The Purest Mood of All


Most peo­ple have nev­er heard of Ben Foat. But if you watched tele­vi­sion any­time between 1985 and 2005, you have seen Foat’s work. Though now retired, Foat direct­ed over two hun­dred nation­al tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials for clients rang­ing from Dove Body Wash to the New York Knicks. “I did it all, shot it all, sold it all,” Foat now says as he sits on the porch of his mod­est home in San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia. But it’s only one of those com­mer­cials — or “spots” as indus­try pro­fes­sion­als refer to them — that still haunts him. “I’ve nev­er been able to shake Pure Moods.”

In case you do not remem­ber, Pure Moods was a mul­ti-plat­inum com­pi­la­tion album of some of the most pop­u­lar new age, ambi­ent and world music tracks of the 1990’s — every­thing from Enya to DJ Dado’s club thump­ing remix of the X‑Files theme song. Pro­duced by Ital­ian music exec­u­tive and pri­vate prison con­trac­tor Mario Lizano, Pure Moods had become a phe­nom­e­non in Europe and Asia — and in 1995, Lizano want­ed to bring it to the Unit­ed States.

At the time, Foat was one of the hottest com­mer­cial direc­tors around and Lizano com­mis­sioned him to cre­ate a spot that would sell Pure Moods’ unique blend of lush, sooth­ing Euro sounds to Amer­i­can audi­ences, who were still reel­ing from the death of grunge rock­er Kurt Cobain and the rise of gang­ster rap.

“When I first heard it, I was cap­ti­vat­ed,” Foat says. “It was like being trans­port­ed to anoth­er world, a world of mag­ic and won­der and mys­tery. I want­ed to cap­ture that feel­ing in the com­mer­cial.” Foat says the first time he heard the album’s track four, Orini­co Flow (Sail Away) by Enya, he cried. Need­less to say, he was on board.

While lis­ten­ing to Return to Inno­cence by Ger­man music col­lec­tive Enig­ma (track thir­teen) on repeat, an inspired Foat churned out a six­ty page treat­ment for the spot. In his orig­i­nal ver­sion, a cross-dress­ing David Bowie would’ve starred with four hun­dred danc­ing African chil­dren, a three-sto­ry-tall ani­ma­tron­ic Loch Ness Mon­ster, and a uni­corn; and the entire pro­duc­tion would be filmed on loca­tion on the Great Wall of Chi­na. Foat’s antic­i­pat­ed bud­get: $20 mil­lion dollars.

Lizano told Foat he had $4,000 and need­ed the fin­ished spot in five days. “In any oth­er case, I would’ve walked,” Foat recalls. “But I was so moved by the music that I had to press on.”

But there was one part of his orig­i­nal vision Foat was­n’t going to give up — the uni­corn. “Every time I lis­tened to the track Adiemus by Adiemus, I saw this white uni­corn bound­ing through the for­est. Even if I had to pay for it myself, I was going to get that God damn unicorn.”

So Foat packed up his crew, his gear, and a white stal­lion he bought named “Toot,” and filmed for four days and four nights in the woods of Grif­fith Park, a large munic­i­pal park in Los Ange­les. And that’s when things began to fall apart.

“As soon as we took that turn off Los Feliz Boule­vard and onto Crys­tal Springs Dri­ve, right before you reach I‑5 and across the street from the William Mul­hol­land Memo­r­i­al foun­tain, it was like (Foat) was a pos­sessed man,” says Lance Rebo, the 1st assis­tant direc­tor on the shoot. “He was going to stop at noth­ing to cap­ture the images he saw in his head.”

Over the course of those next few days, Foat bare­ly slept or ate, furi­ous­ly fired and sub­se­quent­ly rehired every mem­ber of the crew; and, at one point, even point­ed a loaded gun at Toot the horse when he refused to wear his prop uni­corn horn.

“It was like we were film­ing Apoc­a­lypse Now,” says Jan­ice Seeps, a vet­er­an art direc­tor who worked on the shoot for six min­utes and then again a few hours lat­er. “Only instead of mak­ing an impor­tant, vibrant work of art, we were mak­ing a shit­ty com­mer­cial for basi­cal­ly a mix CD for pussies.”

Some­how dur­ing this, Foat formed a close rela­tion­ship with one of the album’s artists, DJ Dado. “We’d be in the mid­dle of these God damn woods and Foat would be on the phone with this fuck­ing weirdo for hours on end — ask­ing what DJ Dado thought about this and what DJ Dado thought about that. I mean, who gave a shit?! And this was back in the days when cell phones weren’t super com­mon. Those calls must’ve cost an fuck­ing ass­load of mon­ey. Sor­ry for the language.”

A leg­end of the Ibiza rave scene, DJ Dado dis­ap­peared in 1999 fol­low­ing the release of his dance remix of the Pick­et Fences theme song. A fire broke out at Dad­ofest at the Ibiza Mar­riott, but Dado con­tin­ued to spin over a mon­tage of Pick­et Fences mate­r­i­al. His remains were nev­er found. In Dado’s eulo­gy, Foat described their rela­tion­ship as “nec­es­sary.”

Mean­while, every­thing came to a head when Lizano showed up on set. Foat was over bud­get and still had not got­ten his dream shot of the uni­corn. “Hors­es just don’t like to wear fake horns,” says Richard Spice, the ani­mal wran­gler for the shoot. Lizano was furi­ous. He and Foat had a scream­ing match in front of the crew and Foat punched Lizano in the face. Foat then leapt on the back of Toot the uni­corn horse and rode off into the forest.

Ten days lat­er, when Foat final­ly rode out of the park — com­plete­ly nude, cov­ered in mud, and eat­ing a squir­rel he’d killed — he dis­cov­ered that Lizano had already edit­ed the remain­ing footage and the fin­ished spot was air­ing on TV sta­tions all over the coun­try. “I was crushed,” Foat says. “There was so much poten­tial to do some­thing spe­cial. And that cheap bas­tard threw it all away. It was just mist and scrolling titles and shit.”

Though he was haunt­ed by his fail­ure to achieve his vision, Foat direct­ed com­mer­cials for anoth­er ten years. In 2012, he start­ed an online Indiegogo cam­paign to raise the funds to pro­duce his orig­i­nal $20 mil­lion dol­lar ver­sion of the Pure Moods com­mer­cial, but man­aged to only raise $50. The sole con­trib­u­tor was anony­mous and only iden­ti­fied by the mys­te­ri­ous screen name… “DadoLives1.” ♦