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War experiences and audio visual poetry

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Maysles films: making commercials
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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Well, when I made- when I made the psychiatry film my sole source of income came from lecturing with that film and another one that I made of my experiences in general travelling around Russia. But that wasn't enough to pay for the films that we were about to make, you know, or even to pay for our living expenses. And so once we got going in the '60s we thought we could earn our keep by making television commercials because we had the conviction that a very good selling tool would be simply to film people experiencing the product or service that was going to be represented in the commercial. And if you could film them at a moment where they're actually experiencing it or at least talking about it from, from having used it and from really feeling genuinely positively about the product, you might have a very good commercial. But the best thing would be to film them actually in the use of it, okay? Well, one of the commercials that we made, it was a series of commercials for a bank that was extending itself all across the country. And they had the idea that like- unlike other banks they had this special kind of service where they felt that they were so committed to the customer that they were forming partnerships with the customer, and so the idea was to film successful partnerships and so we filmed, for example, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy- this wonderful marriage. And so as we began to film them- we didn't give them a script or any specific instructions. We spoke of the fact that we might talk about partnerships- you know. And we exposed a roll or two and nothing seemed to happen. Then we took a break and he said- oh, I got an idea. So I said- oh, okay, let's film it. And he told a story about a poem that was written by a Apollinaire of a human relationship, and I was thinking, as he told this fascinating story, that- and it was about people getting along together- that it's too bad, I'm hoping that she's going to come into this thing and be just as brilliant. And, sure enough, that happened just, just a moment later. So we had this beautiful one-minute exposition of a beautiful partnership and it served the purposes of the bank so very well. And it also did something that inspired us to make commercials in another direction as well, and that is, to satisfy some sort of need that the person watching the commercial would have satisfied other than just going out and doing what the company wants him to do. And what they- we learned later on that the awareness was only 3% of this bank's growth and, and value to the customer, but once the- this film came out in the commercials they changed the rating to 93%. And I think part of it was this extra thing that people got- they loved the poem. And they wrote in and they said- who's this Apollinaire- I want to get his books. And that was an added benefit that you don't get in most commercials nor even get the benefit of recognizing the product for its true value in most of what you see. Most of what you see is commercials that are very expensive; they have a high production value but very little communication value. They don't grab you by your heart and they don't give you that little extra thing that you wouldn't expect but it's kind of a bonus for having watched the commercial. But all documentary style commercials have kind of gone out of fashion as the demand to make them more and more expensive takes place. The advertising companies make their profit from the 17% of what it costs to make the film, and plus other profit as well. That's a very important part of it all. So if they can make the commercial come in at a cost of three or four or five hundred thousand dollars, so much the better, but that would be very hard to do in filming just that simple scene of these two people but you'd end up with a much better commercial.

Albert Maysles (1926-2015) known for his important documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, pioneered the documentary style known as Direct Cinema. He helped create techniques still widely used in modern documentary production, as well as many of the techniques used in reality TV.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz Rebekah Maysles Sara Maysles

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Rebekah Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is an artist living between New York and Philadelphia. She has her own line of clothing, Blackberryrose, and co-runs the store Sodafine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, a vintage and handmade store that sells clothing, books and other products made by artists.

Sara Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is currently doing her BA in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, and working as an Archivist of the photographs and photographic material at Maysles Films Inc., Albert‚s film production company. She spent ten months out of two years working with Tibetan refugees at a center in Nepal, and continues to travel back and forth between America and Asia.

Tags: Russia, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Apollinaire

Duration: 6 minutes

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010