as Snazelle Film Groups executive producer from 80 to 88, and then freelanced regularly for Snazelle in subsequent years.
(COLOSSAL) PICTURES, SAN FRANCISCO
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. When (Colossal) declared bankruptcy in May 96, it left numerous unsecured creditors holding the bag, ultimately resulting in a payment amounting to some 18 cents on the dollar in 1999. However, in the big picture, the company, which went out of business in 99 after 23 years, left a positive mark on the Bay Area community in several respects. For one, it was a spawning ground for talent, who left to form such other leading San Francisco companies as production house Pandemonium, animation studio Wild Brain and miniatures/model-making shop M5 Industries.
Just as importantly, (Colossal)afounded by Drew Takahashi and Gary Gutierrezawas a tremendous source of business, spanning commercials, features, promos, network and cable IDs and other projects. It created a pipeline of top-drawer work that helped other shops in the Bay Area growaamong them, digital effects/post house Western Images. Although at the time of its bankruptcy declaration (Colossal) owed Western some $30,000, Western president Mike Cunningham said after (Colossal)s closure, Weve lost an institution. A lot of alumni from (Colossal) have contributed a great deal to the community here. And a lot of companies, Western Images included, have benefited significantly from (Colossal)s innovation and eagerness to try new things.
DENNIS HAYES & ASSOCIATES, NEW YORK
After 20 years as one of the industrys premier editorial houses, Dennis Hayes & Associates closed up shop in August 97. The next year, editor Dennis Hayes was the first inductee into the Association of Independent Commercial Editors (now Association of Independent Creative Editors) Hall of Fame. During his 30-year career in the New York editorial community, he had a profound impact on the industry as a business owner, editor and industry leader. He served as the first president of the AICE/East chapter and helped in the development of the editorial bid form used today. He also helped in the development of assorted editors over the years. Among Dennis Hayes & Associates alumni were company partners/editors Michael Saia, Barry Stilwell and Frank Cioffredi, now at New York-based Jump, and editor Michael Schwartz of Zap Edit, New York.
Upon hearing the announcement that Hayes had been chosen for induction into the AICE Hall of Fame, past AICE/East president Arthur Williams, chairman of the board at Editing Concepts, New York, observed: There was something in Dennis personality and in the way he conducted his business. A He was always the person who everyone wanted to emulateacertainly I wanted to emulate. There was something extremely creative A and extremely professional and articulate in whatever he did. He was respected and known for that.Q