Smells Like Sam Bayer

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Samuel Bayer launched his directing career with what he calls "a bunch of pretentious crap." No, not Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video, his first-ever gig, but the spec spots that he presented to Geffen records in 1991 in the hopes of landing the job. "I'm totally convinced my spec reel sucked," the 39-year-old director/cinematographer says with conviction. "And I'm totally convinced they just chose me because they had such a punk ethic that it was kind of cool to pick someone whose work sucked so bad." The gamble pretty much paid off for both Nirvana and Bayer, resulting in the classic grunge clip and leading to other cult faves from the director, including the bee-girl video for Blind Melon's "No Rain." Bayer's work, replete with saturated colors and blurry frames, got him noticed in the ad world, and now he's an indisputable success in the spots business with ads for clients like Mountain Dew, Nissan, Acura, Nike and Cingular.

Creativity poll respondents pegged Bayer, who works out of HSI satellite Mars Media, a hot helmer in the Action and Car genres. That's easy to see, considering his reel features those polo players that play ball on their Nissan Pathfinders; the extreme athletes that leap and twirl out of Busby Berkeley for Mountain Dew; and the fuel truck that swerves perilously through the street for AMD K6 processors. On such adrenalized fare, Bayer insists on what he believes to be the more genuine, old-school approach to action sequences, which involves filming in-camera as much as possible. "There's no substitution for doing something in-camera," he explains. "In Apocalypse Now, you really feel the director's vision. It's all amazing choreography - the helicopter sequence, the explosions, the pyrotechnics. It's a ballet of fantastic imagery that has to be done live. It's very stylized and it's all completely organic. They didn't have the luxury of special effects they have now. When I look at postproduction techniques today, things look very anonymous to me."

Bayer's high-octane work seem a tad ironic considering that his breakthrough spot was 1996's Nike "If You Let Me Play" via Wieden & Kennedy, which took top honors at the One Show. The commercial featured a montage of hopeful girls expressing their desire to play sports and was notable for its departure from the traditional talking-sportsman format. "I was known for sensitive portraiture," Bayer recalls. Today he still captures people impressively. He directed several "self-expression" spots for Cingular, including the ones with the opera-singing cowboy and Savion Glover tapping a message to his niece over the phone, and he's also slated to helm a spot for the Travel Association of America starring the big Dubya himself.

Nevertheless, Bayer seems especially amped up about burning the rubber. Most recently, he applied his in-camera approach to a cops-and-robbers virtual reality extravaganza featuring Bruce Willis for Visa, out of Saatchi & Saatchi/London. His no-fakery action spectacular for Lenny Kravitz's "Dig In" also just premiered on MTV. "The video really holds true for just about everything I do," he says. "I don't want you to feel like a magician is fooling you. There's no sleight of hand. If you see something, we did it."

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