Enticing actors and models to seduce the camera is one thing, but it’s quite another to draw sensual performances from lettuce leaves, water bubbles or chocolate sauce. It’s a talent Irv Blitz has built his career on as a leading director and cameraman in the advertising niche known as tabletop.
From an early career shooting still-life food and beverage ads out of his SoHo studio, Blitz made the transition to creating moving images for television commercials in the early ’90s.
“Tabletop is essentially still life on a multi-dimensional level,” says Blitz. Intimate camera moves, specialized lighting, visual effects, music and editing combine to create a sophisticated message that plays out in the blink of an eye to sell products like Aquafina water, McDonald’s salads, or C&H sugar.
“People ask me if I want to go larger, and I say, ‘No, I want to go smaller,’” remarks Blitz. “There’s something in that micro world that fascinates me.”
Blitz says it can take 30 people to shoot a cup of coffee. “You have people focusing on the beans, the steam, the lights, the camera. It’s such a coordination of efforts, and I really love the teamwork.”
Then there are the lettuce leaves and water bubbles. They have to be coaxed into letting go of their inhibitions and putting on a show that creates a hypnotic and elevated—if fleeting—experience for the notoriously distracted television viewer.
“It’s a performance, and it can be nerve-wracking. You can prep up to a certain point, with storyboards and shot lists, but then you have to get in there and do it—discover the angle or the lighting that sets it apart and gives it a point of view.”
Much of the fluidity of movement particular to his work is something he traces to his obsession with ballet and modern dance. “It does something for me on a subconscious level that relaxes my mind,” he says. “Somehow it gets into my soul, and it comes out in my work.”
Bringing freshness to the presentation of products as familiar as cosmetics and credit cards remains a constant challenge, but Blitz says the job can offer surprising highs. He remembers working with renowned Chinese watercolorist Ning Yeh on a commercial for Weyerhaeuser. “It was a very micro world, with the camera focusing on the tip of his brush moving across a giant sheet of watercolor paper. Choreographing our movements to each other became instinctual. He knew what I needed, I felt where he was going to go. It was an amazing experience, and they happen sometimes."