Wednesday, May 09, 2012

"The Avengers" vs. Porn

Monday, May 07, 2012


One of my early Apple projects has just made its way to YouTube. It was a World War II movie made for the Apple International Sales Conference in the summer of 1984. Embedding is disabled, by you can find it here: 1944.

Here's the backstory. (Also check out Paul McNamara's account at Buzzblog.)

The film was produced by Image Stream, an L.A. based audio-visual company where I worked as creative director. The company was run by Chris Korody and his brother Tony.

Image Stream's and my association with Apple dates to 1979. We had been involved in producing audio-visual modules and stage productions for Apple sales conferences and product introductions—including the 1983 sales conference where Macintosh was first shown to the sales force and the now-famous Software Dating Game was staged. Image Stream also staged the 1984 Shareholder's meeting where Steve pulled the Mac out of a cloth bag and first showed it to the world at large.

Fast forward to the spring of 1984, as Apple began preparing for year II of Macintosh, and once again called on Image Stream for production support at the Sales Conference.

These conferences were multi-day events, usually held at resort destinations. Each Apple department that had something to bring to the attention of the sales force was given a chunk of time at a big general session plus breakout sessions for more detailed training.

I hired Glenn Lambert to write the introductory hooplah for the Mac session.

Glenn and I flew to Cupertino for a briefing with the head of Mac marketing, Mike Murray. We hoped that we'd get some background information, head back to L.A., talk on the plane, eventually come up with something, work up storyboards and head back to Cupertino and pitch our idea to Apple. (That's the way it usually goes in the agency world. Briefing. Then go away, brainstorm. Work up concepts. Come back with a pitch. If you've seen Mad Men, you know the drill.)

After helping ourselves to some Odwalla from the endless supply, and admiring the enormous Boesendorfer concert grand and the BMW motorcycle in the lobby of Bandley 8, Glenn and I finally were called into Mike's office.

Mike talked to us in general terms about marketing strategy. He said that in 1984, Macintosh had established a beach head in businesses, but had very little penetration so far compared to IBM. In the coming year, however, with new products coming on line—including a laser printer, a revolutionary plug-and-play network architecture (AppleTalk), a file server, new software, and ways to bridge into existing IBM networks, Mac would move in from the beach. 

If you know Apple history, you'll know that some of those products didn't make it to market on time. AppleTalk and the LaserWriter were the few that shipped. The rest of what was termed "The Macintosh Office" was announced, but were not ready for the market. In 1985, Mac sales stalled. Apple went into crisis. Steve into exile—until 1997.  Mike Murray moved on to Microsoft where he became VP of HR. Image Stream folded as Apple contracted, and I hired on at Apple.

But as Glenn and I sat in Mike's office, we had no clue that Mike's strategy rested on some unrealistic development schedules. 

As Glenn and I listened to Mike talk about beach head and market penetration, and as we watched him draw on his white board, the parallels to the landings at Normandy seemed obvious. I think Glenn was first to connect 1984 to 1944. And the idea clicked in almost immediately. 

Given the way Steve had positioned Apple against  IBM, it just seemed to fit. Glenn, Mike, and I began brainstorming right there in the office. Ideas came tumbling out. IBM had Charlie Chaplin for P.C. advertising. And, it turns out that Charlie Chaplin not only had a Hitler-like mustache, he had actually done a Hitler sendup in The Great Dictator. We'd show oppressed workers liberated by the brave forces of Macintosh. We got so excited by the idea that Mike wanted to rush right in and pitch to Steve.

I called Chris in L.A. to outline what we were thinking. War movie. Stock footage from the D-day landings. Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel hanging on the wall. Mac marketing team in cameo roles. And the topper: Steve as FDR.  He said he'd start looking for a director (or maybe he had one in mind).

Glenn, Mike, and I marched into Steve's office to give him the pitch. Pretty much the way I outlined it in the previous paragraph. Steve's eyes were sparkling through it all. By the time I got to, "and you as FDR," I had made the sale. In the binary universe of Steve Jobs, something is either a zero or a one. This was a one. Instantly. Definitively.

Of course, Steve wanted to know what it would cost. We had no idea, since it hadn't been scripted or budgeted. Chris Korody and I pulled a guess of $50,000 out of thin air. I'm pretty sure there were overages. I'm pretty sure they were approved.

Glenn and I had discussed getting a professional impressionist to dub in the FDR dialog. When we mentioned that to Steve, he immediately jumped in to say, "no, I'll do the voice myself."

Probably the fastest I've ever gone from brief to yes in my entire career. The whole journey in less than 90 minutes. That NEVER happens. But the idea was so apt. And Mike had jumped right in to pitch it out with Glenn and me. So, in a way, it was sold even before it was completed. 

All that remained was to do all the hard work. Glenn had to turn the pitch from three sentences into a film script. Chris had to find a way to get it made. And the lawyers had to tell us there was no way in hell that we could get the rights to actually use the image of Charlie Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel. I believe that a short section of the narration was actually crafted by Mike Murray to be sure he got his marketing messages in just the way he wanted them.

Chris found a young filmmaker named Bud Schaetzle, just out of school who had his own production team—and, as a bonus, a friend who flew vintage world war II aircraft—you probably saw the fly-over. His company was High Five Productions, and he had a very scrappy line producer, Martin J. Fischer. Bud went on to win some awards doing country music videos for Garth Brooks, and the Judds. We found Bud and Martin on the way up. They probably got us at least double the production value up on the screen that we paid for. Considering all the equipment, costumes, and extras, it was a major production for an industrial.

Here's Bud's page in IMDB:  

Steve flew to L.A. for his bit. We filmed him at a sound stage not far from LAX. Several members of the Mac marketing team had cameos, including Mike Murray, Alfred Mandel, and Tricia Willcoxon.

Paul McNamara his more on this story at Buzzblog.