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The Real Mad Men:<br>Art & Copy

Director Doug Pray talks about his new film Art & Copy, which takes us inside the advertising revolution, when art directors and copy writers first put their heads together and changed the way we view the world.

Art & Copy Billboard

If Don Draper and his fellow Mad Men have taught us anything, it is that advertising, without a doubt, matters. The show gives us a juicy glimpse into the inner machinations of an advertising agency, and how advertisements (and the people who create them) are able to chronicle a time, a place and a generation. But who were the real mad men, the real movers and shakers behind the advertisements we grew up on?

Art & Copy, a festival favorite that hits theaters this Friday, chronicles the profound cultural impact made by advertising, and in turn, by the (mostly unsung) creatives behind the message. Tribeca Film asked our own creative, designer Tanya Codispodi, to watch the film and talk with director Doug Pray (Scratch, Hype!, Surfwise). 

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.

Those lines could easily be the first lines of the Doug Pray documentary Art & Copy, which spotlights the greats who changed an industry and how we see the world. I am not talking about Picasso or Bob Dylan, both featured in Apple’s original Think Different commercial, from which the above lines come. I am talking about the (m)ad-men and -women who create the campaigns that shape our world, like Lee Clow, the creative force behind Apple’s advertising since this groundbreaking, Ridley Scott-directed ad that premiered in 1984:

The founder of IBM, Thomas Watson Jr., was once quoted as saying, “Good design is good business.” He should know: he hired Paul Rand to create their corporate identity, and the rest of that story lives in the annals of design history. But there was a time, in advertising, when good design was not paramount and the creatives were not given much of a say in conceptualizing a campaign.

Mary Wells—who started out at the historic Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) and founded Wells Rich Greene—talked about how Bill Bernbach was the first to take the art director and put him in the same room as the copy writer. Before that, they never interacted or collaborated. In a movement that took hold in te 60s, Bernbach made the art director a crucial figure within an ad agency, not just someone who was given others’ ideas to implement.
(Side note: As the designer at Tribeca, I work closely with the editorial team at Tribeca Film, just as Bernbach envisioned. Without his initial directive, I wouldn't be collaborating with the writers on a daily basis, let alone writing this article.)
If it weren’t for the revolution that Art & Copy documents, I would have not decided to become a designer. It’s hard to imagine a world without these things now: the Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' Got Milk Aaron Burr ad; DDB's attempts to sell the Volkswagen Bug to America; the above 1984 Apple ad (out of Chiat/Day) that became an icon when it appeared just that one time during the Superbowl; George Lois' I Want My MTV campaign (which got cable providers to add MTV nationwide); or Milton Glaser's commission (by Wells Rich Greene) to create the I ♥ NY logo, still ubiquitous in NYC decades after its initial 1977 campaign... These campaigns taught me that designers could affect the world with their work; like the woman in the 1984 ad, I wanted to break the illusion of the status quo.
It is kind of crazy to think that I decided what to do with my life because Steve Jobs hired Lee Clow to sell us computers. But just like Wieden+Kennedy told us to do, I set out to Just Do It. And here I am, a designer in New York City, a path I wouldn't have taken if Bernbach didn't say, “Hey you, art director, meet the copy editor. I have a feeling you are going to do something amazing together.”

Needless to say, I found the film fascinating, and I was delighted to talk to Doug Pray about his process.

Doug Pray

Tribeca Film: Your film Big Rig opened a truck driver starting off a fairy tale with, “This ain’t no BS…” instead of “Once upon a time...” How do you think an ad-man would pitch us a fairy tale?

Doug Pray “After these messages...”

TF: After making Art & Copy, you must be somewhat of a scholar on famous ads. What is your favorite ad or commercial?

DP: Ironically, I watch very little television, so I'm no scholar on what's out there, but I do remember ads from my early childhood—in particular, the VW ads by DDB. They really were groundbreaking, memorable, and perfectly in tune with a new generation that I was too little to understand at the time.

TF:  Wieden+Kennedy's Just Do It! campaign is an example of an overall positive reaction to modern advertising. What would you consider the scariest, most dangerously effective ad campaign?

DP: Armed forces advertising, because I think it works, and because it's not based on the truth, which, contrary to popular belief, is a component of most of the best campaigns of all time.

TF: Creative types can run hot and cold—one day they can be a fount of knowledge that wont stop flowing, and the next no amount of coffee can get them to put a whole sentence together. Did you experience anything like this while shooting Art & Copy? Or was there another hurdle you did not expect?

DP: I experience this on all of my films. I think it's normal and healthy—at times—to feel completely lost during creative endeavors. I didn't feel this while shooting interviews or scenic footage for Art & Copy, because once I have a camera and a subject to film, I know what I have to do. But when I'm editing (or directing an editor), there are times I don't know where I'm going, as if I've lost my roadmap, and that leads to an even more desperate state where I'm not sure anymore why I'm doing this film at all, or even why I'm a filmmaker. And then comes the “Why am I a human being?” and “Why are we here?” and then my producer will remind me that we have a rough cut screening in 48 hours and I realize I have no other choice but to work with what I have and make some (any!) decision to keep moving forward. And then I forget about myself and fall in love with the work all over again.

TF: If an ad agency creative's worst fear is having no idea where his/her next thought will come from, what is a film director's worst fear?

DP: That we don't really deserve to have such an amazingly great job, and we'll be found out, exposed, and summarily fired from directing—for life—by the powers that be.

