If Tv Admaker Bob Giraldi Can't Say It in 60 Seconds, He'd Rather Not Say It at All
Two cameras move in and out among a group of actors playing reporters in a newsroom. After three hours the performers are soaked with sweat, and a makeup woman scurries about mopping their brows between takes. Finally the director, impeccably dressed in brown leather trousers and a plaid silk shirt, reaches for his bullhorn. "Cut!" he bellows, and the exhausted cast collapses. Is this the set for Lou Grant, or yet another remake of The Front Page? No, just Bob Giraldi directing a Pepsi-Cola commercial—one of 1,500 television ads he has made in the past 12 years.
At 43, Giraldi is the Fellini of commercials. His best-known work includes ads for Diet-Rite Cola ("No, No...Yes, Yes"), McDonald's ("A family is...") and Peter Paul Almond Joy ("Sometimes you feel like a nut..."), plus the epic campaign for Miller Lite beer. He has won more than 150 advertising industry awards, including dozens of Clios—the Oscars of the TV commercial business—and helped give several major stars their start. Cheryl Ladd played a stewardess in a 1974 American Airlines commercial, Henry Winkler portrayed a young taxpayer in a 1972 H&R Block spot, and John Travolta took to the showers seven years ago in one of Giraldi's memorable "I am stuck on Band-Aids" spots. Giraldi has also worked with his share of established names, including Carol Channing, Debbie Reynolds, Tim Conway, Dom De Luise and even the late Arthur Fiedler, who did a General Electric air conditioner ad. "I'm in the business of exaggeration," admits Giraldi. "But I think my commercials are honest. They don't make people roll their eyes and say, 'Oh, brother.' "
Producing a commercial, Giraldi insists, is like making a minimovie. The director's staff of 25 spent a month preparing for Pepsi's newsroom ad, for example. Their work included securing a location, finding costumes and props, and casting the 12 principal actors and 25 extras. The spot (airing in both 30-second and 60-second versions) took two days to shoot. Pepsi, which spends approximately $40 million a year on TV campaigns, paid Giraldi nearly $100,000. After all, he says, "the stakes involved here in terms of sales are astronomical."
Giraldi is also in demand on Broadway. Since 1973, when a commercial for Pippin doubled the musical's gross advance sales, the Great White Way has been hawking its wares on TV. Giraldi has brought Evita, A Chorus Line and Sophisticated Ladies to the little screen. For a recent spot for the musical Dreamgirls, he saw the show five times within three weeks and worked closely with its director, Michael Bennett. "What I was faced with," says Giraldi, "was taking a two-hour-and-45-minute show and reducing it to 60 seconds."
Whether the product is theater, Band-Aids or beer, Giraldi says he shoots straight from the gut. "I'm Italian," he explains, "so I have a passion for eating, crying, laughing and doing emotional work." To indulge his passions, Giraldi says, he never accepts assignments in which he can't get involved. "I turned down a $375,000 commercial contract with one manufacturer because I won't do detergents and underarm deodorants," he says. "It's the 'I'm going to get laid if I spray this on me' syndrome." He also won't do commercials for high fashion. "All those models holding their cheeks in and tossing their hair—it has nothing to do with reality," he maintains.
Born in Paterson, N.J., Giraldi studied ad design at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute on a baseball-and-basketball scholarship. He started his Madison Avenue career in 1961 as an art director at Young & Rubicam. Twelve years later he launched Bob Giraldi Productions with adman Phil Suarez.
Profits from his commercials have brought Giraldi a huge production loft in Manhattan, complete with gourmet kitchen and projection room. He also rents an apartment in New York and owns a house in Chappaqua, N.Y. which he shares with his wife of 21 years, Marian, and their three children.
After years of commercials, this month Giraldi directs his first play, Laughing on the Outside, at the Greeley Street Theatre in Chappaqua. Last summer he went to Hollywood to oversee two segments of the as yet unreleased National Lampoon Goes to the Movies. But Giraldi says he has no ambition to follow in the footsteps of Howard (Private Benjamin) Zieff and Steve (Arthur) Gordon, both of whom started as directors of TV commercials. "I don't have a passion for filmmaking. I couldn't stand to spend several years on something like Warren Beatty's Reds," continues Giraldi. "With commercials, you don't get too committed." Besides, he has already shot his own Raging Bull—the one that crashes through walls for Schlitz Malt Liquor.
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