I just read this article in the November issue of shots magazine . this interview is inspiring. i like him.
I would describe myself as a family man and an art collector.
I’ve been married three times (the first, when I was 19, was annulled very quickly), and I have four children. Marriage is fantastic when you’re ready.
I think most men should wait until they’re in their late thirties or forties. At that point you’ve learned a lot about yourself and you’ve slowed down enough to get your priorities straight and understand how valuable a family is.
My childhood was short.
I grew up fast in Manhattan and my parents were very hands off, lax even, so I had a lot of freedom.
I don’t give my children the same sort of freedom.
California is not New York, and also it’s a very different time now. The world back then just didn’t have the same kind of energy. I used to walk 15 or 20 blocks to school when I was eight, but I’d never let my kids do that.
I was not a happy child.
I was restless. It’s a thing that’s in your stomach. I was restless to get older, to find out what I was going to do, to be successful. I wanted to get going. I wasn’t sure what I would be when I grew up; I just knew that I had to succeed.
My first job was selling beaded necklaces on 8th Street in the 60s. Then when I was eight, I started working for a clothing store on 4th Street called Paul Sargent.
The worst thing that has ever happened to me was getting sick with leukemia when I was 13 and having to deal with the treatment – which was brutal – for three years. The effect of that on me is that I have lived in the moment. Life since my 13th year has been a bonus.
After I got sick my parents probably thought ‘he’s not going to be around long so let him have fun’. But I was always pretty conscientious about school work because I wanted to get good grades as I thought then I wanted to get into a good college.
I was invited to be a member of Studio 54 and started to go all the time. When the summer of ‘77 rolled around I asked for a job and became a busboy there. I was enjoying Studio 54 so much that I decided to cancel the plans I had to go to Tufts University.
Did my parents approve?
By that time – I was 18 – I did what I wanted. They weren’t involved in my life decisions.
I didn’t go off the rails but I spent a year and a half being a little crazy before buckling down. I started working for a company called Johnston Films as a runner, then quickly became their rep. After eight years there, I was ready to open HSI with director Henry Holtzman.
I don’t have regrets about not having gone to college, although I guess, I have ended up with a chip on my shoulder about it. You want your kids to go to a good school, you say: “Do it for me, because I didn’t.” But I had a lot of fun in those years and I got a nice head start in this business; by the time my friends were out of college I was already doing really well.
My first memory is of going to a matinée of Oliver with my dad and then buying Meet the Beatles! at a record store. At that time Dad was a musician and he was playing bassoon in the orchestra pit. Afterwards we went backstage and I met Davy Jones, who was playing the Artful Dodger – this was before he joined The Monkees. Later, Dad switched from being a concert musician to being a handicapper at the race track, so I used to go to the track a lot and hang out with all the characters.
Dad was of Greek origin and my mother’s family were East European Jews. My great-grandparents came over to America from Romania.
Music was huge for me when I was growing up.
From the age of 12 years, I went to concerts all the time, and if a group like Zeppelin came to town we’d see them four or five nights in a row. These days I listen to a little classic rock. But as I get older I turn more and more to my all-time favourites: Philly soul, classic R&B, Motown, Bill Withers, Al Green, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Sly and the Family Stone.
A good music video is an ad for two clients: a song and an artist. Both should be featured in a creative and compelling light.
I started getting tattoos when I was 21.
The larger pieces I did in my thirties and forties. I love them and have never regretted it. The biggest mistake people make is not spending a lot of time deciding what to have drawn.
I’m still trying to figure out the qualities that you need to succeed in business, but I do know that a smart businessman will hire someone to do the things that he can’t. For example, if you’re good at finance but you don’t know anything about being a nuts-and-bolts producer, then you hire someone who does. You have to be able to look at yourself honestly and decide what different qualities your business needs.
How do I judge people? Harshly.
I have a reputation for being ruthless but my wife, Honor, says I’m a softy.
As people get older they change a lot.
I’ve become a very calm person compared to the 80s when I was in sales in New York, and my job was high octane and competitive and all about being the breadwinner for a director. That’s why younger reps make the best sales people: they have the energy to do that.
I could run a business for 100 years and I would never get good at firing people. However, I find that – most of the time – when you fire someone they end up doing better in whatever comes next.
The reason there are so few women creatives and directors is the same reason there are so few African-American creatives and directors: this business has not progressed at all on these fronts in the past 30 years. I have always tried to hire a diverse mix of people at HSI. Most companies on both sides of the business do not.
The first advertisement that made an impression on me was Levy’s Rye Bread posters in the subway, with its great slogan: ’You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s’.