TF: Ain't It Cool News wrote that Big Rig “celebrates the human spirit.” In your opinion, what does Art & Copy celebrate?

DP: The same thing, really. Art & Copy is essentially about a dynamic group of people who somehow found a way to use advertising—of all things (love it or hate it)—to communicate great, inspiring, and entertaining ideas in a surprisingly human way, while still pushing their clients’ products. One of the reasons we made the film is to remind people that you can use commerce and advertising to impact culture in uplifting ways, if you want.

: Lee Clow said, “We are in the art business, if we do it well.” He used the example of Toulouse-Lautrec's advertising posters now being considered art. What modern advertising or advertising creative do you think could be considered museum-quality a hundred years from now?

DP: In the film we juxtaposed Toulouse-Lautrec's posters with some of Lee's own iPod ads, which might be considered fine art in a hundred years. Who knows, maybe other ads—like Absolut Vodka's print work, or the Just Do It women's campaign—will, or even all the wacky Geico or ESPN Sports Center spots will be deemed important. It's hard to say, because there are so many thousands of campaigns for so many thousands of products now. 100 years ago, there was so little commercial messaging that I imagine those Moulin Rouge posters really did stand out.

TF: Was the subject of the future of the ad industry ever brought up, specifically in the realm of TV commercials? 70% of revenue for television comes from ads, and viewership is rapidly changing from traditional to non-traditional means (Web, DVR).

DP: Except for the statistics that arrive at times throughout the movie, I steered away from specific discussions about the mechanics of the advertising business, and I tried to keep the film operating on a more inspirational plane. We didn't dissect traditional TV spots vs. Internet and viral campaigns. Those in the film who are actively working in new media are not daunted by the rapidly changing landscape. They see the Internet and digital technology as presenting enormous creative opportunities that have been largely untapped. I've heard this from Dan Wieden, Lee Clow, Rich Silverstein and Jeff Goodby, in particular. I recall Dan saying that he hopes this huge shift will inspire a second creative revolution in advertising, like the one that occurred in the 1960s.

I don't think format matters. A hundred years ago they hawked tonics for losing weight on the pages of the Sears catalog. Today, my web browser has an annoying banner that has almost the identical copy, hawking a belly-reducing cream. As long as we live in a capitalist and consumer society, advertising will exist. The formats will change, but the innate urge to produce messages won't go away.  

Lee Clow, iPod ad
Lee Clow

: During filming, was there any time that you thought, “Hey, I could have made a kick-ass creative director” at one of the agencies shown in Art & Copy? If so, what agency or person made you feel like that?

DP: I'm too impatient for advertising and agency work. I do like directing commercials (I make doc-style ads when I can), but I wouldn't be able to tolerate the long waits for campaigns to be developed, shown to committees, rejected, redeveloped, shown to committees, re-rejected, tweaked, etc., etc. As Jeff Goodby says in the film, that process can take a year, sometimes, and it can be very demoralizing to endlessly fight for your creative ideas, even if the pay is good. I can say however, that Mary Wells is a very compelling woman. She literally makes you feel empowered, just being in her presence. She radiates self-worth and it's contagious. And she makes advertising seem like the coolest thing you could ever get into. I had a moment when interviewing her.

: The people in Art & Copy changed the world, but they are not well known. The same can be said for the DJs in Scratch or the graffiti artists in Infamy or the people in Big Rig. They aren't famous, but they are vital to our way of life. Is that something you gravitate towards, finding unappreciated people and providing a spotlight you think they deserve?

DP: Yes, absolutely. I sometimes enjoy interviewing huge stars because you get a charge out of meeting them, and it’s a challenge to get them to be themselves and not their persona, but they are not nearly as interesting or invigorating to interview as those who haven't “made it” but could, or are underground, or unknown, or social misfits, or wildly misunderstood by mainstream society. My films are a way of trying to understand what motivates them, in hopes of being similarly inspired myself. And if I am, then I want my audience to be inspired, too.

TF: In Surfwise and Big Rig, you started to pay more attention to the use of design to more effectively tell your story. Was it a natural progression to think about making a movie where the subject matter was explicitly effective design?  

DP: Yes, I thought Art & Copy should reflect the visual discipline and concise writing (i.e. dialogue choices and editing) of those who do it so well in the thirty-second format. I wanted to reflect the aura of these individuals and the creative spaces in which they work, so [cinematograher] Peter Nelson employed a more carefully designed and abstract cinematography look and [editor] Philip Owens made more intentionally artful and creatively “free” editing choices than in my earlier films.

TF: Revolutionary people seem to be a thread running through a lot of your work. Will that thread lead to another story about a person or people who changed the world? And if so, any clues you can give us?

DP: One of my philosophical beliefs is that every human being has a story that is deserving of being told, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem on the surface. That everybody, in their own minds, is a rebel or fighting some small personal revolution that may be worthy of a filmmaker's attention. Add to that the fact that I'm fascinated by subcultures and people who are extraordinarily creative—it hasn't been difficult to keep a revolutionary theme alive from film to film. But to answer your question: Yes. I am, at the moment, developing a documentary-dramatic hybrid feature about a guy who is believed to have changed the world with creative forces.

Stay tuned. After these messages...

Art & Copy opens Friday, August 21, at the IFC Center in New York.
It also opens in Chicago, Denver, and Seattle.

Watch the trailer:

In honor of the film, use an elegant ampersand today.

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