LIVE ISSUE/TONY KAYE QUITS COMMERCIALS: Directing maverick addicted to the unpredictable. What’s he up to this time? Karen Yates tries to fathom TK’s latest shock decision

Some say it happened like this: a client turned up on the set of a commercial which Tony Kaye was supposed to be shooting. But when Kaye arrived with a young acolyte in tow, the great man announced he was not going to do the directing. His protege was, and if the client didn’t like it, Kaye declared he would pay for a re-shoot with his own money.

Some say it happened like this: a client turned up on the set of a

commercial which Tony Kaye was supposed to be shooting. But when Kaye

arrived with a young acolyte in tow, the great man announced he was not

going to do the directing. His protege was, and if the client didn’t

like it, Kaye declared he would pay for a re-shoot with his own

money.



As with much of what the maverick, passionate and possibly loopy Kaye

gets up to, it all sounds so possible. But whether this was the first

and last time the brilliant but eccentric commercials director pulled

this particular stunt, we’ll never know. Kaye has declared that he is

quitting commercials to devote more time to his other interests, mainly

feature films. The eclectic but never reticent Kaye claims he will

create an Andy Warhol-style Factory of artistic talent (Campaign, last

week).



Quite what a Warhol-esque factory of talent is and how it differs from a

production company comprising young wannabes and older hands is

difficult to ascertain. Kaye himself was in Los Angeles, locked in a

frenzy of eleventh-hour discussions over his first feature film,

American History X. No-one at the London headquarters of Kaye’s

production empire, the K Media Group, knew what his intentions were, and

neither did friends and colleagues on this side of the Atlantic. That’s

hardly surprising, though, since most of these have not seen hide nor

hair of him for the past 12 months since American History X - an

angst-ridden movie about race hatred - began to take over his life.



Perhaps this isolation was why Kaye went to the trouble and expense of

placing a full-page ad in Campaign last week. This was inserted at the

last moment amid exhortations of strict secrecy. When it appeared, it

carried a quotation from the Beatles hit, Help!.



’When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed

anybody’s help in any way. But now these days are gone, I’m not so self

assured, now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors. Help

me if you can.’



’He’ll tell you all about it. He said he wants to tell Campaign all

about it,’ came the urgent voice down the phone from Kaye’s assistant in

Los Angeles. ’He’s promised. It’s only that ... well ... I haven’t been

able to find him ...’ This less than convincing reassurance ended

Campaign’s 48-hour telephone marathon to find an official explanation

for the ad. Instead, we sought answers from those closest to him in

London.



’He’s bonkers,’ observes Matt Ryan, who as a creative at Hedger Mitchell

Stark, gave Kaye his first script that appeared on TV - a commercial for

Olivetti. ’He’s done a bit of a Cantona. Perhaps he’s just noticed that

he’s been too busy to keep in touch with us all.’ Ryan, who is now

deputy creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, could well be right.

Cantona responded to critics of his Kung-fu attack on a fan by quoting

an obscure French saying. Maybe Kaye’s enigmatic ad is his way of

answering those who have censured him for kicking up such a fuss with

D&AD. Kaye recently demanded the resignations of Anthony Simonds-Gooding

and Tim Mellors, respectively the chairman and president of D&AD,

because he did not appear in the D&AD commercials book. He wasn’t

included because he didn’t get round to finding time to talk to D&AD

(something we sympathise with). As a final parallel, of course, both

Kaye and Cantona have now given up what they were best known for.



Kaye’s withdrawal from commercials has been rumoured for a while, and a

cynic might suggest that the Warhol-esque line is just a public

relations spin on the fact that scripts coming into Tony Kaye & Partners

will no longer get Tony Kaye at the other end of the camera. Kaye has

been increasingly tied up with his own artistic projects. Apart from

American History X, there’s the marathon multi-media project on

abortion, a largely self-funded expose of a subject he feels strongly

about. And a 90-minute celluloid journey through the mind of a real-life

white South African farmer, Nicholas Steyn. Steyn shot dead a

six-month-old black baby because her cousin trespassed on his land.



In terms of commercials, the UK public has seen little of Kaye since

Ogilvy & Mather’s ’black and white’ campaign for Guinness. The prolific

period which brought us Volvo’s ’photographer’, ’stuntman’ and

’twister’, British Rail’s ’relax’ and Dunlop’s ’unexpected’ ended a long

time ago.



In retrospect, the first tangible sign of Kaye’s lack of time for

commercials came a few months ago when Jason Harrington - not Kaye -

directed the latest Dunlop spot for AMV.



Walter Campbell, the art director behind some of Kaye’s most famous

commercials and a personal friend, explains why the Dunlop film,

’unexpected2’, was made without him. ’We knew we weren’t going to get

Tony because he was just beginning to kick off his film, but Jason has

the same kind of photographic attitude as Tony. A great eye. Tony feels

he has moved on. He wants to concentrate on the big screen and become a

full-time Hollywood director. I wouldn’t say he’ll never do another

commercial. What he’s trying to do is to give a bit of an impetus to the

guys in his stable.’



’He’s going to be missed by the industry,’ Campbell continues.



As Simon Green, joint creative director of Partners BDDH and an admirer

of Kaye, observes: ’The song he should have quoted from is My Way.’



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