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My Creative Hero: Jacques Tati

Jack Morton ECD Ethan Gunning delves into the world of French filmmaker and comedian Jacques Tati

My Creative Hero: Jacques Tati

Ethan Gunning works as an ECD focusing on growth opportunities across all the Jack Morton Worldwide offices in the US. Ethan has been fortunate to be able to create brand experiences for a multitude of audiences over the last twenty plus years. Having studied theatre and filmmaking, experiential work was a natural fit. In fact, Ethan almost couldn’t believe there was a job that was such a perfect balance of brand strategy, content, and live performance. He just feeds off the visceral connection you can make with a live audience (both streaming and in person).


LBB> Who would you say is your creative hero? 

Ethan> My creative hero is Jacques Tati. He was a French filmmaker and comedian who directed only a few films, but they were brilliant and really unlike anything else I have seen. Tati is an amazing comedian. He feels like a silent-film star like Buster Keaton had time travelled to a film set in mid 20th century Paris and the journey somehow stretched his body to the height of 6’3”. However, Tati is an even better writer and director. One of the best. 


LBB> How long has he been important to you and what are your first memories of meeting him or coming across his work?

Ethan> His masterpiece, Playtime, blew my mind when I first saw it in my early twenties. I remember seeing a 70mm print (yes, this was before Disney+) in LA and just sitting silently in my seat for some time after it ended. I have watched it since on a large TV, but I realize that it was intended to work at an enormous scale. Some of the compositions of his scenes are not intended to be taken in with just one glance.


LBB> If it’s someone you personally know, how did you get to know him and how has your relationship evolved over the years? If you don’t know him, how did you go about finding to learn more about him and his work?

Ethan> I wish I had met him. Unfortunately he died in 1982. After I saw Playtime I searched for the few other films he made from in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I loved Mon Oncle. If you thought Mad Men’s meticulous art direction brought Mid-Century to life, then Mon Oncle adds a whole other dimension. For me, what I find fascinating is how even though that film is an iconic commentary on 50s Modernism, it is also timeless. I think that is something that all creatives strive for. How can we make something that can be current, on-trend and yet, be just as effective 20 years from now. Mon Oncle deals with the challenges that social class, modernity and technology present. He does it in a way that carries through to today. You could reboot that film and just swap in smart phones, smart speakers, and AI. I think that the film would still have the same humour, insights, and ending. 


LBB> Why is the person such an inspiration to you? 

Ethan> His films seem very simple. They are easy. There is almost no dialogue. You do not have to speak French to understand the story. Humour drives the narrative which makes everything fun and effortless. Yet, his films are incredibly complex. The topics he tackles go layers deep. The way he composes his shots and choreographs the action makes use of every inch of the frame. Your gaze needs to be curious or it might miss a punchline. In fact, Tati was so obsessed with what he put in the frame, that he built his own skyscrapers for the city scenes in Playtime because nothing in Paris looked right and CG did not exist yet. Building a city for a film also left him bankrupt, so maybe it is a sort of cautionary tale around creative visions and budgets.


LBB> How does he influence you in your approach to your creative work? 

Ethan> The way Tati deals with spaces and architecture is particularly influential for me and my brand experience work. In experiential work, one has to think a lot about the way people move through space and the journeys they take. How does one tell brand stories throughout that space? Tati is a master at telling stories in spaces. When you watch Playtime, you almost become the protagonist wandering through this modern city. There is something about the character he created, Mr. Hulot, that is a sort of everyman. I find myself remembering the spaces in his films as if I had been the one there. 

He also sees the world differently. Most of his punchlines depend on taking what we are presented with and looking at it from a different angle. That is something that I think brand experiences should impart. It should never feel like the brand is the centre of the experience and there is only one path forward. We want to guide the story, but still give the audience a sense of critical independence. We want them to look past all the salesy marketing and find some sort of truth. Tati takes the audience on that journey and somehow he also makes them laugh.


LBB> What piece or pieces of his work do you keep coming back to and why?

Ethan> I go back to where I started. If you have not seen Playtime, you owe it to yourself to check it out…preferably in a theatre and on an enormous screen. Although the Criterion Collection, Apple, and Amazon stream it as well.


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