My favourite advertisement of all time is Frankenstein and his monsters escaping a mob of angry villagers in a Volkswagen bus. It was directed by Howard Zieff and the agency was Doyle Dane Bernbach.
It’s a shame that people who have come up in this business don’t have an appreciation for, or an interest in, the history of advertising. Somehow we got separated from it and they have no knowledge of those Italian art directors and Jewish copy writers of the 50s and 60s, and Bill Bernbach and the guys who made those amazing early ads.
Also, there’s not the same interest in advertising as an art form. Target groups are getting smaller and smaller, which creates the need for a harder sell, and a lot of the money is used for things like viral ads and setting up websites. I’m not knocking it – it’s what clients need – but I think it’s a pity because there’s no room left to create art. Print ads and TV commercials used to be like paintings.
At HSI, we’re having to adapt so that we deliver more for less.
It’s difficult, but we have to be ready to figure out how to give a job everything it needs, regardless of the budget.
The idea that a director should not work on a product like cigarettes is bullshit to me. Someone is going to shoot the ad if we don’t and I think that a proper upbringing is what’s going to stop a kid from smoking, not banning advertising. If a product is legal, you can shoot an ad for it.
The best part of the advertising industry is great clients
– when we’re all working together to make something exceptional. And the worst is terrible clients who work against a brilliant idea.
Other than the ones I work with, the directors I most admire are: Howard Zieff, David Fincher, Joe Pytka, Frank Budgen and Chris Palmer.
I am never ashamed of the amount of money that is spent and earned in advertising. If you work hard and deliver a great product there is a reward in any business.
Money is important to me.
I have four children and an ex-wife to support.
In terms of giving to charity, I was on the board of the Dia Art Foundation for eight years and am now a member of the Tate American Acquisitions Committee. Museum board membership is a large financial commitment. I also give a lot to some museums in New York and Los Angeles.
For me, becoming a father meant . . . immortality.
My eldest daughter Hanna Beth (a model and internet celebrity), is 21 and I have two sons, Marlon, 14, and Roscoe, four, with another one coming in September.
What children need most is real interaction with their parents.
I think a lot of parents try to focus on ‘quality time’ they’re putting in, but they’re not actually comfortable doing things with their kids. It’s important to learn how to get past that and really get in there
– to relax and spend time.
You have to make sure that your kids are very comfortable with you, so that it’s an open forum and they’re not inhibited about saying what’s on their mind. I find that you can have great conversations in the morning – for example, on the drive to school – when they’re relaxed and their defences are not yet up; in the afternoon it’s tougher.
Of course it’s naïve to think that kids won’t ever try drugs but it’s important to keep an eye on what they’re up to and to make sure they’re in a school that’s really careful – where drugs are not tolerated.
I’ve wrestled with many vices and have put them behind me.
I don’t want to go into it, but everybody did drugs in the 70s and 80s. and the drinking in our business… it really was just like Mad Men.
Nowadays, i think a vice can be something as simple as not taking care of yourself and not exercising. once you have a family, it’s important that you stay healthy and give it your best shot so that you can be around for them as long as possible. i eat properly and run every day.
Awards are great when we win them;
irrelevant when we don’t.
Cannes is very important. it’s a truly global show
and you get a great perspective on what’s happening in the rest of the world.
got into collecting art because i have loved it since i was a teenager. i started with the great comic book artists and moved on to the pop artists who became prominent in the 60s.
My favourite piece is great american nude #38 by Tom Wesselmann. it’s one of his best works and an amazing pleasure to live with.
The books on my bedside table are:
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, Exit Ghost by Philip Roth, and You Don’t Love Me yet by Jonathan Lethem.
I spend my free time with my family, and collecting art and comic books. Lately, i’ve been enjoying gardening. i never did it before but now i’m learning about cactuses and roses and planting and how to make better soil. Deciding on a chore and completing it is very relaxing.
Politically, i am a bleeding-heart liberal. I was thrilled to vote for obama. I’ve been involved with the civil rights movement since I was a child growing up in greenwich Village. I am still pinching myself.
I don’t have any regrets.
I have an amazing life and I am very happy. and since all my life experiences have led to where I am now, i wouldn’t change anything.
I am afraid of dying to some extent,
but less so as i get older.
Religion is not important to me.
Spirituality is, but that comes from within.
What gives me the greatest pleasure is hanging out with my family in Ojai (a weekend house), spending time with artists and collectors, and watching my children grow up.
If i could change the world i would…
this sounds like a Miss America question. I’d get people to realize that global warming is like putting a frog in a pot of water and slowly bringing it to a boil; by the time we realize how serious things are, it will be too late.
In the end, the most important thing is:
leaving a healthy planet for our kids.
that was long. but worth it right?