Director Peter Kagan
Editor Lawrence Bridges
Years ago I uploaded some of my commercials onto You Tube, and for the most part, the reactions have been more or less positive. Nike “Revolution,” on the other hand, has drawn a lot of heat for the same things that brought about a lawsuit that eventually saw the ad pulled from the air a quarter of a century ago.
Conceived by Wieden + Kennedy, and directed by Peter Kagan, this ad represents one of the milestones in my own career, and another gut check moment where I learned that there is a right way and a wrong way to be stubborn, and there is sometimes nothing you can do but to “wear ‘em down,” as I’ve told interns, assistants and film students.
Peter Kagan, originally a photographer, shot the ad on Super 8 which became quite fashionable as an extension of the pushed and grainy 35mm look. The real challenge for me creatively and technically came in the form of videotape. Around that time, it became normal to cut on videotape which after it was transferred, yielded an image that had lost a lot of its quality and required replacement with the original afterward. The completely linear method of editing and lack of timecode, made it a nightmare to work with on the Kem (my editing machine of choice.)
The clients demanded library shots of John McEnroe and Michael Jordan (who Nike had just signed) from news tape, which looks awful. They were insistent on this, and I could not reconcile putting such substandard footage next to Peter Kagan’s expertly shot Super 8. Luckily, I had met a guy at the Billboard music video awards at Universal who had invented this little black box that could ingest videotape on one end, and outputted black and white film that took away the duplicated frames of videotape (that gives it that bad local news/soap opera look.)
With the problem of the ugly news library footage solved, the day of the client presentation came. Dan Wieden, Dave Kennedy, Susan Hoffman, Jim Riswold and producer Bill Davenport gave notes and we agreed on the cut. Dan Wieden came up with the idea to go out on the gymnast dismounting from the bars with a smile on his face, but the clients wanted more footage of Michael Jordan. The ending as it was in our original cut preserved the democratic tone of the spot, meaning that performance was for everyone, not just elite athletes, which was the point of the spot. The client persisted with wanting more footage of the stars, and it became a tense situation between the agency, the client, and myself. I remained energetic and positive of my cut, and let’s not forget that while once I’d been cutting to the music of Lou Reed, I was now using The Beatles! I had to protect this idea of the everyman, which the agency had worked hard to bring about. Eventually we decided to go to dinner. We went to Antonio’s on Melrose and Santa Monica around 8pm. We walked in and sat close to Sandra Burnhard who had just worked with W+K. The drinks were flowing and the clients were impressed. By the time we went back to my editing room at Red Car, we were at that point where everyone was tired and irritated, work starts to happen in slow motion and decisions get weaker. That’s when I decided that I really had to wear them down, and make them stop changing their minds.
I kept the versions they liked, I showed them every possibility and permutation that could think up and exhausted every possibility, and after a lot of frustration at around 3am, I showed them the first cut and they said,
“That’s fine. Let’s go home.”
Once again, Randall Rothenburg wrote about this in Where the Suckers Moon, which is one of the best books about advertising out there, and it chronicles some of W+K’s earliest victories.
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