Web Breathes New Life into Short Films
Steven Grasse's "Bikini Bandits" shorts are Atom's most popular films The plight of the short film has been a constant (losing) battle for attention with its big brother, the feature. Fans of shorts are lucky if they live near an art house that runs an occasional festival. At the Academy Awards show, the short film award winners are usually ushered off by the orchestra a few words into their speech.
But a handful of Internet sites are giving the short a new life - or at least a screen to play on. Web surfers with either Real Player or Windows Media Player can watch the films - which range in length from two to 45 minutes - on their PCs (a high-speed Internet connection is a big help here). The sites are free if you register, and you can even submit your own film, though there's no guarantee your "Conversations with Aunt Hilda" will make the cut.
iFilm - link
In addition to short subject films, iFilm is a film information and gossip portal - which is fortunate because its film offerings could benefit from some serious quality control. However, many viewers don't share my opinion: One of the site's top-rated films, "405" by Bruce Branit and Jeremy Hunt, has been watched more than 2 million times. Still, most of the movies are lowbrow humor - like Jeff Sweeney's "Beyond Insanity" in which three mental patients describe their (really stupid) conditions - or borderline pornographic.
There are some diamonds in the rough, however. The "Absent-Minded Waiter," starring Steve Martin in his pre-"The Jerk" days stands the test of time as do Walter Williams's "Mr. Bill" films, starring the old Saturday Night Live mainstay.
Bijou Cafe - link
To the relief of the indecisive film viewer, Bijou Cafe doesn't have quite the selection of the other film sites. So rather than break films into genre, it divides its 100 or so films into feature, short subject and serial categories. The site design strives for that retro look that lets antique stores charge $7.50 for a plastic shot glass. What's nice is that it manages to back up the look with a number of films from the '30s, '40s and '50s. If the camp horror of Ed Wood's 1956 "Bride of the Monster" doesn't give you chills, then Hitchcock's 1935 classic "The 39 Steps" will. Other highlights include the pilot for the Groucho Marx show You Bet Your Life and Beatles documentary footage. Bijou Cafe also has some new films buried in the short subject category and a newsletter that highlights what's happening in the Internet film world. One downside: Unlike the other sites, Bijou makes you pay, either by the film (approximately 50 cents each) or a $3.99 monthly membership (which drops to $2.99 after four months).
Atomfilms - link
Atomfilms has a giant selection. But unless you're thrown into a state of existential angst by the philosophical implications of Ben Franklin dropping the F-bomb while scantily clad women grope each other, Steven Grasse's "Bikini Bandits" and the "Time Machine" - the site's most popular film - won't offer much more than temporary titillation. (If you're really looking for a cheap thrill, rent Russ Meyer's feature-length sexploitation flick "Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens.")
Besides the obvious genre classifications, you can sort through Women Auteurs and Star-Powered categories. Doing a name search for your favorite movie star, however, is a crapshoot. Once in a genre's film list, you can sort by name or by viewer rating (the site uses a 0-5 star system). Mark Yoshikawa's Reflexus, a highly rated thriller about a man who witnesses his own crime, is another film that will please the most discriminating viewer. Visitors in need of a laugh can preview Oscar-winner "Creature Comforts," a brilliant mock-documentary of zoo life by Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame.
Keenan Goes to Hell
Maynard James Keenan took on the role of Satan for B-movie epic, Bikini Bandits Go to Hell.
Did the devil make him do it, or was it the half naked babes? Ordinarily camera-shy Tool singer Maynard James Keenan took on the role of Satan for director Steven Grasse's forthcoming B-movie epic, Bikini Bandits Go to Hell, where a gang of heavily armed (and heavily stacked) ladies kill and plunder. "Maynard's a natural," says Grasse, whose Bandits series has until now been an Internet-only phenomenon. "If he wants to be an actor, he could be huge." And, get this, if you thought Sinead O'Conner's papal-shredding stunt pissed off the Vatican, wait until they see Dee Dee Ramone as the pope. "I wonder if he's gonna get aggravated," says Ramone of John Paul II. "But I don't think he will, he likes me." To round out the cast, Grasse corralled ex- Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra, 1984 icon Corey Feldman and Howard Stern regulars Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf and Gary the Retard. Anybody else smell Oscar?
Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) (formerly Quaker City Mercantile) + Red Rover Unleash Puma Spot
Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) (formerly Quaker City Mercantile) + Red Rover Unleash Puma Spot
A new animated Puma spot leads up to the next World Cup championship.
Philadelphia-based Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) and Toronto animation studio Red Rover created "Cameroon," a new international animated Puma spot for the lead up to the next World Cup championship.
The spot focuses on the Cameroon national football team, a World Cup regular and perennial underdog. Using clean, illustrated lines, rich color, slick editing, and numerous visual treats, the Cameroon squad's on-the-field action likens the players to vicious big cats. One sequence with hulking players rising up from beneath the ground seems to reference, "Clint Eastwood," the Gorillaz video from London's Passion Pictures, but throughout, the visuals are up-tempo and original.
Andy Knight, the animation director of the piece says he and his team worked from a fairly open brief.
"We started by looking at the players and uniforms, and playing around with some design until we were happy with it. We looked at illustration rather than animation when it came to design," says Knight. "All the animation was hand drawn with the exception of some of the backgrounds which are CG (created with 3D Max). We also did something a little different. We have an in-house editor [Scott Bucsis]. We boarded shot angles we thought would be cool and gave it to the editor who played around with it, and the transition from the guy screaming into the lion is something the editor did with flash cut intercutting. It was more derivative of live action that animation."
Girls On Film
Four days with exotic dancers, Corey Feldman and a tube of KY.
Last week some hot women joined Corey Feldman, Dee Dee Ramone and others to film Bikini Bandits Go to Hell, a full-length version of Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) ad honcho Steven Grasse's short web films, due for release in November. Bikini Bandit/Satan Girl/Ninja Bitch Geeta Dalal offers CP readers an inside look at the filming.
When I show up for call time at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m., I'm pretty sure that I'm still drunk from the night before. No one seems to notice, and I'm soon herded into a van with about 12 hot girls on my way to stardom. First stop: Camden County airport in Berlin, NJ. We're not being shuttled off in private jets to the next location. This is the location. I run around in a bikini all day, feeling a bit moronic. We're filming a couple outdoor scenes and posing next to hot rods. I score the black '64 Pontiac GTO. Armed with a fake 40, a fake machine gun and a real cigarette, I look like Joan Jett crossed with a Charlie's Angel. The other girls don't have to rely on badass. They have nice ass. They look gorgeous and young, most of them exotic dancers. It's hard not to stare (as evidenced by every male in the vicinity), and that admiration begins my pathetic decline into insecurity, which I quickly abandon. This is not a soul-searching foray, and this is not a quest for true beauty. This is Bikini Bandits: a racially diverse Russ Myers-meets-Pulp Fiction/Saturday Night Live skit, and I'm glad to be in on the joke.
The first star to show up is Corey Feldman. We eagerly watch a limo pull up - and then Feldman step out of the van beside it with his personal assistant, Majestic Magnificent. Though far from the days of Teen Beat, Goonies and Michael Jackson, Feldman looks much the same. A Poison Ivy-like dominatrix, Joey, immediately goes up and starts picking on him. After shooting a picnic scene, a drag racing scene and various gratuitous Corey scenes, we're done. Corey needs "some girls" to go to Delilah's with him and I find out that I've been volunteered. I make Joey come with me. I sit there eating fried cheese watching half-naked chicks with Corey, Joey and Majestic Magnificent, who keeps asking me if I'm an exotic dancer and won't accept "no" as an answer. Joey and I are bored and go to tip one of the girls from the movie. Majestic follows along and looms over my shoulder. When I ask him what he wants, he whips out a picture of a naked man with a huge erection. "See? That's me! You can tell by the birthmark on my arm!" I didn't stick around for the debate.
