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The Work That Made Me: Tim Pope


The legendary director reflects on the work that helped shape his impressive career

The Work That Made Me: Tim Pope

Tim Pope is an absolute legend, in fact he’s known to many as ‘El Legandario’, but do not be mistaken this Director has creativity and ambition still pouring out of him and is very much excited to be focusing his attention on advertising once again. Tim is best known for his boundary pushing music videos for the likes of Queen, Bowie, Neil Young, Iggy Pop and of course, The Cure, but these should not define his creative capabilities or ambitions.

Tim has heard ugly rumours that he's not interested in advertising work - which is so far from the truth! Quite the opposite, he loves to work with agencies and creative teams to bring their scripts and concepts to life and is very much a team player. The past few years have been crazy for him with other projects - including working with his old muckers of 40 years, The Cure, shooting documentaries with people like Sheridan Smith for ITV, developing movie scripts and writing his memoir ‘Pap!’ The Man Who Chucked The Cure Off a Cliff in a Wardrobe and Dressed Freddie Mercury as a Giant Mediterranean Prawn. Expect to see it in bookshops soon.

The ad/music video from my childhood that stays with me…

Ha! That’s easy. In the 1970s – yes, that’s when I grew up! – we had the fantastic Cadbury’s Smash adverts. The ads told the story of some aliens – represented by hilariously bad, pre-CGI puppets, clearly worked by puppeteers by wires – who had just returned from planet earth. On their trip, they encountered us lot - human beings - who ate this small, ball-like object, the potato. They talk about the ridiculous process of mashing them, when it would be by comparison so much easier to use the pre-packaged thing, i.e. Smash. At the end, they all laugh in chorus with the aural equivalence of a cackle shoved through an electronic colander. Brilliant adverts. They finish with a catchy vocal jingle in harmony, “For mash get Smash,” which I defy anyone to hear and afterwards not have it wriggle in their ear. (I just re-watched the ad and now I’m proper scuppered for the rest of the day.)

The ad/music video/game/web platform that made me want to get into the industry…

I had already decided that I probably wanted to make videos, which seemed to bring together my two favourite things – film and music. (Well, apart from girls.) At the start of the ‘80s - pre-MTV and YouTube, when videos later became freely available – it was hard to see them. On Carnaby Street, at the Shakespeare’s Head pub near to Liberty’s, we all used to go there as they had London’s first video jukebox, and the videos were shown on a huge screen. Many of the videos I did not like, though one stood out  above all the others by head and shoulders - Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie. Remember at this point it was highly unusual to see our heroes on film like this, too. I got to see him in close shot, dressed as a circus clown. The impact on me was huge, not only as a super fan but as a filmmaker. I could have had no idea at that point I would end up just a few years later working with Bowie for many years.

The creative work that I keep revisiting…

Book-wise, it would have to be The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. I love that book and it only takes a few hours to read. To me, it’s the literary equivalent of rock music. Talk about dark. Jeez! I’ve tried for many years to make it into a movie, and in fact was briefly in contact with Banks, who was a fan of my work. Somewhere in my home, I have a postcard from him saying as much and how he wanted me to make the movie.

My first professional project…

I told a few porkies about the fact I’d made some videos, which I had not. (Will I burn in hell for this? Probably.) This got me into the room with Marc Almond of Soft Cell who had just had the massive worldwide hit, Tainted Love. I’d drawn up a storyboard of how I saw the video for their follow-up song, Bedsitter. Set in “bedsit-land,” the song told the story of a clubber trapped in suburbia and I came up with the idea of Marc wearing shirts that matched the walls to reflect the sense that he was trapped by his environment. Still when people refer to this, they call it “the matching shirts” video. In so many ways, I think it sums up all that is best about my work, in the sense that it feels as if it was conceived at the same moment as the song itself.

The piece of work that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like *that*…

I can only really answer this in a general way, in that so many of the videos being made in the early eighties when I started out were the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. There was a lot of running down corridors, fast red cars and “meaningful looks” to camera by rock musicians doing their best Laurence Olivier acting. Eurgh.

The piece of work that still makes me jealous…

God, so many pieces of work make me jealous, as I think to myself, “oh, I could never have made that.” Actually, I think the word is “envious,” as I would never wish bad to anyone who had made something I admired...

The creative project that changed my career…

I suppose I’d have to answer this by my working relationship with The Cure. Obviously, my name is forever connected with them. I once said in a Japanese magazine interview that I had made 37 clips for them – which may or may not be true. (The fans of the band would probably be able to tell you more the truth of the matter.) Whatever, I have worked with them from 1981 onwards, so you might say I’ve been in for the long haul. A couple of years back, I made a cinema film called Anniversary for them of a live performance which celebrated their forty years in the business as dated back to a gig in The Rocket pub in Crawley, their hometown. To be honest, it’s been a bit of a double-edged sword, my association with them. Then I could hardly complain, as there are worse bands to be associated with.

The work that I’m proudest of…

I know it’s a long time ago, but the 31-minute short film Phone that signalled my change from vids to longer form projects. I came across a real telephone conversation in LA – a prank call – and I transcribed it verbatim to make the film. I got onboard amazing actors, including Bill Pullman (Independence Day) and Linda Blair (The Exorcist). It won so many awards, I ran out of mantlepieces to keep them on. Martin Scorsese no less sent me a fax to say he liked the film and in particular the acting. Praise could not come from a higher source as far as I was concerned. That yellowed fax still sits amongst my most prized possessions.


I was involved in this and it makes me cringe…

It is well documented that I went to Hollywood and made the follow-up to the first Crow movie which starred Brandon Lee and who died during its process. I was working with the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob, who completely recut the entire movie to be a weaker version of the first one, which is the exact opposite of what I set out to do. The resultant movie – which had my name on as director – made no sense and felt like an extended video clip, as the scenes were not allowed to breathe. I actually think after the experience, and after I limped back home to the UK, I suffered PTSD, although it remained undiagnosed and I only realised it years later. Recently, I have written my memoir, which goes into everything in detail and has been a catharsis that I really needed.


The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…

I am excited by any project I work on – be it commercial, video, short film, whatever. I’d have to say my memoir I just mentioned, which for the moment is entitled “Pap!” The Man Who Threw The Cure Off A Cliff In A Wardrobe and Dressed Freddie Mercury As A Giant Mediterranean Prawn. Catchy title, eh? This excites me, especially as it was a challenge to conquer the form of writing a book. I am talking with publishers at the moment, so expect to see it in your local bookshop soon!

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Dark Energy Films, Fri, 04 Mar 2022 10:12:38 GMT