One of the most impressive things I heard about advertising was in a men’s lavatory.
I was standing at the urinal and Dennis Hopper was standing next to me.
It was in Berlin and we were both on an awards jury.
We’d just seen a lot of commercials and, as usual, everything looked the same.
(At that time, the fashion was: hand-held camera, jerky movements, badly developed film, scratchy negative, choppy editing.)
While we were standing there, I said to Dennis “You must be getting fed up with ads that have ripped of the way you shot the cemetery scene in Easy Rider”.
He smiled and said “Not really, Easy Rider owed a lot to advertising”.
That took me back, I said “Really, how come?”
He said “Well before Easy Rider, everyone used to get music composed for each film.
They’d get a composer in to see what had been shot, then write a score, then get an orchestra to record it.
Easy Rider was the first film where we used existing music and put it against the picture.
I got the idea from watching all the car commercials that Madison Avenue was doing.
They’d have beauty shots of a car speeding down the highway, and they’d put whatever current song the kids were listening to over it.
I thought, we’re making a road movie like that, except with bikes instead of cars.
I liked using what was already in the culture instead of going all Hollywood and getting something specially composed.
So that’s what I did: Steppenwolf, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, all tracks that young people were listening to.
It added a lot, it said this isn’t just another overblown, fat-cat movie from Hollywood.
And I took that from advertising, so I can’t object to them taking something back.”
And that was really interesting to me because it gave me a new perspective on what we do.
Dennis Hopper didn’t look at advertising as a poor man’s version of film-making.
He looked at it as a totally different craft that maybe he could learn from.
Advertising came up with different answers than Hollywood because it was trying to do something different, so to him it was fresh and interesting.
Hollywood had got stuck in a rut, whereas advertising was trying different things.
Unlike today, when advertising has reverted to being the poor-man’s Hollywood.
Trying to make expensive little art-films that will win awards.
Awards to rival the Oscars, even holding the event at Cannes like the film awards.
The book “Easy Riders to Raging Bulls” is about the history of modern cinema.
It features Easy Rider as one of the seminal films of modern movie-making.
And the man who made Easy Rider told me he got that inspiration from advertising.
From the days when advertising was new and fresh and different.
When we tried to reach ordinary people in original and unusual ways.
Easy Rider changed music in cinema.
Now it’s as common to use existing music in films as it was to get it specially composed.
Take a movie like Baby Driver.
The star of that movie, from beginning to end, is the soundtrack.
And it’s all existing music, every single track.
That’s also why it’s one of the freshest, most vibrant movies of the last few years.
All because of a music-in-cinema revolution that started with Easy Rider.
And the soundtrack for easy Rider started with advertising.
When we were trying to do something different.
Trying to reach ordinary people instead of pretending to be film-makers.
Trying something new instead of copying – imagine that.