Call time's at a much more reasonable 7:30 a.m. The shoot's at Telenium sound stage in Primos, PA. Today the Bikini Bandits are in hell, and I'm a Satan Girl. Satan is Maynard from Tool, painted red from head to toe and wearing only devil horns and a codpiece the size of a premature baby. Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf from Howard Stern plays his satanic mini-me. The best part is that Satan's nemesis, the Pope, is played by Dee Dee Ramone, and I have to admit I'm starstruck. The cast is divided - half of us know we're in the presence of a legend, and the other half have no idea who "that old guy" is. I feel my age, but I wear it proudly. Every time I get my makeup, I listen to Dee Dee tell punk-rock war stories. I definitely feel a little glammy at this point.
Today rocked. We shot a Ninja scene at the Trocadero, and the stars of the day were Jello Biafra and Gary the Retard from Howard Stern. We're filming a scene where Jello plays a corrupt porn director who has kidnapped a bunch of girls and one of the main characters, Massively Retarded Amish Boy, and is about to force them into porn. There's no use in questioning ethics at this point, but I will give props to director and head of Quaker City Mercantile, Steven Grasse: When he means to be campily offensive, he does not mess around. And I suppose that Gary's presence reminded us that everyone, from half-naked girls to rock stars to the mentally impaired, has the right to self-exploitation. (For the record, Gary was treated very well and had a lot of fun.) Corey Feldman and the Ninja Bitches (I'm the one with the cat-o'-nine-tails) come in and kick everyone's ass. The scene ends with a shot of Jello, looking like he stepped out of the "Sabotage" video, with a tube of K-Y sticking out of his butt. Mind you, this was his own idea. No one wanted to help him prepare for the scene.
Today is the last day of stardom for me. Corey ended the shoot with a performance of his Michael Jackson dance, which he prefaced by stating, "This is one of life's most humiliating moments" and then proceeded to rock every move but the Moonwalk. I saw him on my way to the van that would take me back to day-job land. He looked vulnerable. Then I saw Majestic Magnificent. He just looked like an ass. At this point I'm gonna miss moviedom, especially after getting paid to beat the shit out of a car with a sledgehammer. I saw many an ex-boyfriend in the fender of that Corolla, let me tell you. I'm glad to have been an extra in Bikini Bandits Go to Hell. It made me reconcile my "don't fuck with me" attitude with a very "fuck-me" image. And now that's just another weapon in my arsenal. I used to be the kind of person who would be offended by all of this until I realized that we live in a world where gender differences and sexism exist. If you refuse to use your natural weapons, you're like a hockey player in the middle of the game without a stick. Or in my case, a bikini, an AK-47 and a pen.
The Philadelphians behind the popular "Bikini Bandits" web shorts are bring their high-camp concept and curvy vixens to a full-length film.
Mildly Retarded Amish Boy is stage left, in a cage. Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf sports an AK-47 assault rifle. And five leggy ladies in lingerie, platform boots and spike heels are huddled on a big red bed.
"All right, girls!" yells Evil Porn Director, in a blond wig, tinted shades, tan poly suit and orange shirt. "Now we're going to get hot and nasty!"
At which point the cage is opened and Amish Boy and two gentlemen, who in less-enlightened time might be referred to as village idiots, head for the curvy thespians, while the dwarf and some big dudes with automatic weapons chase them. Everybody whoops and screams.
Finally, well after the smoke machines stop and someone shouts, "Cut!," the Trocadero the on-time burlesque hall and present-day rock venue now serving as a set for Bikini Bandits: The Movie returns to a state of between-take calm.
"Hey, Jello, that was great!" says Steven Grasse, Bikini's real-life director, approaching Jello Biafra, the former San Francisco mayoral candidate and leader of the proto-punk band Dead Kennedys now playing the porn auteur. "Just do more. Go over the top!"
