Under the Influence: Gary Freedman, The Glue Society

March 16, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The five key ingredients that make this director’s signature dish.

One of the biggest names on Independent’s formidable roster, Gary Freedman of The Glue Society collective has worked on some of the funniest ads to grace our televisions in recent years, including Doritos’ Dip Desperado – a personal favourite here at Bugle Towers. He’s also got a knack for poignancy, clear in HSBC’s 40-year anniversary commercial, Lift.

Curious about what informs his work, we asked him to choose five things that inspire him. His picks include the ridiculous and the sublime, sometimes simultaneously.

New York

"When I was growing up in the 70s I was obsessed with America; mainly based on TV but also the stuff that people brought back from their holidays there, like chewing gum in lots of flavours and tube socks and a cup with your picture on it from Wet ‘n Wild. It was a place full of stuff you just didn’t have in England back then, which was just a stale white bread sandwich with one slice of ham in it. Someone told me about Space Mountain and described it as a rollercoaster inside a disco, which practically blew my mind.

When I first went to New York around 1990 it lived up to all my expectations and more. It was like being inside a TV. It looked like a movie and it sounded like a movie too. I couldn’t believe it was real; it felt like everyone there was playing a part.

Now I live in New York and have done for eleven years. I’ve grown used to it but it took me a good few years to become anesthetized to being in a place that is so embedded in your subconscious from TV. But every now and then, I can switch mode and see New York as I did back then. It is a place that, to me, still looks like it is in the 70s. A lot of buildings and signage still have that appearance. It’s like going into the future and back in time at once. But mainly it’s the people; all playing their roles, talking loudly and a lot, saying things you only hear people say on TV."

The Coen Brothers

"My work is quite diverse. In the past I’ve felt like this is a weakness. But then I look at the Coen Brothers and I don’t worry about it anymore.

There isn’t a Coen Brothers film I don’t like. Their films are amazingly diverse but they manage to inject their personality into everything they do. It is all just so “Coen Brothers-y”; humour makes its way into dark drama, comedies have dimension and style. Neo-noir-black-comedy-crime-quirky-thriller-drama....or something.

But the biggest thing is their ability to create iconic ‘characters’. Utterly memorable and idiosyncratic characters. To me, this is what makes their films so distinctive.

Making an ad is a far cry from this. But if there is one thread running through my work – and it’s something that I like doing – it is creating characters. I try to eke out a character in almost every commercial I do. Often it’s not apparent in the script or part of the ‘idea’. But it’s something that, as a director, you can really bring to the party. A good character in an ad can really turn it into something memorable. I think people respond to people."

Blackcurrant Tango

"I think this is the best ad I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, on rare occasions, advertising captures the zeitgeist. And this one did it better than any before or since, in my opinion. I don’t know whether this was by design or whether the guys who wrote it were even aware of how resonant it was. But when this ad came out, it just behaved in a way that was exactly how everyone felt at the time.

It’s audacious, hilarious, irreverent, knowing... and at the time, it was actually breathtakingly spectacular. I can still watch it now and be kind of amazed. I like its roughness. I like that it doesn’t quite have enough background extras. If it were made now it would have thousands of digital people and be too big, too slick. It’s perfectly imperfect.

But, like all really great things, it was a ‘lucky’ combination of elements. It just came together; brilliant idea, flawless execution and the perfect public mood to receive it. You couldn’t plan it. Kismet. Sometimes the recipe is just right."

Francis Bacon

"If you want a glimpse into the human psyche look no further. Raw, visceral human emotion rendered physical. The ultimate performance. And it’s static; just paint on a canvas. But alive. It’s quite hard to fathom.

The opening credits to Last Tango In Paris feature Bacon paintings. They look weird and incongruous at the start of a film. But it’s arresting. Anyway, the story goes that Bertolucci took Marlon Brando to a Bacon exhibition when they were making Last Tango In Paris to inspire him. Now picture Brando, his face contorted, eaten up on the inside."

Music

"All music. This is lame but it’s the truth. I think music taps into your emotions more than anything. If you really want to go somewhere, listen to some music, quite loud and you’ll picture things differently. If you’re trying to dredge for a creative feeling, it’s the most immediate way of connecting with something that is vital and authentic.

At other times, I find music can really help me look at things afresh too. I review a storyboard listening to music and it really helps me to see it. The problem of course is that you can devise a piece of work with music in mind, which is great until you get to the edit when music becomes more of a free for all. There is nothing which can affect the tone of a piece of film more than changing the music. And of course, at that point in the process we all have a subjective view on music, as much as we can all dress ourselves in the morning!"

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