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Barry Wasserman 1948-2014 - by WIZ and Olly Blackburn

Barry Wasserman 1948-2014 - by WIZ and Olly Blackburn

David Knight - 18th July 2014

Barry Wasserman, who died on June 30th, was a pioneering 1st AD of music video production, a major figure in the development of music videos in the UK, and a huge character in the industry for nearly three decades.

This "cigar-chomping, Bronx-born Buddhist" (as described in PROMO magazine just before he started writing a brilliant column for the mag in 2006) worked on some of the great British music videos for two generations of music video makers. He was also a man of letters, who co-wrote the first British TV miniseries, with a commanding way with words. And a man with demons that he battled for years.

At his funeral service held last Friday (July 11th) in London, two men who knew Barry very well, the directors WIZ and Olly Blackburn, both gave heartfelt eulogies of their close friend and mentor to a packed congregation of Barry's family, friends and colleagues. Promo News is delighted to publish their words in full, firstly from WIZ (who also took the photograph of Barry with Kasabian on their Club Foot shoot in 2004; and is then pictured with Barry and Dizzee Rascal on the shoot of Sirens in 2007)...

WIZ: "To my young eager mind Barry personified everything I imagined the film industry to be: dangerous, ingenious, glamorous, carnivorous, cruel, romantic, extravagant, passionate. In some way I wanted to be poisoned by him, maybe I wanted to be like him. 

"With every step he had your back covered, and one way or another you’d triumph."

"My third time on a film set aged twenty three was our first meeting. It was one of those late 80’s mega shoots: a Queen video, three days on the back of a coal-fired steam train. Not knowing this, I turned up sporting pristine white Levi jeans. I was a lamb, and Barry – in front of the fifty strong crew, sporting his savage wit – publicly slaughtered me. 'My God,' I thought, 'I’ve just met Orson Welles on crack'.  

"But I learnt that this was Barry’s bootcamp for runners. This was my first test, designed in no uncertain terms to separate the wheat from the chaff. And many fell by the wayside. My generation of runners - many who are here today - stayed the course, not least as you’d follow this man into battle because conspiratorially he made it so exciting. ‘Film warriors', 'united we stand’, 'losing wasn’t an option', ‘death or glory’. The fact that we were in some white sync studio in Acton on a damp Tuesday on a Jason Donovan video seemed irrelevant.

"And later, as a director, you knew (when he was on form) that with every step he had your back covered, and one way or another you’d triumph. He had the special ability to imbue to everyone on the set that the time between 'Action!' and 'Cut!' were about to be the most important moments in the world.

"And therein lies the conundrum. When you so utterly give of yourself to a work, completely expose yourself to the creative act, how can you come down from that? Where do you go?  As Janice Joplin famously said of her concerts, she ‘would make love to a thousand people yet still go home alone.’ On his shoots, it was the same for Barry. Civilian life never quite agreed with him. 

"And what inspired me over time was that he was no beast, but a unique, deeply sensitive poetic soul. [He was] a utopian dreamer, with an uncompromising hatred of bigotry, greed and authority, always siding with the meek. And all this was for real, informed by someone intimately conscious of man's cruelty to man. When, as he often growled: 'who knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of men’, you understood that he knew only too well. Barry was Jack Kerouac’s proverbial Roman candle burning bright, and I quote:

"‘I’ve shambled all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center-light pop!’

"A unique, deeply sensitive poetic soul. A utopian dreamer, with an uncompromising hatred of bigotry, greed and authority."

"To my mind, as filmmakers, as friends, as humans, the best way to honour Barry and his legacy is to ‘simply’ conduct our lives, make our films, not just with grace and charm, but with passion, courage and resolute integrity."

Olly Blackburn, with whom Barry worked with on music videos, commercials and his debut feature film Donkey Punch - Barry is pictured in the third pic above with Olly (left) and the cast on the first day of shooting of that movie in 2006... - then delivered his own tribute to Barry...

OLLY BLACKBURN: "I first worked with Barry when I was starting out in 1998. He greeted me on set at London City Airport in a long black coat with a vodka tonic in his hand and mischief in his eyes. He was everything directors like me dreamed of in an AD and he knew it: inspiration, charisma, methodic madness, and a voice like a Norse God who’d spent his life lost in the Bronx. He was our maxi-me.

"We worked together and he led my sets for the next twelve years on pop promos, commercials, TV and a feature film. He helped me grow as a director. He was my film father, and the wild uncle.

"Now we’re paying tribute to this man who was so much bigger than life. Literally, so much bigger he had two of them. Barry died once already, for 30 seconds in 1995, but he said 'fuck you' to death and came back… to an extraordinary career with a new circle of directors making some of the greatest music videos ever shot…

"He had great taste in filmmakers and his directors – who I am proud to be one of – were many of the trailblazing heroes of music video and he was instrumental in some of the boldest most inventive pieces of film of the last 20 years. Because as we know music videos, with that fusion of cinema and Wild West rock’n’roll, were where Barry’s heart lay.

"Though I will never ever be able to say it like he did... some day I will tell people to Play. The. Fucking. Music."

"Barry lived like a legend, it’s how he wanted it. The legend was beautiful, wild and wonderful - sometimes dark and domineering, but always exhilarating because he was a man – more than a man, he was many men and like his Romanian ancestor who ferried Vlad the Impaler across the Danube, Barry took his crews, artists, directors and the one and nines to places we could never have reached on our own. And for that we remember him with love and awe.

"His irreplaceable spirit will live on through the scores of people he worked with, for and inspired. I carry his spirit to my sets every day I shoot, when I invoke the Lords of Chaos and the Film Gods, speaking to my people, jujjing the shot, standing by for some interesting news, everybody fights, nobody quits and though I will never ever be able to say it like he did... some day I will tell people to Play. The. Fucking. Music.

"And wherever he is – which knowing Barry’s cosmology and sense of humour is among us all right now – he’ll be laughing that big bear laugh, and the ripple you feel on your skin is him saying, 'Damn right, boss'.

"Bless you, Barry. Your film warriors will miss you, but you’ll never be forgotten. We’ll carry your memory for as long as we shoot."

Barry was awarded the Outstanding Achievement award for his career's work in music videos, at the UK Music Video Awards in 2011. Finally, here is the tribute film that was made to accompany with the award, with contributions from many of the directors and artists who worked with him.

David Knight - 18th July 2014

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