Then Grasse turns his attention to the supinated fivesome: "Girls," he says gently, scanning the mattress-scape of cleavage and calves. "You've got to look more scared."
So it goes on the set of the first feature-length Bikini Bandits, a (probably) straight-to-video affair characterized by an egregious absence of political or any other sensitivity that could become either (1) a phenom that will put Philadelphia on the movie map in ways M. Night Shyamalan never dreamed of, or (2) proof position that we're all going to hell in a handbasket.
The film, which concluded its 10-day Philadelphia-area shoot on Friday, features an ensemble cast that also includes Maynard James Keenan of the alt-metal band Tool (as the Pope), wackball L.A. comedian Bret Reilly (in dual roles), the Howard Stern Show's Gary the Retard (as himself), and Goonies-star-turned-tattooed-rocker Corey Feldman. Feldman, holed up in a dank backstage dressing room, isn't sure yet exactly what he's doing.
Bikini Bandits began last year as a wildly popular series of Internet shorts spawned from the fevered imagination of Grasse, co-owner of Philadelphia's renegade advertising agency Quaker City Mercantile. (Accounts: Puma athletic footwear, kamels cigarettes, Glenfiddich whiskey and Delilah's Den, the Philadelphia strip club from whence most of the Bikini Bandits have come.)
"We've had close to five million people download all the films so far," Grasse reports using a figure of hyperbolic inexactitude but on that nonetheless reflects the uge success of the series, available at www.AtomFilms.com and now packaged in the DVD Bikini Bandits: Freeze Mother @#%?!, which Grasse says is "selling like hotcakes."
The four- to five-minute works the inaugural "Bikini Bandits Episode 7," "Bikini Bandits and the Magic Lamp" (shot in Morocco), "Bikini Bandits and the Time Machine" (shot in colonial Philadelphia), "Bikini Bandits Go Dutch" (barn-raising in Amish country), and "Bikini Bandits Under the Big Top" (the circus) all revolve around a foursome of two-piece-wearin', firearm-bearin', hot-rod-driven' vixens who rob mini-arts, torment drooling men, and occasionally kill one by stuffing with processed food products.
"It's John waters-meets-Russ Meyer," says Grasse, who hastens to add that his works are shot better than the Baltimore schlockmeister's and his girls are prettier than the softcore artist's.
"It's all done in such a tongue-in-cheek way that we're actually making fun of people that are chauvinistic," he adds, attempting to deflect the obvious isn't-this-exploitation? Question.
"At th same time, we're making fun of people that are so politically correct that you can't do anything fun anymore without getting in trouble. We make fun of every race, creed and color in the tradition of Howard Stern. So, no oneescapes, and by offending everyone, you offend no one, hopefully although the thing we did yesterday might have gone to far. It involved Satan and the Pope."
Making the move from the Web to the widescreens from featurettes to full-length motion picture seemed like a natural progression for Grasse and his Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) partner Shamala Joshi, a thin intense woman who has been directing movie's second unit and who shows up at the Arch Street set breathless and weary after a long day with ad clients in New York. Financing for the low-budget (Grasse won't say how low) feature, which is expected to reach video outlets in six months, came from AtomFilms and a Nuremberg production company, ("For some reason, bikini Bandits are big in germany," Grasse says.)
As cowritten by Grasse, 35, there is no cohesive storyline to Bikini Bandits: The Movie. Instead, "it's structured a lot like Kentucky Fried Movie or Monty Python's Meaning of Life," explains the director, wearing a red Budweiser cap, a gray Daytona Beach Bike Week T-shirt, baggy cargo shorts, and a look of suprising tranquility. He also cites MTV's Jackass, that high-brow affair in which projectiles are fired at guy's private parts, as a source of inspiration.
"It's [got] a very adolescent viewpoint on the world," acknowledges Grasse, whose younger brother, Peter, assays the role of Amish Boy. "It's like, what if the whole world was a Van Halen video?'
