Veteran helmsman of the hilarious Jeff Gorman has been through some big, not very amusing changes of late. There was of course the dissolution of the familiar Johns + Gorman Films brand last year, which was virtually a guarantee of quality comedy commercials since 1985. This was followed by a short stint under the Farmland Studios banner, which Gorman describes as "an error in judgment; it just didn't work out." On a considerably grimmer note, in February his directing compatriot, Gary Johns, suffered a heart attack, and Johns' professional future remains uncertain.
But Gorman keeps on yuckin', now at his own Hollywood-based JGF. While the Johns + Gorman trademark may be history, "at this point I'd like to think of myself as a bit of a trademark," he adds. Not only does Gorman point out that he "manages to stay in the awards shows every year," but he says he's never been busier than he is right now. Not bad for a guy who regularly scales the comedic heights of youth culture -- and who would rather not mention his age. "I've been around a while, but age hasn't been a problem," Gorman says. He started his ad career as a copywriter at Kansas City's Valentine Radford in 1965, and he and Johns reaped creative glory in the early '80s as a Chiat/Day team, working on accounts like Nike, Pioneer Electronics and L.A. Eyeworks, before making the leap behind the camera, originally as a directing duo, some 14 years ago. About the age factor, he says, "Look at it this way: I have a 26-year-old son and 4-month-old son. I stay tuned in. If young people don't want to work with me, I would say it's their loss."
What keeps him fresh besides having a baby in the house? "You have to adapt with the times," he reflects. "I hate repeating myself; I don't like to have a style. Let the concept dictate the style. You can't look at a funny spot and say it's a Gorman, and I want it that way."
Another source of creative stimulation is the Website ad avalanche. "People have been looking for the messiah, and dot-comedy is it," he says. "It's a boon to agencies and production companies, and it's surely a boon to me." Gorman's dot-com work includes: E-Loan; E-Toys; 4Anything; MyBasics; Loanworks; Bankrate; a wryly funny new CyberCash campaign, from Katsin/Loeb, in which the rich are portrayed as if they were horribly afflicted, locked behind iron gates and forced to eat at exclusive restaurants; and a very clever new spot for Countrywide Home Loans (see page 12). The dot-com invasion has "alleviated any lack of good boards," he notes, and a look at the Gorman reel indicates the anti-tobacco invasion isn't hurting either. Gorman's current number features no less than three scathingly funny anti-smoking spots from Crispin Porter & Bogusky's elaborate "Truth" campaign: the Oscars from hell known as the Demon Awards; a mock suspense film trailer about a killer on the loose; and two innocent young men who go to Philip Morris headquarters to meet the Marlboro Man, only to learn he's dead. "The prevailing wisdom has been if you can't do award-winning work with a PSA, you can't do it at all," says Gorman, but he's not lacing up his butt-basher's boots -- he's got two more CP&B anti-smokers on the way -- purely for show. It's about good karma as well as good boards. "I always refused to do tobacco or political advertising; they're both evil," says this ex-smoker. "I don't like the Big Brother aspect of telling people what to do, but this is a worthwhile cause."
Curiously, a feature film future is not held in equal regard. "I don't really have any desire to make one," he confesses. "I certainly don't want to make the normal feature. I'd want to make a small independent film, but I don't have a burning desire to do any film. I find most commercials to be more creative than most features."
Gorman's latest reel adds a filmic flourish, however: credits. At the end of the reel, frames from each of the preceding spots scroll by, accompanied by agency honors from CD to producer. "I've been wanting to do this for years," says Gorman. "Creatives deserve a nod. It's a collaborative business, after all."
"Sharing credit at the end of the reel is a very Jeff Gorman thing to do and it says a lot about what he's like to work with," says Cliff Freeman & Partners executive creative director Arthur Bijur.
"It's first class, clever and simple," says Kimberly Grear, a senior producer at Goldberg Moser O'Neill. "I hope this will set a new standard for how directors' reels are presented in the future."
Not likely, but Gorman intends to continue the practice. "It's one time where I