by MarkLives (@marklives) Graham Warsop was one of the speakers at Keith Rose’s memorial service that was held in Cape Town on Monday, 22 October 2018. Warsop recalls his first meeting with Rose in 1988 and tracks key aspects of the film director’s career and achievements, and the impact on the South African commercials industry since. [Note: The Johannesburg memorial service is happening at 3pm today, Thursday 25 October, at Katy’s Palace, Top Floor, 6 Desmond Street, Kramerville.]

Keith Rose tribute

by Graham Warsop. My sincerest condolences go out to Marie Louise, Kerry, Sean, Luke, Roland and all of Keith’s family. I hope it provides a measure of comfort to see so many people gathered here today who loved and respected Keith so much.


Dear Keith

I’d like to begin, if I may, by sharing a personal recollection. One we often joked about.

The year was 1988.
Les Sharpe, the creative director of Lindsay Smithers FCB, had appointed you to spend three weeks in Europe shooting two new TV ads for SAA Costcutters.
I was the copywriter. We had no storyboard, just a rather loose concept of shooting “preparation” shots — anything that showed that, across Europe, people were waking up a little earlier to prepare their world for you, the visitor from South Africa.
Les had appointed you as director, and me to be the agency’s creative representative on the shoot… a copywriter who’d been in the industry for barely a year and had never been on a shoot before.
David Feldman, your producer, summed it up rather succinctly:
“The biggest agency in the country is shooting the biggest TV ad in its history, and they send me you.”

Unfortunately, on day one of the shoot, Mr Feldman’s worst fears were realised.
The first scene was of young couple walking arm-in-arm across a stone bridge in the middle of the English countryside.
As ‘cut’ and ‘first positions’ were called after the first take, I stood up, walked forward, clapping my hands and shouting in a loud voice:
“Not bad. Now let’s try it again, a little bit more relaxed this time, and then we’ll try one with you walking in the other directon.”

Everyone stared.
David Feldman, your producer, was livid.
I think Peter Jay, the agency producer, went into cardiac arrest.
The set fell silent.

And what about you, Keith? As the director, you had more right than anyone to be angry.
How did you react?
I’d like your family and friends to know, because it was a reaction I will never forget. It was one that says so much about you.
You called me to come over and stand next to you. You invited me to look at the camera.
I was shocked to see it was still running.
“Why would you do that?” I asked.
To continue shooting after calling ‘cut’ seemed like an unconscionable waste of film.
You explained…
“After we call ‘cut’, I know that, if I leave the camera running while the couple return to first positions, I’ll get a relaxed shot of them walking and talking, without them trying too hard to perform for the camera.”
“Genius,” I thought.For the next three weeks, there wasn’t a day that passed where I didn’t have cause to whisper, under my breath, the word “Genius”.

Three weeks later, at the top of a mediaeval Italian tower overlooking the ancient city of Sienna, you told me we’d shot our final roll of film.
It was the hundredth of the shoot. By then I knew enough to know that we’d captured 400 minutes of footage. That’s over six hours’ worth of footage, to make two 90-sec commercials!
I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say I had the most-educational, -informative and -enjoyable initiation into TV commercials of any advertising practitioner in history…
Three weeks with Keith Rose.
In that time, you patiently answered every question a copywriter, hungry to learn, could think of to ask you. Bless you for that, Keith.

The images you captured in Europe were literally breath-taking.
At the approval, our SAA client said of one of your shots, “But this looks more like a painting.”
“Thank you,” you replied.Needless to say, Les had been proved right to insist you shot the commercials, Keith. As next year’s Loeries was to prove.

A month before those Loeries, I started The Jupiter Drawing Room. And though our agency was tiny, it was a silent wish that one day I’d be able to shoot another ad with you.
Twenty years later in 2010, when The Jupiter Drawing Room had the honour to be voted Joint Advertising Agency of the Decade, and I ceased to be head of the creative department, it was with enormous pride that I could look back and say, not just that I got to shoot another ad with you, Keith, but that in my career I shot more ads with you than with any other director.
Not all those ads made it onto your show reel.
But every one of them made it on to mine.


