Is He Not a Director?

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Here's an interesting piece of de-evolution: The chief aesthetic theoreticians of Devo, possibly the greatest nerd-infested art band of all time, are both firmly entrenched in the commercials world. Mark Mothersbaugh has long been making musical mischief at Mutato Muzika, and Gerald Casale, now at San Francisco's Pandemonium, has been directing commercials since 1997. Is there a contradiction here? Devo seemed to have some kind of capitalist critique brewing under its red plastic hats. "We were using the language of commercials in marketing the band, no question about it," says Casale. "Our message was clearly an ironic one, with incisive humor and self-effacing wit, and we embraced the very thing we were commenting on. But how could we not? How can you live in America and not be part of capitalism? We're one big wad, we're all in it together. But that doesn't mean you can't do it with a little tongue-in-cheek. The Devo experience prepared me for the world."

But nothing prepared the fortysomething Casale for the difficulty of breaking into the spots biz. Besides being Devo's chief costume and set designer, the Kent State University art student was a maniac with a camera, influenced in part by "educational material and industrial films with an unintentional camp aspect" - he directed all 20 Devo videos, most notably the notoriously ahead-of-its-time "Whip It." When the band devolved around 1990, Casale built a music video directing career in the MTV_era, shooting for several companies, including Godley & Creme's Media Lab, before landing at Crash Films in '97. He shot clips for the Cars, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, Silverchair and many others, but got no satisfaction in his quest for commercials work. "They just keep telling me, `You've never done a commercial,' " Casale recalls irritably. "It's the most confounding, insulting Catch-22 argument ever devised. You show somebody 50 music videos done in every style, every shooting situation, and they say, `How do you know you can direct a commercial?' The prevailing wisdom of executive minds was I was a moron who couldn't do anything. They may have figured I was just too flipped out, based on my Devo work."

At Crash, he was again signed just for music videos, then he had a true "We're All Devo!" moment; Linus Karlsson and Paul Malmstrom, the demented Swedes at Fallon who engineered the Miller Lite "Dick" campaign, wanted the "Whip It" look to complete their twisted vision. Specifically, they wanted the "Whip It" auteur himself, and you can bet he was available. So Casale's official Mad Ave initiation were five brilliantly tacky spots in a media-massive Miller Lite mock cheerleader search. "It was a nice way to break into the business," he says. "What I didn't understand at the time was, it was a singular experience, an anomaly, because it was a great experience. We translated the boards to the finished product 100 percent. No compromises, no changing horses midstream. And I thought, This is so great, this is so much more sane than music videos. Everything was worked out. In music videos there's so much chaos, so many hands in the pie. You get hired for your ideas, then your ideas are taken away from you anyway. It's monkeys running wild." And he relishes the fact that his big break turned out to be part of a campaign that was eventually reviled as an abject marketing debacle. "Isn't that perfect?" he chuckles. "At the time, all the Miller people I dealt with were elated by the work."

Too perfect; so far, Casale's reel doesn't boast any other clients on the livin'-large level of a Miller, but he has got some very nutty spots: A Unicare campaign, from Rubin Postaer, parodies assorted TV sci-fi and suspense cliches; a Canadian BC Dairy spot from Cossette stars a glass of milk that saves a lost boy Lassie-style; another kooky Canadian commercial, for ICBC auto insurance and Palmer Jarvis DDB, features a videotape-verite faux TV broadcast of a female gymnast's routine in which she crawls along the balance beam like a frightened worm to demonstrate that safe gymnasts aren't rewarded, but safe drivers are. His experience on these jobs approached the sublime singularity of "Dick," but such thrills are few and far between. "It's rare for me to come across the kind of comedy I'm looking for, but at the same time I hate being pigeonholed as a comedy guy," he complains. "I'm capable of a lot more; I think I'm great with dialogue and actors, and I rarely get the opportunity. This is a point of frustration and concern."

That's not the half of it. "What's probably been my biggest struggle is that with my sensibility, all the work I'd love to do always goes to Traktor," he gripes. "Everybody goes to Traktor first. I didn't know they existed till '97, but if we're talking about sensibility and aesthetics, I was Traktor before there was a Traktor. So if you need Traktor, but they're not available or you can't afford them, come to Gerry Casale. I'm a Traktor kind of guy."

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