Thursday, August 23, 2007

Selling Funny

For a lot of reasons- none that make any sense to me- advertising agencies are loath to sell commercials using humor. Jim and I have directed some mildly humorous spots that perhaps generate a grin or a smile, but nothing (intentionally at least) that is laugh out loud funny. The first and only person who comes to mind as a truly funny TV commercial director is Joe Sedelmaier.

You will know Sedelmaier (one of those people who is almost always referred to by his last name only) from the Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” commercial and the Federal Express fast talker, but his best work came in the 1970s. His commercial for Southern Airlines- where he shows us the difference between first class and coach (steerage)- is a terrific example of short form filmmaking. Was it an affective piece of television advertising? I don’t know- anyone fly Southern lately?

You can identify Sedelmaier commercials very quickly. He uses wide angle lenses, real, often strange looking people as actors- Clara Peller was no actress- and very simple sets. He was famous for stopping people on the street and taking a Polaroid of them. He was equally famous for being tough on his crew-he yelled, he had a temper, he kicked clients off his own sets (he yelled at me once in 1987) and is generally a horse’s ass.

It’s important to place his work in context. Pre-Sedelmaier here is a typical TV commercial: to the sounds of Sprach Zarathustra (the main theme from 2001) in slow motion comes Kraft Thousand Island Dressing pouring onto iceberg lettuce. Da- Da- Da- Da- Dum-Dum-Dum-Dum-Dum-Dum….Introducing new Kraft 1000 Island dressing! After Sedelmaier- a whole new language for selling.

Thanks Joe, you horse’s ass.

PeterH

1 comment:

mrliteral said...

I think it was the combination of Sedelmaier & Barry Sonnenfeld that first showed me how a wide angle lens really affects an image. I was probably too dense to understand it before they came along.