This one goes back to early 1995, I know this because I found the stills in an old photo album. There's another photo I'm looking for, it's a polaroid of me wearing the first attempt at Pasta People- a mask. But you don't even know what I'm talking about yet.
I was building my Director's reel. It was common then, and I'm sure is common now to create a reel of 'speculation' spots, in hopes that an ad agency would hire me to direct. I had shot, the previous year, a couple of pieces that were very well received by the people at Crossroads Films where I worked as a Production Assistant. I didn't have any money, not really, and needed to find a way to do something on the cheap. My wife and I had taken a mirror selfie a while earlier, wearing pasta shells on our faces. I liked the image so we hung it up. It's still hanging in our bathroom today. So we can watch you pee. With pasta on our noses.
The idea of doing something with this was creeping around my brain for a while. I gathered up a bunch of packages of pasta and began hot-glueing them to one of those clear plastic masks. It looked cool, but maybe a little too sinister. Insert photo I can't find HERE.
I think you'd agree, it just wasn't the right vibe. A friend, a colleague, a buddy, Eric Barbella was busy building his reel as a makeup artist. Eric was a very special person, sadly we lost him in the late 90's in a car accident. I played briefly in a band with Eric and a guy named Tom. Don't think I ever knew Tom's last name... Weird. It was fun playing with those guys! Here's the only pic of us. We played a couple of shows. Eric went on to play in the band Touch Candy, they got pretty popular in LA for a while. Sorry, I digress...
I spoke with Eric about the idea and he said we should try Bald Caps and apply the pasta to the caps. So I went to North Hollywood and got the goods. In the meantime I started making a suit and a dress out of paper table cloths. The stuff is not very durable so I had to be very careful with it. I feel like I managed pretty well. There's a pretty major flaw in the piece though, other than the bad puns, you see the rolled out picnic cloth on the walls- For some reason I left a giant white seam down the middle. It's draws your eye in like the flaw that it is. Live and learn. Which is, really, what this is all about. I don't pretend that many people gave a crap about the pasta people spot, it was just something I did that I learned a lot from, and I'm hoping it informs and/or inspires you, dear reader, to experiment in whatever art form you choose. So I had the wardrobe, the location- my 2 bedroom apartment's guest room, the set- a table, a vase and flower, the wall covering, and I also made a little rig to help move the camera. It was ridiculous. It sort of worked... it was a rollerskate bottom with a block of wood attached to it. On top of the wood I had affixed a bolt that the camera could spin down on. And I rolled it across a plank of wood to get a 'smooth' dolly in. Well, you be the judge. It was used for the first shots of the people.
Speaking of the camera, this was the mid- 90's, in most of our opinions video was still crap. There was a place in Hollywood that would process super 8 film. I knew Kodachrome would give me some crazy popping reds, but I didn't realize just HOW much. More about that in a minute.
So I shot this all on a super8 camera. You younguns... you don't know how good we have it now. I had no idea until I got my film back if I got ANYthing. And we're talking at minimum a week- probably two. I had them xfer the film right to 3/4" video where I would cut it together later. The problem was, Kodachrome REALLY loved all the RED in my frame. Ate it up and spat it back out. So for years, until recently, in fact, the only version of this piece I had was WAY too red. I look at my recently color corrected version and think maybe I took too much red out... I was so tired of it all. Anyway. I couldn't afford proper color correction. So I just lived with it.
I don't think I realized at the time how off-putting puns can be. I just sort of grew up with them. They scooted around our house like verbal dust bunnies. They're fun but it's hard not to think of them as a guilty pleasure. I think they're fine in some instances, but I do think they hurt the piece. When you rely on them for a gag, it does just that, limits the experience to a 'gag.' Maybe you feel differently and that's ok. I try to leave them out of my work now. I think a stronger conceptual 'storytelling' angle might have helped. It's not easy when you're so close to a project to be objective. But it was fairly well received, I think people liked the look of it, the super 8 really forgives a lot. When you shoot 35mm, or any larger format you see the dirt, you see the imperfections. But with the grain of the tiny super8 image you lose a lot of the detail and that can work in your favor. The natural super 8 'shake' that all plays into the odd style of the piece. I was keeping this in mind when conceiving the spot, trying to see the tools I had and work backwards.
Candice was a good sport. She did some modeling and is an artist herself, so she was very easy to work with. Eric always had something to add, some perspective, some ideas. He was a very kind person, and very funny. I really value people who are willing to turn a project into a collaboration, not just a 'gig.' Eric was like that. The Pasta Man was played by Larry Garcia. I haven't spoken to Larry in years. He was another sweet guy. Out and very open about it, Larry had an easy going manner that made him the perfect choice for Candice's dinner date. We shared a lot of laughs.
I do think the performances are on mark. Though I should have found a better way to show them arranging the pasta on their plates, they are pretty quick with that. But the smiles and the smooch at the end of the piece are real. We only had one take, I wasn't cleaning that up and trying again, it just wouldn't work.
I guess I rented a few C-stands, or borrowed them from Crossroads? Here's the set. Wasn't much. I still use scoop lights (center, bottom) they're at every hardware store, you just need to mind your light-color and use gels if the need be.
I always liked the 35mm stills from the shoot a little better than the piece itself. I think a little more care + a little more money and I could have had a nice piece shot on 35. I would have needed to go back to the creative though. I really don't think it's strong enough.
A couple of funny footnotes. After completing the piece and adding it to my Director's Reel I sent off a 1/2 (VHS) dub to the makers of the pasta I used, Anthony's Pasta. I didn't necessarily expect them to jump up and down and want to USE the spot- it is a bit vulgar looking at the end there... but you never know. You NEVER know. It's always worth a shot. In the mail, from Anthony's Pasta, about a month later was an envelope with coupons worth 25 cents off my next purchase. A couple of them. The same envelope they'd send to a little kid who drew a crayon picture of spaghetti... coupons! I had a good laugh. I guess it wasn't 'go time' for the spot. ALSO years later I put the piece up on YouTube. I had just used some opera piece I found on a CD at my local library and really never thought twice about it... I knew no one- no one really - just a handful of industry insiders would ever see it. It was up on YouTube for a few months when I got a notice that it was banned in Germany. I had to think about it.. WHY ? Was it the marinara spill? I'm going to guess that the recording came from a Deutsche Gramophone album or something... I'm sure it has to do with the music copyright. Well, sorry Germany, you're missing out on some real cool stuff! It was just after adding this piece that I got the gig to do a REAL commercial, one that went on cable nationwide...
The colors are a bit too muted, it's a little too dark. I've got a shot of the table that should really be counter-clocked a few degrees. I should have made a question mark out of the alphabet pasta...what else? It's 100% ok to find flaws in your work. That's how you learn. This whole process, digging through my archives, is a blast. It's useful too, it is helping me find my center. It's helping me to orchestrate the next step in my 'making' endeavors. It can be easy to get complacent. I do enjoy my daily work- the bread and butter- but I want to do more like this - well, not EXACTLY like this.. but I think you know what I mean.