In the role of lead Bandit is Heather-Victoria Ray, a veteran of USA Tropical Tease and Hulk Hogan's Thunder in Paradise. Wearing a leopard-print two-piece, the actress reclines on a lounge chair behind the mixing board waiting for the scene in which she and her cohorts - Cynthia Diaz, Heather McDonnell and Betty Tru - rescue Amish Boy and five females from the clutches of Evil Porn Land. A bartender at Life in Old City and a makeup artist for a number of area bands, Ray has beautiful eyes.
"A lot of people take it the wrong way, or get offended by the Bikini Bandits," she says. "But, I mean, I get offended by the government. There are so many things that everyone wants to get offended about. Well, then don't watch it - it's simple. But for those who can take it with an open mind and a light heart because that's all it is, it's just purely lighthearted humor then they're going to see a lot of creative ideas."
Feldmen, who just turned 30, surveys the scene the 300-pound biker dudes, the dwarf, the babes with the seasoned eye of someone who recently starred as a deranged gynecologist in Troma Films' Citizen Toxic: The Toxic Avenger part 4.
"I'm basically playing myself," he reports, adding, with deadpan amusement, "it was obviously a great mistake to be involved in this great project. There's going to be a lawsuit pending. I've been greatly insulted since I've been here: I've been treated awfully. They put me in a dark, smelly room. I've been treat like some kind of abandoned stepchild, and obviously it's just the most tasteless project.
"I did it for art, truthfully. Steven Grasse contacted me and said he wanted me to do this art piece called Bikini Bandits and I thought, well, you know, in my career there's been Stand by Me, there's been Dream a Little Dream, and then the pinnacle, really could become Bikini Bandits. That really could be the crux, if you will, of my being."
For Joshi, who came to advertising from New York's fashion industry, her sitting here surrounded by dozens of heavily tattooed camera operators and assistant directors, sound technicians and customers, is the realization of a long-held ambition.
It was always our dreams that, when we were successful enough, we would go and have a clothing line or publish a book and ultimately make movies," she says. "Steven wanted to direct, and I wanted to direct, and we're just really into film. It's a love of both of ours. It's amazing that this thing that began as a lark has turned into, well, something."
Turned into, well, something indeed.
Up in the balcony, Ray and her bandits are hiking up their bikini bottoms, slinging their prop weaponry, and waiting for the cue to descend upon the nefarious Jello Biafra. Their first line iof dialogue shouted in unson as they point their artillery at Biafra and his goons 'is the Bandits series' signature phrase, the exclamation that inspired the DVD's title. Suffice to say, it starts with "Freeze."
They run through the scene a couple of times, and then Grasse calls a wrap.
"Why does everything have to be so deep and meaningful and have a message?," he wonders. "To me, a movie should be entertaining and fun."
"One day, maybe, we'll so something more serious," Grasse adds, then pauses to contemplate that possibility.
But, nah, probably not."
The Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) (formerly Quaker City Mercantile) Generation
The Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) (formerly Quaker City Mercantile) Generation
Whether you'll admit it or not, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) proves that advertising is in your blood.
To harness its power-the ability to influence, convince and drive a mass audience to a singular idea would be a Frankenstein-like power if one could wield it. This wasn't more apparent than in the early '90s when a campaign for Zipperhead, Philadelphia's premier punk clothier, was being launched by a new ad agency in town. This was news in itself. The sleepy burg that was the Philly Ad World consisted mainly of Kalish & Rice, FCB/Philadelphia (soon to be known as Tierney & Partners), Weightman Group and Earle Palmer Brown.
"It was sleepy," says Steven Grasse, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) owner, sitting at one of his Walnut Street office's huge conference tables. "All the better in which to stand out. We knew that if we could shake things up, we'd get attention. We didn't realize just how volatile this city was or how much we would be hated. But all our pranks - from selling shirts to other agencies that read, "Now you can pretend to work for the best agency in town, to whooping and hollering at Ad-Agency events - got us noticed/" Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) was prepared to stand out from the start.
