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Why David Mamet Wants to Direct Ads Again



Who David Mamet
Age 65
New gig Commercial director, Aéro Film
Other gigs Playwright, screenwriter, film director, essayist

You've signed with Aéro Film to direct ads again. Why now?
Well, I like to work. And also, when I was very young, there was this woman. I thought she was a homeless woman. Turns out she was like a witch or an angel. And she prophesied that I would have a nice wife and many kids. But then one day, Aéro Film would come to me and, just like Mr. Bonasera in The Godfather, demand a service in return—which is to shoot a whole bunch of commercials.

Wow, it's all coming true.
So far, so good.

So, Aéro Film approached you?
They have an office next door [to me in Los Angeles]. After a couple of years, I said, "What do you do?" And they said, "We make commercials. What do you do?" I said, "I'm a writer." So, we said, let's do something together.

You directed a Ford ad in 2007. Have you done others?
I just did the one. But when I was a kid, about a million years ago in Chicago, I was actually a photo model. And I came very close—I was the [runner-up] to be on the cover of the Kellogg's Sugar Smacks box. This was 1964 or so. I was a gymnast, and I was coaching some kid. And I had to eat these freaking Sugar Smacks all day long. It's been 50 years and I still haven't gotten that weight off.

It didn't sour you on the ad business, though.
No, not at all.

Did you enjoy doing the Ford spot?
I had a great time. When I was a kid, I always enjoyed reading ad reminiscences—notably, of course, George Lois and Jerry Della Femina and David Ogilvy. Those are great books, and they're very, very provocative, especially to someone who's a dramatist. I don't think I'm stretching it too far to say that's basically what a good ad is: It's something that's going to break the concentration of the viewer, as [Edward] Bernays said.

You've always been a fan of salesmen.
Oh, sure. You know, Sir John Keegan just died. He was the great military historian of Britain. In one of his books he wrote, notably, "It was not my fate to be a warrior." And so, it was not my fate to be a salesman. But I worked with a lot of salesmen in my life, and I was always stunned by their ability to state the proposition such that someone else was going to do that which he had no idea of doing.

In a way, this is your chance to be a salesman.
Yeah. Absolutely so.

Telling a dramatic story in 30 seconds seems a lot different than doing so in a film or play or TV show.
Well, it is and it isn't. [Sergei] Eisenstein and Bernays came up with their theories about the same time. They said that what you have to do is make the audience break their thought patterns such that they get the ideas—so that you aren't telling them something, they're telling themselves something. If you don't do that, you can't change their actions. A good example of that was that [Chevy] ad from the [2012] Super Bowl where the trucks survive the nuclear holocaust, and one guy comes out and says to the other guys, "Have a Twinkie." It's unforgettable, you know? He unites everybody by saying that. We all know this folk myth, and you've gotta laugh.

Do you see advertising as art in any way?
I don't know. I mean, your question is: Is it possible to have art in pursuit of a mercantile end? And if it's not, then I don't know what the hell television is, because we've had 60 years of a medicine show.

Does it change the way you work, knowing that an ad wants a non-artistic response from the viewer?
Well, your question, put differently, is, Am I a big fat whore? And the answer is, I'll be damned if I know.

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