Q&A with Taxi’s top car director Paul Street
Q1. Explain the place in which you grew up? Did you grow up on Noffler’s ‘Mainstreets” or was it more like Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’…?
I grew up in Streatham, South London. It was more Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” than Noffler’s “Mainstreets”. It’s changed now, but back in the 80’s, it was a sketchy place to be – living in Thatchers Britain. I think “Ghost town” from the Specials is the tune that defines my memories back then.
Q2. What do you think were the main influences on your work?
The streets really were the meeting place for friends in the neighbourhood. There was a real camaraderie, it informed us all growing up. Cars and motorbikes were a big part of it, racing to Box Hill, road trips to Brighton, stuff like that.
I remember watching American Graffiti and thinking, wow, this is like Streatham without the sunshine and cool American V8’s.
My first car was a Morris Minor Van, it was terrible – no first gear and no reverse. What did I expect for 30 bucks? It was my first four wheels – I called her Moggy.
There weren’t any flash supercars in my neighbourhood. I didn’t see Aston Martins or Ford Mustangs on the streets – a Rover Vanden Plas was luxury in Streatham!
I loved bikes and used to race my Yamaha FS1E and YPVS. The Mods had their Vespa’s, the Rockabilly’s their BSA’s – I used to shoot them all on my Canon 1014 Super 8mm movie camera.
Music was a massive influence and guiding force, it played out on the streets of London. With the birth of House and rave parties, the bikes and cars took us all to these new clandestine parties which sprung up in fields outside London.
Q3. How did you come to pioneer the use of Flame and Avid and what influence do you think it has had on successive generations of creatives?
It was a natural progression for me. I’ve always loved to push the medium of film technique to tell stories – I worked very closely with my editor and effects artists.
I’ve always been a big part of the post process and finishing of my productions, and I wanted more immediacy on set. I convinced my editor Christopher to drag around his AVID – the same with my flame artiste Crawford (he had a massive Octane kit at the time.) It paid off, as we were able to sync up the video splits from the 35mm cameras, edit on site, and lock in rough comps with Flame. This allowed me to create dynamic effects, and adapt while shooting when needed. The agencies, of course, were blown away, they knew what they had before they went home.
Today of course on set editing and effects it no big deal, in fact, I was recently shooting in Belgrade and we cut all three commercials before we wrapped. We even touched on the colour grade.
Q4. Your decision to forgo an invitation to the celebrated Royal College of Art and instead take up an opportunity to work on the ground with CTV is well documented. Can you explain the impetus behind your decision?
It’s a choice I still ponder to this day. At the time I had been in film school for 3 years and I was keen to get my hands dirty in the action and in a professional company. I wanted to gain that experience and build my reel.
I was grateful for being given an opportunity to study at the RCA. It was an honour and a privilege.
Q5. Your referencing and appropriation of classic auto-related cinema is the cornerstone of some of your best TVCs to date. Can you elaborate on your cinematic influences?
I’ve always loved cinema. I worked in a Rep movie house when I was going through Art School. I got to see films ranging from Nic Ray to Akira Kurosawa. It was an amazing crash course in filmmaking.
I realised how Directors were able to insert their own creative DNA into their stories. It was mind-blowing! Watching movies and having something to say is vital to being a Director, more so today even with all the tech and digital.
I always loved 60’s and 70’s movies because of their gritty realism mixed with a heightened reality. I grew up admiring Friedkin, Ashby, Peckinpah, Leone, Coppola. Bullitt, French Connection, Once upon a time in the West were all go-to movies for me, especially road movies like Vanishing point, Two Lane Blacktop, Badlands and of course Easy Rider. That blew me away, especially the lighting, editing style and freewheeling vibe.
I had the honour of working with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda later in my career and told them how they inspired my work in advertising.
When I got into the Automotive sector of commercials my passion for these films and their directors informed the way I created the spots. I wanted to bring a cinematic edge to the work while using new technology to heighten the editing, music and visual effects. Music was a big focus for me, and I believe music in TVCs is often 70% of the power of the idea and communicating the message.
Q6. Has your move to Australia, in particular, the Sunshine Coast inspired or informed your aesthetic in regard to certain upcoming projects?
I’ve always felt a close affinity to Australia since I was a kid. Half my family moved here in the 60’s so I grew up with the country being a constant in my life.
Coming back to the Sunshine Coast has underscored how much I missed the place and people and how the landscape informs so many Australians. Its such vibrant scenery. The Australian landscapes are unique and very filmic. I remember being haunted by Picnic at Hanging Rock and more recently the brutality of the desert in Proposition.
Australia is always been such fertile ground for stories fused to the earth. My new feature SAVAGE RIVER is based in Tasmania, and the bush is a character in the film.
Q7. From your perspective can you give us some insight into the differences between making feature length films and TVC campaigns?
It’s very different. Obviously, you still need and camera, sound and lights but it kind of stops there. With tic’s.
Q8. While budgets are shrinking, how do you find ways to deliver more?
Really caring about and understanding the client and the agency creative is critical as an advertising Director.
I mean really getting to know peoples expectations, their process, their hopes and fears has allowed me to max my delivery while keeping the budgets in check.
Q9. Where do you see a connection between your background in TVCs and Features and the current trend towards inclusive content production for different digital platforms?
Features and advertising are really two very different disciplines. Movies demand a singular understanding of the script material and a close relationship with the acting and production talent. You’re in for a long haul and the decision and responsibility stops with the Director. On set, you really are the guiding force, creatively.
Advertising is a client based experience. It’s a commerce business primarily, looking to hook into the filmmaking zeitgeist. This demands a different kind of dynamic for a Director. It’s a short time frame of course, but the budgets are often much higher on a day by day comparison, and often more challenging for a Director.
The common theme between Features, Commercials, TV or content is you’re still pulling cameras out of cases, watching trucks arrive, checking that talent understands the script, the crew are being fed and you’re aware of the budget.
Q10. What is your favorite driving song?
There are so many. It depends on who I am with, where I am, and where I’m going. There’s one for every occasion. Muddy waters is always there.
Q11. What is your favorite beer song?
I don’t have a favorite.
Q12. Speaking of beer, your highly celebrated NHL/Corrs commercials were dead-on. Have you ever smashed a Perspex window?
Not personally, but I’ve been there, and I’ve seen it happen.
Q13. Cricket or Hockey? Robin Williams once said, “Cricket is baseball on Valium.” Do you agree?
R.I.P Mr Williams, we miss you. I wish I’d had the opportunity to really introduce him to the “Gentleman’s Game.”