Quaker City Mercantile, from minute one, made advertising relevant for new money, Gen X-ers who felt robbed by the shilling of the past, and the pretension of persuasion. They made advertising entertaining, fast, young, even oddly nostalgic and American. The lack of order, visuals, that refused to suit a mainstream, and forceful impact are the very things that defined Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) and Steve Grasse from the beginning, and made Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) the multi-media advertising/packaging/development giant it is today. They are the Ramones of the biz, as they are fond of the saying. But even the Ramones never sold as much as Quaker City Mercantile. Could the anarchic Ramones have handled accounts like R.J. Reynolds, Red Kamel and Camel, Puma, Glenfiddich whiskey and Boyds clothing store? Could they have turned their image around while literally rebuilding the brand until it was unrecognizable from its past incarnation? I think not.
Early Warning Signs
Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) is big. The company's physical space, a former bank, lends itself to imposition. But walk inside and it's a dorm, covered from marble floor to high haughty ceiling with stickers, posters and hanging skate-punk memorabilia. At any given time, 30 artists and ad execs are in constant motion. It's like 100 casually dressed punks cramming for an exam at a rummage sale. Looming throughout the room are images of Steve Grasse with the writing, "Two Faced Man," "Wanted," "Mr. Retarded," "God," - all apt metaphors for the prankster/ringleader.
But before I get to Grasse, let me start with Larry McGearty. McGearty is a prime example of what Grasse looks for in collaborators and staff, The hyperactive McGearty has been at Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) for three years, after a long career of making shirts (for David Cohen clubs and Neil Stein restaurants) and designing clothing lines like Retroactive's bachelor padded bowling and poker duds and Sailor Jerry's tattoo apparel. "People approached me all the time for buy-outs, partnerships, and distribution," says Larry. "But I was able to do it for myself. What could someone offer me?" Steven Grasse made McGearty an offer he couldn't refuse - a position where distribution of McGearty's and Lutz's clothing would be just one division of their partnership. McGearty and Lutz's clothing would be just one division of their partnership. McGearty could maximize his talents as a designer, interior designer and marketing whiz, while traveling nationwide setting up parties and planning events through SFX Entertainment venues (like the Tweeter Center and First Union Center). "I never knew I could come to someplace, be creative in design and interior design, and implement strategies and start up events at the same time."
McGearty believes it was the Boomer-30-year-olds who made mixing life and art, black and white and gay and straight a way to honestly market beyond the mainstream. "Things move," says Larry. "Young adults now are way more savvy than we were. We need to reach them on a gut level now." But how to do this when Grasse and Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) president/art director/partner Shyamala Joshi hate advertising?
"The advertising environment is horrible, slick and glossy," says Joshi, 34. "There's going to be backlash to all this technology. The thrust of information is so radically different from when we grew up. We're losing communication skills. Getting information is too easy-just pretty pictures and eye candy." Having been with Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) for ten years, Joshi feels the pull of her own punk roots. "Everything then was about discovery," she says about the very nature of art, not like the advertising of now that is prepackaged and pre-formed for easy consumption.
During Joshi's youthful tenure choreographing and producing press and fashion shows for Albert and Pearl Nippon in Manhattan, Grasse found her. Grasse, then only 24, had just returned from a stint in the New Zealand with Saatchi and Saatchi. He was an exchange student, doing art direction and writing internships for Ogilvy and Mather and Bozell and Jacobs before landing in TV production in Auckland where he met his wife, Emma Hagen. By 1990, the husband and wife team developed a playful but somewhat aggressive ad-aesthetic that they brought first to Miami, then to Philly. From an apartment on Gaskill St., they landed clients like MTV, Channel 10, Comcast Metrophone and Neil Stein, and picked up Joshi as a third of their trinity. On the day they moved to their Walnut world headquarters, Grasse was shooting spots for the Comedy Central network. "At first we got no recognition or respect from Philly. Local companies avoided us," says Joshi. But after letter writing campaigns to MTV and other national companies (and good cheap bids), Philly began to turn.
