Man On a Swing

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"I'm an old-school guy, but I have the heart of a young man," says Nick Lewin, a commercials veteran who courageously admits to being 55. The photo of him here testifies to his youthfulness, but it also recalls the 1974 Frank Perry film Man On a Swing, which seems oddly, ironically appropriate, since Lewin has never made a feature and claims not to be interested in making one - though he's been a commercials success for a couple of decades. "The thing is," says the mild-mannered Brit, "I really enjoy making commercials. I enjoy the discipline and I enjoy the life it's given me, so I'm not really inspired to make features. I'm aware that most people think there's a natural progression from commercials to features, but I don't really think like that."

Lewin has indeed done some cinema work; in 1982, he made a 40-minute film called The Bloody Chamber, starring Terrence Stamp. "It was based on the Bluebeard legend, written from a feminist point of view. Let's say it was a bit before its time; it was a labor of unrequited love." More successful, he feels, was his 1983 modern-dance documentary, Tzcyk. But to compound the features irony, he started his career as a PA with Ridley Scott, in the '70s, when RSA was a startup, and all his early inspirations were commercials shooters who went on to major film success, like Scott, Adrian Lyne and Alan Parker. "I didn't go to film school, but I always loved films," recounts the London-born Lewin. "I had a stroke of good fortune whereby somebody asked me if I wanted to get involved in commercials. I said, 'Don't be ridiculous, of course not.' " But RSA started Lewin on the commercials road, and when he left he took a slight detour into an editing career. "I always wanted to direct in some shape or form; your first break is often something you stumble into, and in my case it was editing." He later opened his own post house, "which gave me the clout to fish around for something to direct."

In 1985, he even started his own production company, but these days he's repped by Crossroads Films in the States, and though he remains based in the U.K., he does the bulk of his shoots in the U.S., led by a lot of effectsy work, particularly for cars - like the dazzling VW "Turbonium" spot of a few years ago and, most recently, a wry videogame takeoff for Hummer. But he's also scored with great comedy work, like a recent pair of Goodby, Silverstein spots for Budweiser's "True" campaign, which crackle with perfectly paced dialogue. One features a girl who's blabbing to her boyfriend in a bar, and while she thinks he's listening to her he's really watching the football game behind her, as we hear the perfectly synced announcer's voice coming out of her mouth. The other has a couple ordering in a restaurant; while the girl tediously agonizes over what to have, the guy requests a meal of typical man-food in a near instantaneous call-and-response with the waiter.

But Lewin says he's been shooting great dialogue spots since the late '80s, especially in Europe. "When I started, I was thought of as basically a visual person," he recalls, but when he worked with Anthony Hopkins on an acclaimed 1987 spot called "The Censor," on behalf of the Index on Censorship, "this is when I started getting a lot of dialogue work in Europe. There was a perception that if you could work with the likes of Tony Hopkins, then you could work with actors." Over the years, Lewin has also acquired a reputation for dependability that could rival the hype of some of the cars he's shot. "I'm by nature pretty sociable," he notes. "I also really like actors and I respect what they do." Adds Bill Goodell, associate director of broadcast production at Arnold Worldwide, "Nick is always trying to make the spot better or provide you with more options for the edit, and his energy for the project never seems to end. His talent, personality and enthusiasm for the work always make for a good shoot - even in the most challenging of circumstances."

So the busy Lewin intends to just keep on swinging. He's a perennial, in an industry that has far too few of them. "I think it's healthy that the ad business is youth-driven," he insists. "It's one of the few businesses in which youth gets to state clearly what they want."

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