Sight Gaggers

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There's a lot of inspired spitting up in the work of Happy, a two-year-old directors' collective with plenty of creative wherewithal, anchored by Richard Farmer and Guy Shelmerdine. The two are former colleagues at Ground Zero, where Farmer was a producer and Shelmerdine an art director, though Happy also includes, at times, MacKenzie Cutler editor Lucas Spaulding (who also cuts some Happy spots) and London-based AD/designer Tom Wales. Happy's first joyful egestion was a widely acclaimed anti-smoking spec spot in which a guy coughs up his lungs. More recently, a spot from Amsterdam agency SWH, for a mint called Sportlife, features some Xtreme winter sports lunatic who rolls down a mountain in a snowball-like contraption. When he finally staggers out of the thing, he, of course, barfs in a closeup.

This was followed by the utterly notorious British spot for Wrigley's Xcite gum, called "Dog Breath," from AMV.BBDO/London, with effects by Framestore CFC, in which a young man hacks up a whole, live dog. The resulting uproar from this fairly innocuous concept set a U.K. ad-protest record. "There were so many complaints, we're going to make The Guinness Book of World Records," says Farmer, 31. Not too cool! "The thing about the U.K. is, there are so few channels, if you do a TV commercial everyone in the country sees it," says Shelmerdine, a 29-year-old Brit. "Commercials are more a part of the culture there and people talk about them more." But what's that on the couch next to the guy when he first wakes up? Is that vomit? Turns out it's shish kebab. What a letdown. "It's a common thing in England to buy yourself a kebab after a night of drinking," explains Shelmerdine. "So he passed out next to his kebab." OK, but still, never mind getting pigeonholed; is Happy in danger of getting piehole-holed? "It's all just a coincidence," says Shelmerdine. "But we do like strange things," adds Farmer. "Though we definitely don't want to become 'the throw-up guys.' "

"The creatives who had the 'Dog Breath' idea knew of the 'Lungs' spot, so they came to us," says Shelmerdine. "We knew how to do it, so we did it. On the other hand, if someone asked us tomorrow to make a cow come out of someone's nose, we probably wouldn't do it. I think we've nailed that effect already." Well, a nose might be a new challenge, but after "Dog Breath," one can see where the guys would want to stay away from face stunts for a while. "The way the media got ahold of the 'Dog Breath' controversy certainly took us by surprise, but it's a good thing, really," muses Shelmerdine. "It's got us so much attention."

But Happy can stand scrutiny well beyond the upchuck chuckles. Repped out of Smuggler, the Happys have already amassed quite the impressive little reel. Their Teen Aids PSAs feature nude young people who suffer accidental deaths, to illustrate the line, "Why do we make bad decisions when we're naked?" A U.K. spot from Mother, for meat pie maker Fray Bentos, is a seemingly Herb Ritts-inspired hunk-worship parody, featuring a fat guy. Above all, the "Fixated" spot, for Rugged Land Publishing, which the collective also wrote, is nothing less than a twisted masterpiece. Thanks to the inspired use of a camera rig, a telephone lineman is seen reading a book obsessively, even on the job, and right on through to his hospital stay, after he electrocutes himself and falls to his near death while still engrossed in turning the pages.

Now that they've built some valuable momentum, where is Happy headed? "We're at a juncture where we want to expand our range and work with more American agencies," says Shelmerdine. "Right now we're looking at some more effects work as well as some dialogue/comedy stuff." At press time, they had a hush-hush gig lined up with Crispin Porter + Bogusky, so the hot shops are, unsurprisingly, interested. "We're just looking for great ideas," says Farmer, "and they don't have to be dark and they don't have to be comedy. We're not looking only to make :30s either. We're interested in collaborating with agencies early on, doing bigger things that might involve, say, fake websites or longer-form TV work or film work. Things we can have fun with that will infiltrate the culture." They're also keen on music videos. "We're just waiting for the right opportunity," adds Farmer. "When the right song and the right idea come along, we'll jump on it."

As for influences, Traktor, of course, comes readily to mind as the pioneer collective, and the Happys acknowledge that they're "heroes of ours." Traktor at least sounds Swedish; what's with the Happy name? "I don't know," says Farmer. "We're kind of easygoing guys. We had a good atmosphere at Ground Zero and we just want to carry that on. Basically, we just want to make people happy." It can be argued it didn't work very well with the "Dog Breath" spot, though. "Well, the client was happy."

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