Love it (as one of the best car ads you’ve ever seen) or loathe it (for
its over-intellectualised hype), the current Peugeot 406 ‘thoughts’
commercial through Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper has got UK agencies buzzing
about one of America’s elite commercials directors, Peter Smilie.
Smilie was born in Durban, South Africa where he began his career in
photo reportage. Initially, the political battlefield of South African
apartheid was his main inspiration. Later, when the traumatic nature of
the subject matter began to take its toll, Smilie moved into fashion
photography, and thence to his first production company in Johannesburg,
Philo Peterse Productions.
In 1984, Smilie moved to the US and began working with Robert Abel in
Hollywood. He is now the owner/director of Smilie Films, a four-director
set-up where his wife, Stephanie Smilie, produces for him. Smilie is
represented in the UK by Usher and Associates.
With his Los Angeles-via-South-Africa accent, the sailing fanatic Smilie
is renowned for the visual abilities epitomised by ‘thoughts’ and by his
spots for Citroen, TCI, Labatt, Martell and the Californian Cheese
Company. These ads show the polished narrative ability for which Smilie
has attracted numerous awards, including the Bafta award for best
cinematography for his ‘art of Martell’ commercial.
In ‘thoughts’, for Peugeot, we are treated to a mix of images - charging
elephants, a drowning man, war-torn Bosnia, a ‘controlled’ jack-knife,
and an earthquake-hit town. And yet, Smilie laughs, the most challenging
part was ‘shooting the car, the rest was just too damn easy’.
Smilie rejects whizz-bang special effects, and prefers to light all his
own work. It’s no surprise to learn that he enjoyed the freedom of
shooting for a London agency because ‘in the US it’s a case of 500
people sticking their oar in’.
As for the future, features maybe? Not necessarily, Smilie just wants a
continuous drip feed of ‘good ideas and good scripts for ads’ and the
time to shoot stills again. ‘In my heart I’m still a photographer,’ he