The latest ads in Kohler's always fascinating, ultra-artsy "As I See It" series, via GSD&M and guest shooter Sacha Waldman, are possibly even stranger than David LaChapelle's take on this audacious concept a few years back-which is saying something. Whence these weird tableaux, which clearly owe plenty to Team Waldman's vaunted digital manipulations? Is he given free artistic rein, perhaps, this being a "signature" series? In a word, no. Not even here would he be allowed "total freedom at conception, but I desperately try to manipulate and mold the concepts into a vision that I can be proud of once I'm given the basic concepts," says Waldman. "The agency is great in that they do allow this to happen-there's the odd battle here and there, of course, but they're open to me and my team pushing the sketches into images of our liking. Client approval is still needed, and that can be a sharp-edged little gauntlet to run at times, as we all know: functionality vs. artistic freedom. After all, they do pay the bills."
Herein, Waldman offers an unusual behind-the-scenes peek at the process.
"Gargoyles" They were broad with their sketch, so I moved it into this particular genre. We chose location and style. I really wanted the gargoyles to have an element of reality to them-the exterior here is a church-and we spent weeks working on them in postproduction. I wanted it to be a little dark and ominous; gargoyles are no Mickey Mouse.
"Submarine" Once again, we took a broad sketch-the agency wanted sailors in a submarine with the product, period-and defined it into its final form. It was post-heavy again as well, to supply the flavor and context that would create that old-world feel of a submarine from back in the day, like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. All the elements were chosen from various locations and amalgamated into what you see, with the model being repeated.
"Jockey" This relied heavily on the set and styling; casting was left to me, and I take this part of the process very seriously, as I think it's imperative for me to use the talent that fits my vision. The agency was very open to this. The one disappointment in this ad was the harbor scene through the window. I had put a rolling landscape in there, which worked far better. But Mr. Kohler himself insisted on the harbor, and I mistakenly obliged. I lost that battle. But I insisted on the jockey staring at himself in the mirror. I love the notion of him admiring himself-it gives the piece an edge.
"Pearls" This was a tough battle at first-the agency had a concept that just did not work or excite me and the team at all. We raised the red flag and offered up the suggestion you see in the ad now-we were under a tight crunch at the time. It was the only option, but the client still wanted to use just the girl behind the counter. I took three frames and told them it wasn't happening-I needed a man behind there and her on the floor, digging for pearls, in order to create an edge. My stylist and partner in crime quickly took the Kohler technician-he's the man behind the counter-and created some magic. It worked well and saved the entire ad. I have no problem with changing direction in real time and, more importantly, being committed to that change. It often scares agencies when you present such sudden movements, but they knew to let me be, and I give them credit for it. If something really isn't working and my name is to be on it, I just cannot move forward with it, it's pointless. I'd say this is the backbone that's needed to be a successful creative in this industry. Anyone can take a good picture if given days to do so, but there are only a few who can do it in 15 minutes, by virtue of believing in their vision. A monkey can shoot 2,000 frames and eventually get the shot. My team is imperative to this equation, and I love them for it.
Client: Kohler Agency: GSD&M, Austin CD: David Crawford ADs: Lynn Sarnow Born, Rob Story CWs: Carole Hurst, Michael Buss Print Producer: Kelly Grant Art Buyer: Shannon Wier Photographer: Sacha Waldman