That's mostly due to the fact that until early 1994, Fatima (accent on the first syllable, please) was learning the commercials ropes as Tarsem's production designer, on projects ranging from REM's all-MTV "Losing my Religion" video to Fallon McElligott's Diet Coke swimming elephant spot. Of course, it also helped that when the pair broke up last year Tarsem provided a generous "alimony," as Fatima jokingly refers to a job that he turned down and sent her way.
The spot, for McCann-Erickson/Milan and Pomellato jewelry, was Fatima's directorial debut; shot in Tunisia, it centers around an Indian bride, though the plot is secondary to the visual aesthetics of the lush desert backdrop and ethnic costumes, which Fatima also designed. Since then, the London-based director, who works through Palomar Pictures, Los Angeles, and Tomboy Films, London, has shot a handful of commercials, including a similarly stunning piece for Wieden & Kennedy and Neutrogena, a b&w "Old Man and the Sea" takeoff staged among massive Scandinavian icebergs.
Fatima's other work includes a grainy, less technical look at young love for Diet Coke and Lowe Howard-Spink; a pro bono spot for the Special Olympics United Kingdom; a couple of quirky promos for MTV; and her latest, a sensual b&w reversal of the Galatea myth for Parfums Nikos and Select Communications, New York. One weird MTV spot features a group of bored teens who can't tune in their fave channel and end up outside with one guy fashioning an antenna on his head. Another, sort of "Madame Butterfly" crossed with "The Last Emperor," is a surreal spot that shows a young girl in a kimono and wings who seductively blows butterflies out of her mouth.
The visual overlap with Tarsem is clear; the wings, for example-Fatima's homage to growing up Catholic, she explains-appear prominently in the REM clip. Yet those familiar with Fatima and her former mentor note a distinct difference between the two directors. "While Tarsem can be very vignette-oriented, Fatima's work is more about passionate movement," says Chris Shipman, the W&K art director who worked with her on Neutrogena. "She has also has this exotic, mystical sense that's not rooted in any culture."
"Fatima's work isn't so much technique and execution as it is an overall look-one that's often based in obscure references that she uses to add depth to a very simple idea," adds James Spindler, a freelance AD who worked with her on the MTV spots. Like Neutrogena, the antenna idea was derived from the film "Man Facing Southeast," in which a man is imprisoned for alleged contact with aliens.
But old habits die hard. Fatima the production designer is often overly obsessed with detail, and Shipman recalls that in Iceland she was often "paying more attention to the cuff of the guy's sweater than the fact that we were in Iceland shooting in sub-zero temperatures." Fatima, in fact, admits her weakness is her sometimes "scatterbrained visual style," and credits Tarsem for helping "provide discipline to my work. He always tried to make me see the whole picture, to be less concerned with how something looked rather than if it served its purpose in telling the story."
Attracted to the "filmically moving" work of David Fincher, Alex Proyas and Jean Baptiste Mondino as well as the "madness" of Tony Kaye, Fatima, as one might expect, prefers the linear storytelling of European commercials to the "montage/lifestyle" approach of American advertising. Not that she's a Eurosnob; besides a range of influences that include Caravaggio, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Henri Cartier Bresson, Fatima also says her work displays a heavy dose of "The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Island"-the latter figures in the Levi's "Swimmer" spot Tarsem shot for Bartle Bogle Hegarty, a commercial in which at one point a well-built guy in jeans dives into a swimming pool during a "Gilligan"-esque backyard luau.
Maria Fatima Esguerra Andrade, as she is officially known, was born in Manila and raised in Los Angeles, where she was briefly enrolled in UCLA's fine arts program. Finding the school "too collegiate," she transferred to Art Center in 1988 to study fine art and photography, but dropped out in her second year when she began art directing for Tarsem's student reel. It was Tarsem's lecture at New York's Museum of Modern Art last year-in which he credited Fatima with substantially influencing his visual style-that began to generate commercials interest in her.
Though she spends most of her time in the U.K., Fatima also keeps an apartment in L.A., and she plans to move back soon, she jokes, "before I affect an accent