Whilst you were fastidious about every frame of the commercial, you never felt the need to be overly complementary about the product we were shooting.

Once when we were about to shoot a liquid product shot, you were looking through the camera lens and you called out the instruction, “Bring in the gunk.”
Horrified, the client asked me if you were referring to his product.
In desperation, I had to pretend that, in cinematography terminology, the word “gunk” was used to denote the object that would be the main product focus in the commercial.
You and I were amused at the prospect of this client spending the rest of his career asking directors on shoots, “When will we be doing the gunk shot?”


We shouldn’t allow your individual achievement, as a director par excellence, to overshadow another major  accomplishment…

You were the founding partner of the most-successful production house to ever exist in South Africa.
We’re an industry that relies on talented directors, and the production and post-production teams around them, to take our ideas and bring them to life in a way that exceeds our highest expectations.
Velocity’s directors delivered time and time again.
Our first experience of working with many talented directors, including Greg Gray, now a Hall of Famer himself, was based on introductions you made.


Turning to Keith, the director:

The 1990s was South Africa’s breakthrough decade into world advertising. At the start of it, international recognition for our work was virtually non-existent.
But all that changed with a Mercedes ad you shot for Willie Sonnenberg and D’Arcys, that featured Christopher White’s car plunging over a cliff.
Yes, it was a big idea, but it was the way it was bought to life that was so masterful.
That was to pave the wave for an avalanche of Lions, in all disciplines, for South Africa.

It’s said that sometimes the difference between nought and one is greater than the difference between one and a hundred.
Well, I suggest that’s true of that TV Gold Lion for South Africa in 1990.
The Italian Renaissance was founded on confidence.
That first Gold Lion gave our industry the confidence to believe in ourselves as credible players on the world stage.
Well, that first Gold Lion turned us all into believers. It inspired us.
Directors and production houses were inspired…
Art directors and copywriters were inspired…
Creative directors, and agencies, whether they were small, young independents or the South African arms of global networks…
all were inspired to believe that, no matter that we were at the end of the African continent,
from this beautiful country we could compete in the toughest category in our industry
against the best in the world
and win.


It’s one thing to make a profound impact on an industry, Keith; it’s a significantly greater achievement to continue to do so.

Thirty years after you started shooting commercials, you still approached each job pushing for more — more interesting voiceover deliveries, a more-unexpected sound track or more-distinctive end titles.
You never lost interest, never became jaded or cynical.
You kept a boyish enthusiasm that combined a master’s eye, with a child’s wonder.

It’s revealing, isn’t it, that you have shot at least one defining ad for every one of your fellow Creative Circle Hall of Famers.
Brian, Willie & Terry, Robyn, John, Mike, Alistair and myself… you helped all of us shine.


Last week on YouTube I once again watched the speech you made at the Design Indaba in 2009.

Other than your charm and modesty, one was struck not just by the brilliance of the work you included — one was also struck but by how much brilliant work you left out.
Ads that many directors would have given pride of place on their showreels simply couldn’t be fitted into your 45‑min presentation.
And as I look at so many of your ads, I have to believe if you had all the time and all the money in the world, it would be hard to know how they could be improved.
I don’t believe they could be.
Few of us have any idea how hard it is in this life to seek to create anything that good.
Not once, but time and time again.
In some respects, your work can be compared to that of Karl Faberge and his exquisite commissions for the Russian royal family.

It has been said that each one of Faberge’s Eggs are as close to perfection as it is possible to get. And that behind each one of those masterful creations lies a poignant belief that:
If the jewels were rare enough…
and the craftsmanship without equal…
change would be kept at bay,
time stopped,
death’s inevitably denied.
I read those words, and I think of you.
Because the reality is, Keith, you have not died.
You live on in in every frame of every film you ever shot.

Today, I would like to make you a pledge that we will preserve your legacy.
To inspire future generations and to serve as a lasting testament to the ultimate craftsman.
On that SAA Costcutters shoot, I thought you were a genius.
Thirty years later, I know you are.
In the firmament of South African directors, you shine brightest.
You were truly the first. Truly the best.

Rest in peace, Keith.
After all you have achieved, you surely deserve to.


See also


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