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You can add ad man to James Franco’s rapidly expanding résumé.
Seven For All Mankind and its advertising agency, Lipman, have tapped the actor to direct and photograph the jeans brand’s upcoming multimedia spring campaign. This is the first time Franco will helm an advertising shoot, with the print results set to break in March magazines and filmed segments to go up online around the same time.
“For me, it’s an excuse to be creative. They’re giving me a lot of freedom,” said Franco on the phone from Detroit, where he is filming the title role of Disney’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” a big-budget prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” “It’s about having the opportunity to be creative in a new way and they are going to provide all the toys and the cast and everything else.”
Franco, 33, is slated to shoot the campaign on Dec. 11 in Los Angeles and a second date in January. The as-yet-unannounced cast will include celebrities and models.
“I’m not supposed to say too much, but we don’t want to do something that feels very fashion-heavy,” explained Franco. “It’s a more natural kind of approach. It’s not a heavy-handed fashion world sell-job. It’s really about bringing the natural essence out of the performers and models.”
The campaign, whose creative details are being kept under wraps until filming is complete, will emphasize a narrative approach, using a large cast portraying a free-spirited and glamorous California lifestyle.
“We want to tell our story about our California roots and James Franco so embodies the ideals of California,” said Barry Miguel, president of Seven For All Mankind, which is owned by VF Corp. “He was born and raised in California and he encapsulates that idea of freedom of expression and being modern in California.”
While this is Franco’s first foray into advertising, this past summer he photographed Agyness Deyn for a “Rebel Without a Cause”-inspired editorial spread in Elle, and more recently lensed a shoot for W, which has not yet been published.
“This is not the usual fashion campaign. There’s a lot of storytelling involved and I think that was part of the attraction for James,” said David Lipman, chairman and chief creative officer of New York-based Lipman, who created the current Hudson Jeans campaign with Georgia May Jagger and Patrick Schwarzenegger before switching to the Seven For All Mankind account this fall. “We have treatments in place, but we’re being very open-minded in where this is going to go.”
As a nascent director, Franco had few qualms about taking on an advertising client. “You might think, ‘Oh, it’s selling a product.’
“But that’s what basically one does when you make a movie or do a television show — you’re really selling a product anyway,” noted the Golden Globe winner. “It’s not like I’m doing a car commercial and they’re telling me I have to get this many shots of the car. Strangely enough, there’s so much freedom in fashion advertising. It can be a place to be more creative than I’m able to be in other areas, like movies or television.”
Franco has been the face of the Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme fragrance since 2008 and last month added a new role as ambassador for Gucci’s Made to Measure line of bespoke suits, with ads shot by Nathaniel Goldberg at the legendary Cinecittà film studio in Rome.
“When I started doing the Gucci campaigns, I realized that the shoots for the Gucci fragrance were actually exactly the same as doing a photo shoot for a magazine like Vanity Fair or Interview,” he noted of his rationale for taking on commercial projects. “As an actor, I had to go do these shoots anyway and there were brands working with the magazine that wanted to see me in their clothes — and that’s how the shoot and the issue were going to be financed. So I had to wear certain kinds of things. It wasn’t a campaign but I wasn’t doing anything different — whether it was a Gucci campaign or just a shoot in a magazine with me promoting a movie.”
Franco’s film career has included star turns in the “Spider-Man” trilogy, “Pineapple Express,” “Milk,” “127 Hours” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” However, he’s become noted for his wide-ranging, catholic interests outside of acting — with this advertising campaign the latest addition to a panoply of creative endeavors.
To name just a few, Franco has appeared on the soap opera “General Hospital,” which he later turned into an art project at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2010; he’s directed a number of short films and documentaries which have screened at festivals, including “Saturday Night,” “The Clerk’s Tale” and “The Broken Tower,” the latter a docudrama about the poet Hart Crane; written a collection of short fiction titled “Palo Alto: Stories,” published by Scribner in 2010; exhibited his own paintings at galleries in Los Angeles and Berlin; directed and narrated a dance work at New York’s Stella Adler Studio, and earlier this week attempted to contact the late Tennessee Williams via Ouija board for a performance piece during the Performa 11 art festival in New York.
Franco is pursuing a Ph.D. in English from Yale, to add to a C.V. that includes an undergraduate degree from UCLA and an M.F.A. in writing from Columbia University.
The Seven For All Mankind campaign partly piqued his interest as it’s a form of filmmaking that isn’t constrained by many of the precepts of a traditional movie, noted Franco. “People are used to movies being told in a certain way. It has an emotional arc and there’s a beginning, middle and end. But in a fashion campaign like this, you have some of those elements — actors and performers and a set and wardrobe — but you don’t have the burden of telling a story in the same way or attracting audiences in the same way. So you can use all the elements from a film but explore it in a new way,” he explained.
Franco admitted he wasn’t a die-hard Seven For All Mankind wearer prior to getting the directing gig — “I wouldn’t say I was a guy that wore Seven jeans all the time,” he said with a small laugh — but he does maintain a healthy interest in fashion.
“I don’t know how to design clothes — nor do I really want to — but I’m fascinated by the designers I’ve worked with, like Frida [Giannini] at Gucci,” said Franco. “I’m interested in all kinds of design and creativity. On films, you work with artists and craftsmen and designers and wardrobe and hairstylists and other actors and directors and writers and musicians. Being in movies for 15 years has taught me how to collaborate and how to make these different creative types coalesce.”