If you’re searching for an inspirational hero, they don’t come
bigger than Muhammad Ali. So when TBWA GGT Simons Palmer was planning
the latest execution in its ’anything’s possible when it’s an Equitable
Life’ campaign, Ali was top of the list.
The star was quick to agree in principle, but it took six months of
negotiations to pin down the contract details and secure rights to the
archive film footage which also plays a part in the ad. Ali’s lawyer was
still ironing out the minutiae on set during the filming of the
commercial in Los Angeles just before Christmas.
Not that Ali’s coterie was being difficult. Nick Kerr, the TBWA group
account director, said their main consideration was always to maintain
the dignity of the supreme athlete and human rights pioneer who suffers
from Parkinson’s disease.
The commercial, written and art directed by Alan Moseley and Graham
Cappi, features a young boy who asks Ali what he would have done if he
hadn’t been a boxer. Ali replies that he would have been the world’s
greatest at whatever he had turned his hand to - even if he was a
garbage man he would have dumped cans in record time.
Stuart Douglas of D-Films was chosen to direct the ad because of the
’natural’ feel he achieves with dialogue, his experience with sports
stars and because he is one of the few commercials directors to have
worked with Ali before.
The chosen setting was a street on a hill which boasted a perfect view
of the heart of Los Angeles’ business district, with its imposing
skyscrapers gleaming in the distance on what luckily turned out to be a
beautiful sunny day. It was only towards the end of the day that the
production team found out that the location was in a pretty rough part
of town - when police arrived to cordon off the area because they were
expecting retaliation that night for a recent gangland murder.
Ali arrived on set accompanied by an entourage consisting chiefly of his
agent, his lawyer and various family members. Everyone wanted to meet
him but, being creative director, Trevor Beattie was first. Ali greeted
him with the words ’aah ... pretty boy,’ setting the playful tone for
To everyone’s surprise, Ali turned out to be approachable and generated
a warmth which drew everyone to him as he sat waiting for his
instructions from Douglas. He flirted, performed magic tricks, munched
biscuits and sparred verbally with all who came near him. Although his
words were sometimes slurred, everyone heard him quipping that he liked
the two-tone suit he was dressed in but couldn’t stand the ’white boy’s’
shoes wardrobe had provided.
Ali’s scenes had been scheduled for the afternoon but there was a
last-minute switch when the producers were told he performed better in
the morning because he had more energy. A stand-in was hired for some of
Ali’s ’point of view’ shots and to film the sequences where he gets in
and out of his car. The young boy also had a stand-in, on hand in case
the first choice froze in front of the camera.
The shoot - a co-production between D-Films and the US-based
Ritts/Hayden - went incredibly smoothly. Only a few splinters and some
prematurely flat batteries marred a day that left everyone
professionally satisfied and laden with souvenirs.
Edited by Emma Hall. Tel: 0171-413 4178 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.