WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA

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A spot has to hit a pretty strong nerve to move all the product off the shelves, boost the value of the company's stock by 54 percent the week it airs, and become the target of an injunction hearing. Written and directed by 26-year-old freelancer Chris Milk, the "Soft Bear" commercial for 3DO's BattleTanx videogame did all that. The production starts out as a typical warm and fuzzy fabric softener spot, when suddenly a battle tank roars into the laundry room and continues its flaming search-and-destroy mission against the hapless title character, who gets singed almost beyond recognition. But not quite; the bear bears (if you will) an uncanny resemblance to Snuggles, the ursine spokescreature of Snuggle fabric softener fame.

Lever Brothers, Snuggle's parent company, wasn't amused. Lever lost the original hearing seeking an injunction, and pulled its $100 million-plus lawsuit in exchange for 3DO pulling the spot. According to Milk, the product had already sold out and the media buy was finished, so no harm was done to 3DO's bottom line except for a "nominal" settlement sum.

Milk's relationship with members of 3DO's marketing team began last year while he was directing at his own small production company, Spoon Fed Films, in San Francisco. He further impressed them with his 1998 spec spot for Sprite, which won a Gold Student Clio last year (Milk was enrolled at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco at the time). After 3DO severed ties with its previous ad agency, Publicis/Hal Riney, in August 1998, the company contacted Milk about the BattleTanx spot.

Says Milk of 3DO, "They wanted something kids would talk about next day at school. And I wanted to do something that was iconoclastic, but still sells product."

Milk, who is looking for representation at a production company, worked very closely with model-making company M-5, of Gremlins fame. He wanted the bear to look enough like Snuggles to get the point across, but different enough to avoid legal problems. Oops.

Gloats the director, "I can go on about how this is a satirical social commentary on consumer culture. But I really just wanted to kill that fucking bear."

Director Chris Milk Producers Stelio Kitrilakis & Kari Albert, Complete Pandemonium Editor Alan Chimenti, Western Images Flame Artist Bob Roesle,

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