Getting him out of the gate has been rough, says executive producer David Rosen of Chicago's Ben Moon, which represents Loof in the States. "Jorgen's not a real easy sell-even though everyone loves his reel." Loof's only American commercial to date is a British Knights spot out of Deutsch Inc. in which Nets star Derrick Coleman plays a Frankenstein-type creature whose assembled parts are brought to life by his athletic shoes. At the end, Coleman peeks down his shorts and exclaims, "I'm glad they didn't forget anything." But it was a Brit, not an American-head of production Nikki Fox-who awarded Loof that spot. "Jorgen has a style, and the bigger agencies here don't take chances on people," says Fox, "but I thought that after our British Knights spot he'd be inundated."
Inundated he's not, but Loof has been fortunate enough to link his gleefully warped imagination with Italian company Diesel jeans and workwear in a series of European market spots. Notable for their incongruous blend of European high-fashion models and tacky archival stock footage and music, these twisted tales mock everything from monster movies to family values. In the latest Diesel outing, for example, an outdoorsy redhead, who could have stepped off the cover of French Vogue, is dangling her perfect foot in a lake, when she's attacked by a snarling homage to "The Creature From the Black Lagoon." While in hot pursuit of the Diesel-attired maiden, the fanged monster is captured by a grunge-garbed, pouty male model who happens to be fiddling with a net in the woods, and the pair live happily ever after as we see them grind the monster into patties, grill 'em up and serve them on giant buns at a swamp-side fast food joint called Monster Burger.
Like so many commercials directors, Loof wants to direct features-and no surprise, this includes monster movies. But for now, he considers himself lucky that Diesel and its agency, Paradiset DDB Needham in Stockholm, have given him the latitude to turn their trendy clothes into bizarre shorts. (The Diesel print work is no less outrageous, and often far more politicized, featuring a string of kitschy Americanized characters posed in a series of faux brochure layouts.)
So far, Loof has directed four spots for Diesel's fractured "How To" and "For Successful Living" campaigns (See Creativity, April, 1992). And the only creative restriction he seems to have been handed is to provide absurd, unsavory tips viewers may use in their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
In an early Diesel spot, for example, a Sophia Loren-ish roadside sexpot causes distracted male (stock footage) motorists to crash. She then yanks the inner tubes from their tires, blows them up and uses them for a little family fun in a swimming pool (her family seems to be a collection of plump Iowans). Another spot shows a malevolent male model seemingly stalking a beachside trailer park populated by a sleeping old man, a dozen dogs leashed to an Airstream and a Vogue cover girl outfitted in Diesel shorts and legs from here to Chicago. As the man cuts small tree trunks into pointy stakes, then viciously drives them into the sand with an ax, the tension mounts-till it is revealed that he has thoughtfully provided a pee playground for the pooches.
Violently erotic is how some describe Loof's work, but he disagrees. "It's situationally absurd," he insists. "The people appear normal in my spots, maybe a little cartoonish at the end, but normal. I don't like the approach of having people make funny faces and overact," he explains. "I build absurd situations that make spots funny." Still, at times his ideas have been even too absurd for Diesel. For the holiday season, he wanted to portray Santa Claus as a dirty old man who gets iced. In another spot, he wanted to kill off the cast, then have them resurrected in a Christlike fashion.
The late-night beer drinking sessions Loof often shares with Paradiset CD Joakim Jonason, where they discuss their basic plots and unexpected endings, surely ups the dementia ante. "It's mainly me and Jorgen who come up with the ideas," says Jonason. "He's very involved in the process, which is different from the way things happen in the States." Loof agrees, and adds that the Diesel campaign would have died in infancy here because Americans tend to test ads to death. "If you want to come up with a new concept, you can't test it," he maintains. "People have no idea how it will turn out. How can you test something that has not been done before?"
Even so, Loof's limited success here suggests the American ad community is as wary of testing his alien brand of filmmaking as it is of adopting radical concepts. For example, GSD&M art director Doug Lyon, who bid Loof on two recent jobs, including an RC Cola spot that was eventually awarded to David Wild, says that his creative director thought using Loof was simply too much of a risk. And while shooting a spot for the CBS program "This Morning" and its "Breakfast For Your Head" campaign via Margeotes Fertitta Donaher & Weiss, one of the few jobs he has been awarded Stateside, Loof and his magical "Wizard of Oz"-style diner concept were axed by anchors Paula Zahn and Harry Smith after one day on the set. Apparently Zahn and Smith felt Loof's dancing salt shakers trivialized their show.
The event basically ended the agency's relationship with the client, although Loof appears to be merely caught in the middle. "It was an unfortunate communications breakdown," says MFD&W associate creative director Mark Waites. "Paula and Harry hadn't been told they were going to be in a commercial that day. They hadn't seen a script and didn't know the concept. That was our last involvement with CBS."
Disappointments aside, though, Loof feels he's done pretty well so far, for a boy from Gustafsberg. "I grew up in a toilet bowl," he says with a laugh. "Gustafsberg is a place that makes toilets. And everyone there either worked in the factory or the supermarket."
But at the age of 15, Loof took off for Stockholm, where he studied economics and lived with his girlfriend and her artist parents, who introduced him to art films. Loof became an art house regular and came to worship Pasolini and Kubrick-two directors he still deifies for what he calls the "genuine realness" they bring to their characters. Needless to say, he gave up on economics.
Then, in 1980, he stumbled into a job assisting Sweden's foremost fashion/commercial photographer, Bjorn Keller. Three years later Loof had moved to New York and was assisting the renowned Swedish photographer Ulf Skogsberg, who was doing complicated still lifes and special effects that landed on covers of Time. In 1985 Loof was back in Sweden with his American wife, working from his own photography studio. But as the years clicked by, Loof grew restless. He and his wife divorced, and, in 1989, he moved back to New York, where he enrolled in NYU's film school.
During the two years he spent at NYU, Loof shot stills for Interview and the now defunct Egg magazine; these photos, along with pictures he shot for Brazilian Vogue, got Loof his first job directing when he moved back to Sweden yet again in 1991. Loof's first directing job, for H&M Cosmetics, features two women, seemingly distracted by their mutual attraction, primping in the bathroom, and, in typical Loof fashion, the spot opens with a brief homage to the shower scene in "Psycho." Loof then began shooting Diesel print, and its ruggedly chic American cheesecake carried over into the Loof/Paradiset pairing for Bjorn Borg underwear. Loof, inspired by '40s GI magazines, shot a 1992 pinup calendar for the fading tennis star's product line. And the commercial he shot for the brand, which made the short list at Cannes last year, put a sci-fi twist on a "How to survive the '90s" flick, as the masses, led by Amazon dominatrixes, inflate their undies to avoid being drowned in floodwaters. Because Loof's stylish parodies of American B-movies aren't selling well here, he has set his sights on other shores-and generated a lot of interest in London, where he has recently signed with Propaganda. "I think that market might be better for me," he says. "They're not as afraid to use me as Americans are." After pondering this remark, he adds, "I need something very strong to help me make it in the American market. And I think I'll find that in London. I want to live in the States again, someday."
In the meantime, Loof jets in when opportunity knocks, and he just finished directing a new Diesel spot in Miami. "Some creative is going to get famous working with him here," says Waites of Loof, putting the botched CBS job behind him. "I hope it will be me."