Tim McClure On The Spot

Headshot of Adweek Staff

As the “M” in GSD&M, Tim McClure sometimes calls the Austin, Texas, shop he co-founded in 1971 “GSD&Me.” The 58-year-old former chief creative officer has split time in recent years between polishing the images of clients such as Southwest Airlines and producing feature films through Mythos Studios, an in-house unit he created in 2001. Its first long-form project was the IMAX film Texas: The Big Picture. Last week, Mythos’ Slam Planet: War of the Words, a documentary about poetry slams, opened at the South by Southwest Film Festival. –Q: How did you get into the film business?

A: GSD&M has been making 30-second films for more than 30 years, so the evolution to longer formats was natural. I’m on the foundation board of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. A few years ago, the board asked me to produce the first IMAX movie on the Lone Star State, Texas: The Big Picture. I’d already convinced them to nickname the museum “The Story of Texas,” and as a native Texan, I’m a firm believer that the stories of Texas have always been told around campfires. That became the impetus for the film, which plays daily at the museum and at IMAX venues around the country and the world. Every Texan, and every wanna-be Texan, should see this bigger-than-life film.

Now that you’ve created Mythos Studios, are you more of a film guy than an ad guy?

I suppose I’m neither fish nor fowl. Successful advertising is, first and foremost, entertaining. Twenty years ago, my partner Roy Spence and I penned what we call “The Uninvited Guest” creative philosophy: Advertising is an uninvited guest in people’s homes, cars and some of the most private moments of their lives. We must intrigue them—captivate them with the way we look, the things we say. Otherwise, it’s unlikely we’ll be invited back. Not surprisingly, the same rules apply to film.

What’s your most successful film project?

Texas: The Big Picture was the most expensive. Drop Dead Sexy was the most bizarre. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Slam Planet is the most commercially successful. It’s a mini-budget film about two slam-poetry teams, Team Austin and Team Bowery Club in New York, vying for top honors at the National Poetry Slam in St. Louis. It’s the story of two semi-dysfunctional slam families—one pulls together; the other falls apart.

How did you get into poetry slams?

Slam master [and Electric Lounge owner] Mike Henry dragged me, kicking and screaming, to my first poetry slam three years ago, and I’ve been in love with “performance poetry” ever since. Slam—”poetry” is too confining a word—is the most intelligent, passionate, courageous form of entertainment I’ve seen in 20 years. Veteran sitcom producer Norman Lear and Def Jam producer Russell Simmons seem to agree. Once a week, poets from all walks of life stand in front of an audience and tell their life stories in three short minutes, judged by members of the audience. At the end of the night, one poet walks away with a cash prize. Mike calls it “lyrical boxing.” I call it “the Super Bowl of spoken word.” For us, it’s more than a movie. It’s a movement.

What do you consider your most memorable lines or images in advertising?

I came up with Shamu One, the Boeing 737 painted like a killer whale to celebrate the partnership between GSD&M clients Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld Adventure Parks. But I suppose the line I’m most proud of are the four simple, powerful words, “Don’t Mess With Texas,” the most successful anti-litter campaign in history.

What was your goal when you and your partners created GSD&M in 1971?

We had all just graduated from the University of Texas, and we were passionate about staying in Austin. Roy [Spence] had a degree in government, Steve [Gurasich] and me were ad grads, Jim [Darilek] was an art major and Judy [Trabulsi]—the “&” in GSD&M—got her degree in communications. I suppose we could have gone into almost any business, but advertising was the common denominator. Idealistic to a fault—and still to this day—we never wanted to be the best advertising agency in Austin. We wanted to be the best advertising agency anywhere.

Name the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that.”

I like the new IBM series called “Help Desk,” and in particular, the spot where a delivery truck screeches to a halt in front of a woman seated at a desk in the middle of the road. She explains to the driver that he’s lost, something she knows because “the boxes told me” via imbedded tracking devices. The guy riding shotgun suggests that “maybe the boxes should drive.” Very smart, very funny, and the IBM message comes through loud and clear.

Name one person you’re dying to work with.

I’m a space nut. I’d love to work with NASA Johnson Space Center veteran Hum Mandell to help get mankind to Mars in my lifetime. There’s a poster I created on my office wall that reads, “The first person to set foot on Mars has already been born.” I sincerely hope that’s true.

Describe yourself in three words.

Restless. Curious. Passionate.

How about three words that describe how others perceive you?

Creative. Funny. Loud.

What’s your biggest fear in life?

That I won’t accomplish everything I hope to this time around. Fortunately, there’s always the next time around.