COMPLICATED SIMON;FROM OUT OF ENGLAND, VIA THE BBC, COMES SIMON WEST, WHO HAS A KNACK FOR MIXING COMEDY AND BIG-BUDGET SPECIAL EFFECTS, AND WHO'S BEEN SNAPPING UP COVETED COMMERCIALS JOBS LIKE A FROG AT A FLY EATIN' GALLERY

By Published on .

LONDON-BORN AND BBC-BRED SIMON WEST, WHO'S BEEN BLAZ-ing a trail across the U.S. megabudget commercials landscape with jobs for Pepsi, Budweiser and others, hasn't got a swelled head from it all. No, he remains a thoughtful, modest 33 year old, who became a daddy not long ago and is now firmly ensconced in Los Angeles and equally well-situated at Satellite Pictures-though his noggin' is not about to fit through a straw, as in Pepsi's "Inner Tube," the Super Bowl boy-in-the-bottle extravaganza he shot for BBDO/New York. This pour-de-force was followed almost immediately by three Bud spots for DDB Needham/Chicago: the crazy frog that takes a tongue tow on a beer truck, the party ants that pour a long-neck into their hole and get down, and an upcoming number called "Boy Meets Girl," in which two Pacific Data Images-animated characters-the guy and gal symbols on the washroom doors of a bar-have an after-hours romance.

So what makes West the man of the hour for expensive comedic special effects? Well, it seems to be the pleasant result of a snowball effect from his London days, where there were some comedy spots and plenty of high-technique image spots, though the twain rarely, if ever, met. A clever, slapstick story of a nightmare film production for Simpatico beer is the last European holdout on his reel, and once over here he added, among many other spots, two hilarious Little Caesars slices (including the award-winning Hal Riney Americana parody, "Italian Feast"), working with then Cliff Freeman CD Donna Weinheim, now at BBDO, who supplied the "Inner Tube" connection. Beyond that, it seems West's jack-of-all-trades, master-of-more-than-a-few experience-acquired in a wide-ranging career that began as a self-described film brat who talked his way into a job at the BBC at the age of 19, the youngest film editor they'd ever hired, he says-has paid off in a geyser of liquid refreshment.

"I had an 8-mil camera when I was 12," he explains, "and all I've ever wanted to do was shoot film." As for this recent CGI-ful, "I'm not a number crunching computer nerd," he says. "All I can do is supervise the computer animation on an artistic level. But, over time, you learn how to ask for the things you want, almost by osmosis. It's just like looking at a piece of set design and deciding what you want to do to improve it."

All part of his BBC basics. "The BBC was a great experience," he recalls. "They only take 12 people on each year, and they move you around to all the departments. I was in News & Current Affairs for a while. I've done the 'Broadcast News' thing, where you're running down a corridor with a tape and you lace it up just as the titles are rolling. When you've done things like that, nothing really fazes you." Except the fact that at the BBC, according to West, it takes 20 years before you're allowed to direct. After four years, devoted mostly to "serious drama," as he puts it, he left to shoot music videos as a freelancer for about two years, then joined what was then the new London commercials division of Limelight. Though he had shot loads of music videos, "just trying to get as much film under my belt as possible and trying out every wacky idea I could think of," the biggest-name band he recalls working for is the Genesis spinoff, Mike & the Mechanics.

Nevertheless, at Limelight West prospered, working mainly on what he calls "very designed looking, image-oriented spots suited to the European market. I didn't really get into dialogue till I got here. I've had two careers, in effect." Maybe more. West has an unusually versatile reel, with, besides the effects work, straighter comedy/dialogue for MCI and Bud Dry, Gen X weirdness for Sega and Mello Yello and sexy sci-fi fashion for Chic jeans. "You've got to practice all aspects of your field," he says with his usual level-headed sincerity. "I just want to mix it up. I like variety." As for the slam-bang biggies, "In Europe you do all the post on your jobs, you devise the effects and do the editing, so I'm used to all that, which is good for these big effects jobs that can involve months of planning where you have to see the job all the way through."

And the jobs conveniently start on location, not the standard style for effects-heavy shoots. "I don't like to do pure studio pieces," he says. "As soon as you mention effects, everyone thinks studio be-

cause it's more controllable, but I don't want to work that way. It may take two days to get one simple shot-or what looks like one simple shot-and you have to fight the weather and lug out all this sophisticated equipment, but in the end it looks totally realistic, and that's what makes it worthwhile." So the Pepsi spot was shot in the Virgin Islands and posted at Novacom, the frogs in a New Orleans swamp and the ants in a California desert with a motion control camera, the latter two Digital Domain jobs (the frogs are mechanical, of course; the tongue is CGI).

"You're out in a swamp with the croaking of real frogs all around you, and there are these three animatronic frogs sitting there," West recalls with relish. "You look at them out of the corner of your eye and you think they're real. It's kind

In this article:
Most Popular