Here Comes Charlie
Then came the Manson ad-a little seen wheat-paste poster-that got national media attention for its level of bad taste. Comcast dropped them. "They took us to lunch. That's when you know." Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) became dangerous. They were too young, too brash. All of their hirelings were 20-year-old mods and surf punks with shags and spiky hair. "People told us to hire some old people...honestly," laugh Joshi and Grasse. Then Grasse read Generation X: Tales from an Accelerated Culture, Douglas Coupland's book of a disconnected youth culture. "I read it, and it dawned on me that the ad world's vision of a 'brave new youth' was garbage." They realized that selling to youth wasn't about dumbing down. It wasn't about anything. It was attitude, honesty, and relating on a level playing field.
Grasse has been dangerously close to the mainstream. Before he and his wife split, he found himself fox hunting and farm-housing in Unionville, living a typical rich man's life, one completely at odds with the man he knew inside. "When you find success, there are two ways you can go. Be true to yourself or buy another Range Rover," says Grasse. Purged of that, Grasse shaved his head, got amicably divorced (Emma is the woman who got Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) involved with Boyd's, for whom she is the creative director), and stripped down his lifestyle to punk-like sparsity. The bad attention Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) had received via the Manson ad and the new smart-punk zeal turned to good. They wound up on panels as avatars of Gen X. Mademoiselle asked them to reposition and reshape their magazine. Sergio Zeeman called from Coke and put them to work. Budweiser and Oaktree fell into line.
Grasse likens Quaker City Mercantile's aggressive bravura to Fugazi-the last intelligent, truly independent musical act of first-generation-punk. "We're very industrious. We make our own things and move under our own power." So dedicated to that ideal are Grasse and Joshi that when British mega-agency WPP offered to buy them out two years ago, they refused. "We got scared. They would've come in and dismantled everything. We would have never been able to make Bikini Bandits. We would have just been churning out our quarterly statements."
Despite loving money, Grasse and Joshi understand that making books, clothing, movies and statements means more and lasts longer than just making ads. This strategy seems to work, considering Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) claims never to have borrowed cash.
The Worm Turns
What makes Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) different from other agencies is that they are raw, genuine, and they don't think at all about the competition. "We've been anti-everything from the start," says Joshi of Quaker City Mercantile's non-corporate feel. But what empowered them even more was dropping out of Philadelphia's self-congratulatory award show cycle.
"The only people who liked us in the local ad world was Wieden & Kennedy. For our first few years, it was Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) and Wieden who won all the awards. Then they left town. So we dropped out. The award world is bullshit." But by dropping out, Grasse began looking at marketing a different way-as a slow-stewed, grass root thing that would envelop as much of the product as possible packaging, point-of-sale, even throwing parties for the brand. If you're out in Philly, the angel of the Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) Party has touched you. You've seen the swarm of Delilah's girls (another client), the smoking jackets, the ever-pouring booze and Pete Grasse decked out in feathers, leathers and wigs.
They created a non-traditional agency by charging clients big money for exploratories within new and burgeoning markets, a true revolution of making money, not spending it, on their pitch, and soon a steady clientele with decidedly non-PC types like R.J. Reynolds (cigs) and the Paddington Corp (booze) was lined up. Then Puma came to pity. The Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) format changed slightly. "We wanted to be married rather than just dating. We told Puma that Reebok had called, and they took us on full time."
Grasse soon began to grow a packaging/marketing aesthetic based on his loves: history, education, American folklore and cinema, or "Guns and girls," he laughs, looking at his new Kamel ads featuring '40s paratroopers and high-hair retro girls with boobs-a-popping. "When it comes to history, I read every plaque. That's why I love Philadelphia. Hate the people, but love the history," says Grasse. Being a history buff has proven to be quite useful. Knowing the pharmaceutical origins of gin aided Grasse in developing a new concept for Hendricks Gin. For Red Kamel, Grasse decided to go backwards with surprisingly little irreverence.
