It isn’t often that you get as clear a consensus about the Super Bowl ads as there appears to have been this year. Everybody seems to pretty much be on the same page, at least according to Twitter and the media blogs: the best ad was Volkswagen’s “tiny Darth Vader” spot, and the worst was Groupon’s borderline-offensive “Save the Money” ad, in which Timothy Hutton makes light of the troubles of Tibet because hey, they can still “whip up an amazing fish curry.”
In spite of the company’s blog post noting that their ads were parodies — never a good sign, when you have to announce that — and that they would be donating matching funds to three featured charities (including the Tibet Fund), the general distaste for the campaign was swift and unanimous. The general tone-deafness of the ads was all the more befuddling when The AV Club and others noted, on Monday, that the commercials were helmed by Christopher Guest, the director/star of such brilliant “mockumentary” comedies as Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind (not to mention the granddaddy of them all, This is Spinal Tap, which he co-wrote and co-starred in).
So what on earth was Guest thinking? Did this creator of some of the most uproarious films in recent moviedom think these ads were funny? Or — and we’re just spitballing here — is it worth noting that he hasn’t had a movie out in almost five years and has a family to feed?
Yes, it’s quite possible that the “Save the Money” spots were just Christopher Guest’s “sell-out” moment gone wrong —an unfortunate turn of events for any filmmaker. The fact of the matter is, the business of show is a business, and while “art for art’s sake” is an admirable way to live, sometimes filmmakers gots bills to pay. Many of our most consistently interesting filmmakers (and Michael Bay) come from the world of music videos and television commercials — David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Tony Scott — and continue to float back and forth from the ad world to the film world, frequently without anyone noticing.
And sometimes these filmmakers bring their distinctive visual and storytelling sense to their paycheck projects, making them a win for everyone. Not all “sell-outs” are created equal. So with that in mind, let’s take a look back at a few of our favorite filmmakers’ bill-paying moments in advertising, music video, and film — the moments when they “sold out,” for better or worse.
Ridley Scott, “1984”
One of the most memorable advertisements in Super Bowl history—indeed, one of the ads that forwarded the notion of “watching the game for the commercials”—was Apple’s one-minute promo for their soon-to-be-released Macintosh personal computer. The 1984 spot, budgeted at a then-astronomical $900,000, was directed by Ridley Scott, the stylish Brit whose now-classic Blade Runner (mostly a critical and financial bust on its original release) used similar dystopian-future iconography. The spot aired only once in prime time — during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII (Raiders vs. Redskins) and won countless advertising awards, only bolstering the rep of its auteur.