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COOL HAND LUCA WITH A GENIUS OF A STROKE FOR HAL RINEY & PARTNERS, ITALIAN IMPORT PIERLUCA DE CARLO CERTAINLY SEEMS TO BE OFF ON THE RIGHT COMMERCIALS FOOT

By Published on .

HE TALKS FAST IN HEAVILY ACCENTED ENGLISH, GESTURES wildly and, since moving to Los Angeles some years ago, has racked up more speeding tickets than David Letterman. Not that 32-year-old, Italian-born Pierluca de Carlo is embarrassed about the tickets; he merely relates the story to illustrate the kind of driving passion he hopes to transfer to his work.

Though de Carlo (or Luca, as he is known to his friends and peers) has directed music videos for more than a dozen artists including Julio Iglesias, until recently most of that passion has been exerted in more behind the scenes roles. A still photographer when he worked in Milan, de Carlo segued into production design when he moved to the states, working on music videos as well as assorted projects for Herb Ritts, including a Loose Levi's commercial that was shot in Morocco in 1992, the first major job for Ritts' newly formed production house, Ritts/Hayden. But six months after signing on as a director with the Hollywood-based company, de Carlo has suddenly burst onto the commercials scene with a very unusual spot for Hal Riney & Partners/San Francisco and the Stroke Center at Stanford Medical Center.

A radical departure from the typically clinical shots of gurneys and concerned, caring doctors and nurses seen in most health care ads, this Macintosh-designed spot takes an artsy approach, one that de Carlo believes is more humanistic; via live action, computer graphics, projection techniques, type overlays and in-camera effects, the sepia-toned :30 demonstrates the five symptoms of a stroke as they appear one by one on the screen. The spot begins in agonizing slow motion as a man falls to the ground in pain, illustrating loss of strength; letters tentatively emerge from his mouth as he attempts to speak, and he's shown holding his throbbing head and wobbling precariously to demonstrate severe head pain and loss of balance. The spot ends with a blurry closeup of the man's eyes to illustrate failing vision, one debility of which this helpful message cannot be accused. Never has apoplexy seemed so ... sexy!

Attracted to the agency's edgy interpretation, de Carlo was perhaps even more excited by the spot's "organic and humane" tack, and an emotional appeal that could be created without the aid of postproduction effects. Riney associate creative director Chris Chaffin says he was drawn to de Carlo because he wanted "something rich and elegant yet, at the same time, shockingly strange and natural. Because Luca is schooled in European visual traditions, there's a different look to his film that can not only deliver all this, but also instill a sort of Renaissance feel to his work."

Indeed, de Carlo's passions are best conveyed by his expressive, chest-pounding claim that his work conveys an emotional, "from the heart" style that, in large part, stems from his Italian heritage and such cultural by-products as his Catholic upbringing and his love of baroque architecture and opera. This, combined with de Carlo's fondness for working outdoors and with natural light, along with his frequent use of ornate Macintosh-designed graphics and video projection techniques, is more aptly described by friend and broadcast graphics designer Flavio Kampah as "classic, yet modern and experimental."

Besides the Stanford spot, de Carlo's style is best illustrated in two collaborations with Kampah, who is based in Venice, Italy. One, a spec :60 called "Video Renaissance," is a striking melange that incorporates 16mm live action footage enhanced by projections and computer graphics. Shot mostly at de Carlo's Topanga Canyon home, among the disparate images is a sensuous shot of de Carlo and his wife embracing, another of his dog and several of a statue of a saint.

The other, a three-minute piece for Radius, a company best-known for its high-res computer monitors, debuted at this year's MacWorld conference in San Francisco and played again at a Macintosh convention in Tokyo. Accompanied by music from Puccini's Turandot, and aflutter with English, Italian and French words from a poem (a ponderous de Carlo original), "30 Fragments/60 Fields" again offers elaborate design treatments to enhance moody 16mm footage of de Carlo's friends, shot this time at California's Lake Isabella and the surrounding Death Valley area-places that reminded de Carlo and Kampah of Italy.

De Carlo, who grew up in Verona and Milan, recalls being influenced by sappy American classics like Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," as well as more serious films like Bertolucci's "The Conformist" and "1900," and Bergman's "Wild Strawberries," which, he says, "visualized the element of human struggle."

His passion for film nurtured an early acting dream that he eventually gave up to study at Milan's European Institute of Design. After graduating in the mid-'80s he worked as a still photographer, with many of his b&w images appearing in Italian Vogue; de Carlo also freelanced at various Milan department stores, designing interiors and corporate image campaigns. But in 1986, wanderlust and a desire to escape mandatory military service had de Carlo packing for San Francisco, where for eight months he partied, lost most of his money and in general, he says, "found the scene too relaxing." With his remaining $25, he headed to the considerably less laid-back Los Angeles, hoping to land a job in the movie industry.

Through a series of personal connections, de Carlo got work at Propaganda Films art directing for Mark Romanek and others on videos like Joe Cocker's "When the Night Comes." He also began directing his own music videos for singers Mica Paris, Kiky, Iglesias and others. In 1989 he was hired as a production designer for Janet Jackson's sexy b&w video, "Love Will Never Do," directed by Ritts. In addition to Levi's, de Carlo has since teamed with Ritts on the latest Acura campaign from Ketchum/Los Angeles, an Equal spot with Lauren Hutton for Ogilvy & Mather/Chicago as well as a couple of European commercials.

In addition to an interactive project he is working on for Chiat/Day/Los Angeles and Nissan, de Carlo, like respected peer Tarsem, hopes to further explore the European commercials market, which would allow him to expand his more "satirical, storytelling" side, he says. De Carlo already has one international directing credit, a spot he directed for Bozell/New York and Vanity Fair lingerie, a sensuous throwback to his more fashion-oriented days where the camera does little more than pan the perfect body of a beautiful woman clad in black lingerie. The stylish look of the spot suggests that it was shot in the studio, but true to de Carlo's organic sensibilities, it was actually shot with natural light on the roof of an old Cadillac dealership in Hollywood.

The sexiness of this latest spot aside, de Carlo says, somewhat recklessly, that "for the 15 or 30 seconds people watch my commercials, they don't care what I was selling or that the models looked great but that they really liked the visuals and thought it was an interesting story."

Waving his arms and smiling broadly, de Carlo adds, "I want people to say, 'Show

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