It’s the mid-1960s. I am so trendy. My latest pop shoot is featured every week on Bandstand. “Here’s Lana Cantrell filmed by our own brilliant, young Stefan Sargent.”
Need more proof of trendiness? I am at a restaurant on William Street in Sydney. At a nearby table I spot newlyweds Liza Minnelli and Peter Allen. Yes, she’s getting up—coming over to my table. “Peter’s been telling me all about your videos with him. I just had to come over and say hi.”
My First Commercial
Up to this point, all my work has been documentaries and pop promos. I’d shot some simple TV spots for women’s magazines, but they were just pages being turned under a rostrum camera.
I’ll never forget my first commercial, Streets Paddle Pop. It’s for a real Mad Men-era agency, Lintas. They have account directors, creative directors, scriptwriters and a skeptical TV producer, Ruth Sainsbury. Their casting director is Hilary Linstead, who discovers Belinda Green for me.
Belinda, aged 16, is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Sheer perfection.
I want to shoot in Lane Cove National Park, in the late afternoon, when the setting sun hits the water and creates amazing wraparound backlight.
Belinda slips out of a beach gown and, with the help of a stepladder, enters the hammock. I’ve positioned some large paper sunflowers around the scene.
I’m on a tripod way back, waiting for the magic moment when the sun hits the river and the woods are filled with shimmering backlight. It happens and I have about half an hour to take shots. Wide shots, close-ups, Belinda sitting up, lying down. Production assistants bring on the Paddle Pops and spray her down.
“Don’t bite. Just lick and suck.”
The Great Ice Cream Cake Disaster
A huge success: the agency puts me under contract to make a TV commercial every month. Then I blow it all.
An Australian ice cream cake is an insane 12-inch log of layered cake and ice cream—it’s a kind of sandwich. In real life, the birthday party kids dig in and ice cream and cake fly everywhere. In my commercial, clever mum goes chop, chop, chop, and voilà, tasty looking, clean cut slices. Oh yeah…
Too frozen and the knife squeezes the thing down flat, with ice cream oozing everywhere. Megan tosses them down the loo. Too warm and mutilated slices crumble into a gooey mess.
The loo is now blocked and it won’t flush. More failures go straight out the window into our trash can. Splat!
We heat the knife. No; the ice cream steams and sizzles. We pre-cut slices, squeeze them together and pry them open. Looks fake. Megan is now at the front door handing out ice cream cake to startled passersby.
And guess what? That’s illegal. “Who’s in charge here?” “Just me. Like a slice?”
Belinda becomes Miss World 1972—Hilary casts The Rocky Horror Show and Picnic at Hanging Rock—Lana is nominated for a Grammy in ’68. I’m taken off ice cream and put on soap, detergents and men’s shirts, and as for Liza…