EVERYBODY HAS A RAY LOFARO STORY.
Here's Mitch Kanner's favorite: It was the end of a long and contentious day at Lofaro & Associates, the high-flying production house that burned bright until its collapse in the late '80s, and Lofaro and Kanner, then one of his repping proteges, had been quarreling all afternoon about something long since forgotten. "We were having our end of day meeting," says Kanner, now a hyperactive dealmeister in his own right at Digital Domain, "and someone said, 'What do you think, Mitch?'*" Before Kanner could answer, Lofaro cut him off: "Mitch doesn't know anything today."
A master of the quick quip, a connoisseur of food, wine and jazz, a cigar-chomping raconteur from a bygone age, Lofaro was, depending on whom you talk to, either a visionary who changed the shape of the commercials production industry or a wheeler-dealer with a lax sense of business standards and a willingness to stretch the truth. One thing is certain: in an industry where few leave a trace of their existence, Lofaro boasts a bona fide legacy.
Consider some of the following: Lofaro is widely credited for introducing Ridley Scott to the U.S. He was one of the first people to represent Tony Kaye, one of the first live-action reps to handle a computer animation company, and one of the first to offer music video directors to the ad community (as opposed to the other way around). He brought Joe Pytka into the commercials business, signed a largely unknown company called Propaganda Films to a repping deal, and refined and popularized the concept of the repping company. He dabbled in water colors, produced jazz albums, threw lavish '80s-style parties, made a fortune and lost two, but always seemed to have enough cash for his annual pilgrimage to Cannes.
Lofaro was one of the first producers to bring foreign directors into the States; later, he teamed them with A-list feature DPs and changed the look of commercials. And in the process, he trained some of the best reps in the business, chiefly among them Kanner; Steve Dickstein, managing director at Propaganda's burgeoning commercials division; Tim Case, the thinking man's rep, whose Tim Case & Associates may come closest, some observers like to say, to what Lofaro's Directing Artists was meant to be; and Tom Mooney, Headquarters' often hilarious motormouth and one of the last true characters in a business that was once full of them.
There are other sales talents as well-Peter Ziegler, Sarah Holbrook and Michael Kulp, to name a few-who came out of the Ray Machine. But mostly when people talk about Lofaro and his impact on the business, two things come across; one is the sentiment that we'll never see his likes again, and the other is that his impact is still being felt.
"Ray was always an outsized figure in the business, with perceptions that transcended what commercialsmaking was all about back then," says Pytka. "His strength was in human relationships. He had an incredible sense for people, for kindness and charity." Pytka says that, to a certain extent, this was also Lofaro's Achilles heel, playing a role in the two high-profile business failures he endured: "Ray trusted people he shouldn't have throughout his career," Pytka observes. "He was a seducer, but he was always being seduced as well."
"Ray was lord of the broad strokes," says John Doig, now a principal with Doig Elliott Shur in New York but back then an O&M copywriter who had become friends with Lofaro before they ever worked together. "He was never a petty man. Details were probably his downfall-he had no time for them. It was the big picture that was Ray's world."
After shuttering Lofaro & Associates amid all kinds of nasty allegations, Lofaro resurfaced with Directing Artists, which he insisted, with typical panache, was an "agenting" company, not so much a repping service. Whatever it was, it was an invention of necessity, since Lofaro couldn't actually produce commercials anymore, given the fact that his credit was shot.
"The irony of Directing Artists is that Ray had the idea for doing something like this long before circumstances drove him to it," says Kanner. "It was based on the concept of Hollywood talent agencies, and born of his experiences in dealing with them while trying to get feature people involved in making commercials."
Denied access to top commercial directors, many of whom were wary of letting Lofaro handle any aspect of their careers, the company went left of center in its search for directors to represent; along the way they brought some unlikely names to the business. Lofaro's two major coups, most former colleagues agree, was bringing in John Nathan, an unknown Harvard business professor and documentary filmmaker, to shoot a dire, crisis-atmosphere AT&T campaign in the mid-'80s immortalized by Barbara Lippert as "slice of death" advertising (a job he worked on with his close pal Doig); and the teaming of the British music video directing duo of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme with Chiat/Day's infinitely clever Nynex Yellow Pages "Human Cartoons" campaign.
"Ray had a vision for taking people from other areas of filmmaking and interpreting them for advertising," says Dickstein. "What Ray was about was his ability to understand, as well as the best agency creative people could understand, what the needs of a job were. And he was able to explain that to an agency, and then fulfill the promise of that."
Says Case, "Ray had great taste. He could look at a few frames of a director's work and extrapolate what he could do."
"Ray had a zest for life that was seductive for people of passion," says Dickstein, "which is why he had so many friends in the agency business. He gave a lot to the industry and he didn't get a lot of credit for it. He cleared the