TURN OFF YOUR BEEPER

In late August of 1969, I got a call from Roy Grace about a VW ad he wanted me to shoot. He faxed me the layout and I called him to discuss the details. The layout showed a double page spread with the left page showing a Beetle in a snow scene and the right page showing a Beetle in a desert scene. The headline was “We Go To Extremes”. It was later changed to “We Take You To Extremes”. Roy told me it had just been approved by VOA and he wanted to shoot it ASAP. A few days of research by my production coordinator came up dry. There was some snow on mountain peeks in the North Rockies and Alaska but no roads and the Beetle would have to be put in place by a Helicopter. Not practical and cost prohibitive. Also the desert shot would be a second location trip and would put the estimate over the top for the very stingy VOA.

Being a bit of a student of geography, I then had the bright idea to contact someone in the Southern hemisphere which was in the middle of their winter. I chose Chile because it covered about 75% of the West side of South America. They defiantly had snow and desert. I called the NY Times and got the number of the biggest paper in Santiago. I made a cold call, asking for a person who spoke English. The guy who came on the line gave me all the information I needed and some of it was a little disturbing. VW’s were not built in Chile so there was a huge import tax on them. It brought the price of a Beetle up to 10 grand and in his opinion, the only beetles in Chile were owned by German diplomats. As a result VW dealerships were as scarce as hens teeth. Roy wanted a red Beetle in the ad so I asked him if he had ever seen any red Beetles around town. His “yes” brought me to questions about snow and desert. Snow was 80 clicks North of Santiago at the ski resort of Portillo, where the German and Swiss ski teams were training and the deserts started another 250 clicks North of the snow in Antofagasta. That’s near where the Chilean miners were trapped a while ago.

I put together an estimate that was the highest VOA had ever seen for a print ad and had a conversation with Roy about the Chile/VW Beetle information I had gathered. I explained to Roy how I planned to pull off the shots including the slightly iffy plan to flag down a German diplomat on main drag of Santiago. I had put enough money in the budget to entice any self respecting frugal German diplomat to let me use their red bug for the shoot.

I had about 10 Roy Grace VW ads under my belt by then and Roy responded with a “go for it”.

A couple of days later I got a call from Roy. This is after VOA had approved the estimate and my production coordinator had made all the arrangements for the shoot. When I got to the phone Roy said “hold on Dave I gotta close my door”. He explained that account services wanted to pull the job because they or he (probably that creep Bob Reise) thought that there were too many loose ends for a successful execution of the assignment. I’m sure, had I been a fly on the wall, at the cancelation meeting, I would have heard ” what do you mean he’s going to flag down a German diplomat to get a car to shoot”.

Now looking back over my years shooting ads for DDB AD’s I was pretty sure I had a reputation of “bringing home the bacon”. I had never blown an assignment. Out of over 300 assignments I probably had 3 or 4 reshoots. All of which I agreed needed reshooting. Also looking back over my 50 year career as a commercial photographer I never could understand why the person or people hiring the creatives at DDB couldn’t hire Account people with a brain, to say nothing of ethics, but that’s another story altogether.

Back on the phone Roy tells me, his assisant, Jim Scalfone, was away for the weekend and couldn’t be reach. Our flight was scheduled for early Monday morning and he was going to tell the suits that he was unable to contact anybody to cancel the shoot. Probably Reise replied “well beep the bastard before he gets on the plane and cancel the fucking shoot”. “VOA will not pay for this”. VOA of course had no part in the decision to cancel the shoot. This is the end of the day on a Friday and Roy explains his plan. He tells me he knows I can do the job and that it is one of his best ads for VW. He also explains how he will deal with the account idiots (his words) cancellation order.
#1 the studio was closed when I called Friday afternoon
#2 my assistant is away for the weekend and I can’t reach him
#3 the flight is early Monday morning. Roy “turn off your beeper and get on that plane and bring me back a winner.”

I did not turn off my beeper and it beeped all the way to the ramp leading to the plane. It took me about an hour to flag down a German diplomat on the main drag of Santago. We made a deal for the snow and desert shoot and the ad won the GOLD medal next year.

I can’t resist one more dig at the account people at DDB. Shortly after the trip the account people went around the agency and tried to black ball me at the agency.

Many years latter, Helmet put it very well on the steps leading away from the Porsche Design Center in Weisach, Germany. We were there shooting Porsche ads and had just finished a meeting about the shoot. Helmut had wanted Willie, the account guy, to make arrangements to shoot at Nurburging. Willie informed Helmut it was a no go and Helmut turned to Willie, one step higher and 24″ taller than him and said “you guys don’t do your fucking job”
Thank you DDB creatives for making my career as a commercial photographer a joy to remember.

David Langley
Photographer