PROFILE: Reformed Goth quits pop to mix cocktail of ads and movies - Despite directing a feature film, Tim Pope still enjoys doing ads, Jim Davies says

By JIM DAVIES, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 11 December 1998 12:00AM

Tim Pope is chewing over his stop-start career as a commercials director. The co-founder of Cowboy Films is on something of a roll at the moment - currently shooting the follow-up to his colourful Renault Scenic commercial through Publicis - but it’s been a long hard slog and the ad industry has apparently taken some convincing. ’The problem is that people have a lot of preconceptions about me,’ he explains.

Tim Pope is chewing over his stop-start career as a commercials

director. The co-founder of Cowboy Films is on something of a roll at

the moment - currently shooting the follow-up to his colourful Renault

Scenic commercial through Publicis - but it’s been a long hard slog and

the ad industry has apparently taken some convincing. ’The problem is

that people have a lot of preconceptions about me,’ he explains.



’They assume that I’m some kind of Goth. As you can see, I’m not. I used

to have long hair, but it was never vertical.’



Pope is, of course, alluding to his long-standing relationship with the

Cure, which over the years produced some of the most intriguing,

inventive and just plain daft promotional videos ever. Bearing in mind

the throwaway nature of pop culture, these quintessentially English

films have stood the test of time - measuring up easily to today’s more

extravagant, effects-laden fare.



He shot 37 promos in all - high points including the intensely

claustrophobic Close to You, which was shot almost entirely in a cramped

wardrobe, Boys Don’t Cry, featuring a ’junior’ version of the band

miming to the song, and Friday I’m in Love, with its ever-shifting

scenery and frenetic walk-on characters.



The latter provided the raw material for the Renault Scenic ad. His

other, often overlooked, promo credits include films for the likes of

David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Neil Young and Iggy Pop.



’I was so aware that I was marketing (the Cure),’ Pope says. ’It wasn’t

just a question of going out and doing wild and wacky stuff. I was

trying to sell them but at the same time trying to hide the fact that I

was selling them. In a way, it was like doing an ad campaign over many

years. It may have looked fun, but in fact it was all incredibly

disciplined.’



Does he resent the fact that he’s still, by and large, remembered for

this body of work rather than his more recent commercials output? ’Well,

I’d rather be remembered for something than nothing at all,’ he says,

philosophically.



Besides, Pope is convinced that things are about to change. He is fired

up about his new Scenic commercial, which breaks on Christmas Day and

was written by the Publicis creative team, Steve Glenn and Paul

Campion.



’Maybe it’s a mistake to put all my eggs in one basket, but at least it

shows I’m committed,’ he says. ’If it turns out how I want it to, it

will become my new calling card and show people what I’m capable of

doing (in commercials). I believe I’ve finally mastered it.’



Now in his 40s, Pope has been involved in advertising for longer than

you’d imagine. His first outing was for Tuborg lager back in 1986, which

cleverly superimposed animation over live action (and which he still

ranks among his best work). More recently, and perhaps more

surprisingly, he’s been responsible for the tongue-in-cheek KFC campaign

for Ogilvy & Mather.



It’s perhaps this stubborn refusal to be typecast or compartmentalised

that has held him back in the commercials arena. ’It is tricky,’ he

admits.



’It’s important to me that I move on and try different things, though

central to everything I do is capturing the spirit, whatever that spirit

happens to be. People also seem to have a problem with me directing

films, which I really don’t understand. Why do they find it so

hard?’



It’s a practical problem as much as anything else. Pope’s last movie,

Crow - City of Angels, which briefly held the number one position in the

US box office, took him out of circulation for more than three years as

he was immersed in the machinations of Hollywood. A not entirely happy

episode, he still believes it provided valuable lessons for the

future.



’I learned a lot from it very quickly,’ he says, ’particularly from my

mistakes.’



His next feature project - which he stresses is a long way off - is a

version of Giles Foden’s Whitbread Prize-winning novel, The Last King of

Scotland, which is currently being developed for the screen. ’After

Crow, I was offered a lot of mega Hollywood movies, which involved

blowing things up. But I wanted to do something more challenging over

which I could have more control and more input,’ Pope says.



For someone who wears his feelings about his art on his sleeve, Pope is

surprisingly evasive about his past. ’North London git. Not a poshy,’ is

all he’ll say. He will admit, however, that he went to Ravensbourne

College of Art, where he studied TV drama. ’It wasn’t a fantastic

course. It gave me a wall against which I could bloody my head and, I

guess, pushed me into pop videos.’



From there, he joined a Covent Garden-based company which groomed

politicians to appear on television. He particularly remembers going to

11 Downing Street to give Denis Healey a few pointers and then

purloining the video equipment to film a Specials gig later the same

evening.



Sitting at a boardroom table in a chunky-knit sweater, playing with a

polystyrene cup, the fast-talking Pope looks far more like a friendly

fisherman than the unapproachable Goth he feels the industry sees. He is

keen to affirm his commitment to commercials, notes that Cowboy Films is

his baby (together with his business partner of 17 years’ standing, Lisa

Bryer), and that the company roster includes heavyweight directors such

as Matt Forrest and Nick Lewin.



’Not a lot of people know that I’m the boy in Cowboy,’ he laughs.

Forming lasting relationships, like the one he has managed to establish

with Publicis’s executive creative director, Gerry Moira, is, he

believes, the key to achieving the quality of advertising he aspires

to.



And could he be lured back to pop videos? ’If the music was a lot

wilder, I’d be in there no question,’ he says. ’But once you’ve worked

with Iggy Pop, why bother to work with anyone else? I find commercials

much more fulfilling these days.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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