Lights ... Camera ... Inspiration

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For celebrated songsmith Cole Porter, a brilliant idea was never hard to conjure. "My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a producer," he once remarked. But for most of us, it isn't that easy. We need a little more help. Tiled environments work wonders; a shower stall and plenty of steaming hot water deliver a thousand Eureka moments. And that other thing people do in bathrooms, well, if you're not too delicate about it, just ask Ted Demme how he summons his muse (page 45).

What else can you do to find your creative Zen? Take a walk through the park. Read Homer (or watch The Simpsons). Play solitaire. Run ten miles. Get a massage. Ban the client from your mind.

Creativity found five commercials directors whose work strikes us as always fresh and inspired. We asked them how they pull it off. Their examples may provide a little inspiration for when you need it. Failing that, there's always the trusty pile of award annuals. That obscure 1989 Ecuadorian spot that won a Gold - we're telling you, it's just waiting to be resuscitated. (RvB)

Mehdi Norowzian

Production company: Chelsea Pictures. Notable spots: Mercedes, `Gang' and `Slingshot.' Johnnie Walker, `Coliseum.' Adidas, `Harkes.' Likes advertising because: "Good advertising brings a little color, style, humor, and pace to our lives, without forcing the viewer to commit to anything." Hates advertising because: "Lots of money rides on the business, so risks are taken less and less." Who's influenced him: "The directors I respect most are Tony Kaye and Jonathan Glazer. Tony in the early years and Jonathan in the later years. Outside of advertising: Tarkovsky, Wim Wenders, Cocteau, Lynch, the Coen Brothers, and many more." Where he gets his ideas: "Music helps me to imagine the scenes, and simply gives me the space to think."

Michael Patrick Jann

Production company: HKM. Notable spots: Pets.com, `Delivery.' Kellogg's Snack'Ums, `Diver.' Varsitybooks.com, `Balance.' Favorite thing about advertising: "The part where the viewer at home gets the satisfaction of purchasing and using a finely drafted consumer item that he or she might have been just fine without." Hates advertising because: "Long hours, stringent government regulations, never being able to get the smell of fish out of my clothes." What he's influenced by: "In the advertising world, Rodney Allen Rippy. Outside of advertising, Siegfried & Roy. Mostly Roy."

Errol Morris

Production company: @radical.media. Notable spots: Miller Highlife, `Deviled Egg' and `Champagne of Beers.' Honda, `Male bonding.' Levi's, `Jumangi/Rail.' Likes advertising because: "The work is really diverse. If I thought I had to do the same thing over and over, I'd be miserable. I look at commercials as a crazy kind of film laboratory." What he's influenced by: "Advertising itself is probably the most influential force in the world." Where and how he gets his best ideas: "I like being under pressure. I like the constraints that pressure imposes. Take my beer-amid spot [the pyramid of champagne glasses in his Miller commercial]. The agency had decided they'd seen enough; we'd already shot four spots. Then we shot the beer-amid in 15 to 30 minutes with people screaming and yelling they wanted to go home. I do my best work after we've wrapped."

Keir MCFARLANE

Production company: Propaganda. Notable spots: Nike, `Rugby.' Adidas, `Employee #8.' Cherry Coke, `Faxing.' Why he likes advertising: "You get to try out ideas in any form, medium, or style. You also get to create extraordinary things, from fingerpuppets to spaceships. And the bucks." Why he hates it: "I'm a control freak who likes to cook everything from conception to presentation. But there are just too many fingers in my pie." Who influences him: "I don't draw any influences from advertising; it's a dog chasing its own tail." Any wishes? "I wish I was Swedish and could make those vodka commercials with the backpacking Swedish blonde girls. Funny, irreverent, sexy. What more could you ask?" How he gets his best ideas: "It's rare that agencies give you an open brief. I wish it would happen more often, and there'd be more interesting work out there. Sometimes I think of a film to set a mood, or I view photographs to inspire a look."

Ted Demme

Production company: CFM. Notable spots: IBM, `Superbowl' and `Line Judge.' Bell Atlantic, `Taxi.' ESPN, `Frank Gifford.' Likes advertising because: "I like working with actors and telling a story; it doesn't matter if the story is 30 seconds or two hours." Hates advertising because: "American commercials are all so literal. Every beer commercial and every car commercial looks alike. I would love the creative teams to have more freedom and not be so stifled by the clients. That'd be in the best interest of everyone." Who's influenced him: "In advertising, Lou Addesso. He has been my mentor on commercials. He has good taste and is a great businessman. And he wears blue Speedos! Outside of advertising, my mentors are Coppola, Scorsese, Kazan, Fellini, and contemporaries like Steven Soderberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Nick Cassavetes, the Coen Brothers, Kimberly Pierce, and Tim Burton." Where his best ideas come from: "I get 'em on the can. And I steal them. Any director who tells you it's an orginal idea is lying. It's how we manipulate those thefts that makes it original."

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