Gerard de Thame hasn't shot a car commercial in almost a year, so he's quite surprised that he'd be singled out as a top director in that category. But it's hard to ignore his way with sheet metal in spots like Volkswagen Jetta's "Synchronicity," from Arnold Worldwide, in which the vehicle's surroundings miraculously fall in sync with the moody pace of its windshield wipers. Not to mention his much heralded work for Merkley Newman Harty and Mercedes, including this year's Emmy-nominated "Modern Ark." His current reel also presents some beauts for for Volvo, Audi and Pirelli tires.
Though it's just one of the categories he excels in, "Cars are getting more adventurous and more fun to do," acknowledges the 41-year-old de Thame, who has his own London-based production company and is also repped by HSI. "Clients aren't just saying, 'Make our car look beautiful.' It's not just about that. Sure, I can make a car look beautiful, but there's got to be something more there to make it interesting." In the case of "Modern Ark," it's intensive compositing that adds two Benzes to Noah's procession of pairs, while in Mercedes' "Falling in Love Again" it's the use of different cameras and film stocks to create vintage-looking scenes of people crooning alongside their aged Mercs to the nostalgic tune sung by Marlene Dietrich.
De Thame does car comedy, too. The cheeky, anthropomorphic characterization in Jeep Cherokee's "Shake," via Pentamark, Detroit, shows the vehicle shuddering mud off itself like a pooch out of the water; in a sumptuous spot for the Mercedes E-Class, the tongue-like brushes of a carwash massage and lick the vehicle's curves longingly to the disco tune "Love to Love you Baby." Most recently, de Thame, who also boasts impressive comedy work in other categories, finished a pair of humorous spots for Zenith out of Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago (including the somewhat scandalous wets-pants-in the-men's-room "Nightclub," for Zenith's flatscreen TVs), and at press time he was in the middle of shooting a mini-movie and some spots for DuPont's 200th anniversary. At the end of the year, he's set to resume his car work on a huge project for Honda that will show on IMAX screens the beginning of next year.
The IMAX display is a formidable canvas for someone whose spots, whether they feature cars, comedy or dialogue, display stunning visual style. Part of that may stem from the director's artsy past as a painter and Rome scholar in sculpture, but he believes the need to be versatile also plays a huge part. "When I first started making commercials, I shot an awful lot of black and white," he recalls. People said, 'He does great black and white. That's all he can do.' " So he made an effort to shoot a U.K. spot for Toshiba in bold colors. "It wasn't like mad color," he explains. "It was controlled colors that were really intense. We had a wardrobe that was one color and certain scenes were lit in that color as well, so it really punched out. That was a way to stop people from thinking I did only one thing. I'm always looking for new visual challenges."