Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Welcome to the Cathouse -- Homestore Part Two

In 1998, Chiat/Day was running on all cylinders.

The prior year, we were named Agency of the Year. We were winning awards on all our accounts: Taco Bell, Apple, Playstation, Levis and ABC. The economy was booming and dotcoms were handing us their business without reviews.

Including homestore.com -- a real estate listing website.

Rumor had it they had a $100 million budget. And we were told the CEO, a karate-chopping engineer-turned-entrepreneur, was going to be the next Bill Gates.

Who told us? He did.

To say CEO Stuart Wolff (Federal Penitentiary Prisoner #41978, more on that later) was full of himself would be an understatement akin to calling the Titanic a boat, or the Hindenburg a big balloon.

Of course when somebody holds out a carrot as big as Stuart's you learn to shut up, grin and start planning the boondoggles.

After a few rounds of strategically-correct, but uninspired work, we presented a campaign that appealed to Stuart's oversized ego. The idea was to film unique people living in unique houses. The commercials would all be shot documentary style and were tied to the line:

There's a dream home for everyone. What's yours?

To his credit, Stuart saw the effort as having great potential. So much so that he reasoned, "before we shoot the spots, let's figure out how to make commercials people will pay to see."

Great, I thought, I have two toddlers at home trying to figure out how to use a toilet and this bozo wants us to figure out how to change the entire interruptive advertising paradigm.

And so the storyboards sat on the shelf.

Unproduced for many, many months.

And in those many, many months, we (John Shirley and I) came to blows with the new upper management at Chiat who had abandoned the old credo of fighting for good work and were more interested in fighting for good revenue.

The acrimony was palpable.
And it became our undoing.
But through sheer determination and a pit bull unwillingness to give in to those without a creative bone in their body, we prevailed.

In a bit of creative ju-jitsu, we wouldn't shoot 6 TV commercials. We would shoot a feature film, a documentary from which 6 commercials would be extracted. Stuart loved the plan. No one had ever done something like that before and more importantly, he saw the venture as a way to get his picture on the cover of Forbes Magazine.

Let's go shoot a movie.

February 28, 1999 -- San Diego, CA

We arrive at the home of Bob Walker and Frances Mooney.

The couple have no children, but are precociously proud "parents" of 41 cats. Although it felt like there were 141.

The house has been built and customized for the cats. Everywhere you looked there were scratching posts, catwalks and litter boxes. There also these red balls filled with catnip strewn about the home which was less of a home and more of a pastel-painted funhouse.

I don't know what catnip is or does -- and frankly I don't want to -- I only know that the air inside the house is so thick with dander, cat hair and tchotschkes that I can't breath and must retire to the driveway for oxygen.

An infelicitous start to our film.

Frances shows us how she "talks" to the cats. And Bob shows us some of the new cat furniture he is building in the garage. His enthusiasm is both fascinating and unnatural. It is at this point, that I decide there's only one thing I like less than cats, Cat People.

Coming up: our inauspicious shoot in San Diego is followed by a raucous trip to New Orleans.


Christopher Hawks said...

If you have received a letter inviting you to speak at the dedication of a
new cat hospital, and you hate cats, your reply, declining the invitation,
does not necessarily have to cover the full range of your emotions. You must
make it clear that you will not attend, but you do not have to let fly at cats.
The writer of the letter asked a civil question; attack cats, then, only if
you can do so with good humor, good taste, and in such a way that your answer
will be courteous as well as responsive. Since you are out of sympathy with
cats, you may quite properly give this as a reason for not appearing at the
dedication ceremonies of a cat hospital. But bear in mind that your opinion
of cats was not sought, only your services as a speaker. Try to keep things
-- Strunk and White, "The Elements of Style"

I am out of sympathy for Cat People as well........ I've enjoyed good banter about women with cats with our mutual friend Adam Sutner.

Anonymous said...

I used to work at Homestore during that era. oh the stories. Stuart had and icky, clammy limp handshake. I should have turned the job down right there and then.