"The tin cases, the retro look, pin-up girls, the Bauhaus lettering-we took original art and mashed it up, made it modern but still rooted in authenticity," says Joshi. Grasse also points to Maxfield Parish when looking at a Camel ad featuring Viking vixens landing from outer space that lends itself to the guns and girls theory. They point toward other Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) products- the development of their Bikini Bandit online short films, Sailor Jerry clothing (adopted from original tattoo art of Sailor Jerry Collins) and even their art gallery shop in Old City, G-Mart, as the future of their unique products.
G-Mart was a natural but expensive progression from becoming one of the only ad agencies to go into product development. "We were in London and thought of an idea for a shop called the Ugly American. It would sell everything in Europe that people hated about Americans, like Cheese Whiz, velour suits, and biker gear," says Grasse. They tested the waters for this concept in Old City with the Sailor Jerry line and with rare Puma gear. The store actually sells, turning a profit both in-shop and online.
"The movie is gonna totally suck, but in a good way," says Grasse of his ultimate girl and gun fantasy, Bikini Bandits: The Movie. Grasse shoots in Philly this summer with Corey Feldman and Vanilla Ice, doing what will basically be an extended AC/DC video. Getting in bed with Hollywood and the United Talent Agency, a connection made through Spike Jones, is another crucial vision for Quaker City Mercantile.
The secret to all this Quaker City Mercantile-zation - from then until now - goes back to what we mentioned earlier; organic growth. "It's about keeping it pure, non-corporate, from a family root," Grasse says. "We stay true to what has excited us from the start. And we only grow when we have our own cash to expand and experiment."
So what has changed for Quaker City Mercantile? They still avoid hiring non-Philadelphians, but they are bringing on more professional ad types rather than grabbing art-minded street urchins or bar backs. "The stakes are higher," says Grasse. "We're bringing in art directors and reps who have a lot of experience, but we deprogram them with a psychic Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) enema. We yell at them until they un-think their old thoughts."
"We're very much a cult," Joshi adds. "Or a family." They've taken on new clients and models: Christy Turlington's yoga line, Frangelico liquors worldwide, Mars/M&Ms, Chupa Chup lollipops, the Corcoran Gallery's Jonathan Binstock, record/film exec Chris Blackwell, and new key markets nation-wide. This is world domination. But they haven't forgotten Philly. One sensational representation of that is the revamping of Boyd's. "We're going to reposition the store as the Barney's of Philly. We're going to make it younger and fill it with designer sportswear and high-end names like Prada, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana." By also embracing the store's old school institutionalization- scotch, cigars, and the smoky poker party ideal-they hope to remake Boyds' image.
They've taken on new clients and models: Christy Turlington's yoga line, Frangelico liquors worldwide, Mars/M&Ms, Chupa Chups lollipops, the Corcoran Gallery's Jonathan Binstock, record/film exec Chris Blackwell, and new key markets nation-wide. This is world domination. But they haven't forgotten Philly. One sensational representation of that is the revamping of Boyd's. "We're going to reposition the store as the Barney's of Philly. We're going to make it younger and fill it with designer sportswear and high-end names like Prada, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana." By also embracing the store's old school institutionalization- scotch, cigars, and the smoky poker party ideal-they hope to remake Boyds' image.
As they move forward, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) seems more and more about high-end visualization and positioning. "The ads come last," says Grasse. Above all, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) must remain zealous and young. But how does Steve Grasse intend on maintaining an outlook as such after twelve years with the company? Well, after nearly selling out to WPP, Quaker City Mercantile (formerly known as Gyro Worldwide) decided if it wasn't going to be bought, they wouldn't sell out at all. They stayed truer to themselves, rather than going mainstream or getting bigger through co-opting. So they expanded into film, clothing and books. "It's what we love doing," Says Joshi. "When I stop loving it, I'm done."