It's the Winter Olympics, and Klaus Obermeyer, a guy whose baby shoes were ski boots, is in Hawaii. He's not even on a shoot, he's learning how to kite surf. "It's a cross between paragliding and surfing," he explains. "You can leap into the air, as if you were flying over a house, and land as softly as stepping off a curb." Yup, the 6-5 Obermeyer appears to be one of those sports/action directors who truly walks the walk and talks the talk. Can he really do just about everything he shoots? "Well, yeah," he says bashfully. He's got a karate black belt, he surfs, he scuba dives, he kayaks, he rock climbs and on the snow you can kiss his schuss - he practically grew up on skis in Aspen, the son of Klaus Obermeyer Sr., of Obermeyer ski apparel, a legend in the winter sports industry. So if he's not in the Olympics, how come he isn't at the Olympics? "I'd rather watch them on TV," he says. "I'm not good in crowds, I don't stand in lines well."
It appears agency producers may be standing in line for him. The 33-year-old Obermeyer has been directing spots for only about a year and a half, out of bicoastal Flying Tiger Films, and he's already got a reel's worth of very polished big-client productions to his credit - from the U.S. Marines, Visa, BMW, Chevy and Samsung, among others - including a couple of commercials that aired on the Winter Olympics. He's also armed with a series of adulatory blurbs, like he was a Broadway hit called The Director : "I've been in the business for 37 years, and this was one of the most positive experiences I have ever enjoyed." - Michael Lollis, ECD, JWT/Atlanta. "He looks to do what no one has done before. He thinks out of the box and is supremely confident in his ability to create his vision." - Stuart Raffle, senior producer, FCB/New York. "I could hear his passion come through the phone. The level of enthusiasm was amazing, and he carried it through the production, through the editing, until the spots were on the air." - Michael Gambino, creative director, BBDO/New York.
Film school is not part of this equation. Obermeyer got into the film business in high school and just kept going, no need for college at all. He had his own video production company and he shot segments every year for Warren Miller Entertainment, which produces stunning features for ski enthusiasts. He also worked with filmmaker/pilot extraordinaire Robert E. Fulton, where he learned the intricacies of time-lapse photography and other filmic esoterica. One thing is clear upon viewing the Obermeyer reel: he's got camera technique up the wazoo. Sports/action is frequently one of those spectacular-but-seen-it-all-already genres, but this reel has so much gorgeous film on it, you want to take it home to meet your mother. There's a lot of digital dazzle in his work, he says, but you'd hardly know it; he strives for seamless effects and he gets them, partly by overseeing the post process down to the smallest detail. At the same time, he modestly credits much of his success to his colleagues. "I work with the best people. The effects, the lighting, the editing, everything. The chemistry is always there." But while he says everyone has a fabulous time on his shoots, he's quite earnest about the commercials game. "I'm idealistic about the type of work I take," he says. "I want a win-win situation, with projects that will somehow enrich you after you see them. You make a commercial and it steals people's time; 30 seconds, over and over. I think I have an obligation to provide people with something that's at least beautiful or in some way moving - that'll repay them somehow for having spent the time watching it."
That's a tall order when you're not doing comedy or even dialogue work - the only spot on the reel with any on-camera lines and a hint of humor is the cutesy Visa Olympics number with the female bobsledders and the bunny (see p. 22) - but Obermeyer is pulling it off. "I've been lucky enough to work with very good ideas," he says. "When I have a good idea, I can get really excited about it, and I think people can sense that we've got this great energy."
For the Marine Corps' first new recruiting ad in five years, shot in Monument Valley, Obermeyer and JWT whipped up such a stirring visual extravaganza, centered around an aspiring Leatherneck who must climb a sheer cliff face, it could've recruited the Taliban. But at the same time it's loaded with visual symbolism, neatly tied to the narrative, which makes it more than scenic eye candy. Which is what got Obermeyer so excited about it in the first place. "Things that force me to not only produce pretty pictures but to think about communicating a story," is what he craves. So you can bet he's looking to get more dialogue work. While dialogue and sports/action rarely mix, Obermeyer remains confident. "I think it's possible to do things in this category that have a great range - maybe using more abstract images. That's what I'm excited about, doing something new. "
But right now, please excuse him, he has to fly over a house.