The Paul McCartney Project

Shooting the “Off The Ground” promotional film

Dec 01, 1992 • Posted in “About this site

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From Club Sandwich 66, Summer 1993:

With typical understatement, Paul now recalls, “I just had this thought that it would be good to fly…”. And so began the making of one of the most innovative and unusual videos in his career, a career stretching back longer than the longest arm. 

‘Off The Ground’, the promo video, was shot in early December 1992, not in England as is usual for Paul but 5351 air miles west of London, at a ranch just outside San Francisco. Paul, Linda and Band were already on the Pacific coast, for the opening of Linda’s Sixties photo exhibition in Los Angeles, and travelled north to SF (San Rafael, to be exact) to meet a much anticipated appointment with magic. 

It all came about because Paul, a fan of Star Wars, had established contact with that celebrated film’s director, George Lucas, and talked video collaboration. Lucas, a fan of Paul’s, duly put into motion some constructive conversations between MPL and the good people at his company Industrial Light & Magic, bona fide creators of on-screen technical wizardry. In particular, Lucas recommended Matthew Robbins as director of Paul’s promo. To name but two serious attributes, Robbins had directed the movies Dragonslayer (the 1981 Disney film in which Sir Ralph Richardson, about to appear in Broad Street, had a starring role) and Batteries Not Included (produced by Steven Spielberg). 

Industrial Light & Magic work out of George Lucas’s splendiferous Skywalker ranch, which is not only an active, working studio but also a veritable museum of movie glories, where camera magic unfolds under the evil, imperious gaze of old Darth Vader himself. The premise of the video – it’s from here that we got the two photos for the cover of the Spring Club Sandwich, by the way – is that Paul takes to the skies, and flies. Biggies beware – you have a rival. 

As the promo opens, Paul is seen in a studio, picking purposefully upon an electric guitar, elucidating a tune which will forever be glorified as ‘Soggy Noodle’. (Don’t ask.) A sudden gust of wind then blows open some picture windows, causing papers to scatter and curtains to billow, and as Paul turns to see the cause of the commotion he catches sight of his Hofner bass (it’s funny how one didn’t see this dear old instrument for years and now it’s visible everywhere, like a veritable McCartney trademark) floating through the air and heading out of the open window towards the city skyline beyond. Fade to black. 

As the picture returns, Paul and the band launch into a spirited performance of ‘Off The Ground’, but in a cutaway Paul is seen lying prone on a Yamaha – no, not a motor bike, a grand piano – quietly shuddering and then, slowly, slowly, lifting off into free float. (Paul had told director Robbins that he didn’t want to simply launch off, a la Superman. He wanted to glide.) 

Then up, up, and away he goes, over lush green fields, cumulus clouds, rivers and trees, arching, swooping and soaring, flying straight and then swerving with confidence, the wind ruffling his hair and shirt sleeves. In one deuced clever moment, he accidentally catches his hand in the water as he flies over a cool blue lake, and the water is seen to splash up. (All that stuff about IL&M being masters of their craft was patently true.) 

It’s a flight that knows no bounds, seemingly, as the Hofner owner breezes over a ruined castle (probably Britain), mingles with hot-air balloonists (probably ditto), over what looks like a fjord (Norway) and then a suspension bridge (North America) and a massive waterfall (probably ditto). (Who knows – perhaps it was an early rehearsal for the New World Tour?) What is clear, though, is Paul’s knowing expression when he finally arrives back in the studio -where Linda, Hamish, Robbie, Wix and Blair have been idly wiling away the hours in the absence of their guvnor. Paul’s “been there”, he’s done it, and it’s great. It’s an inspirational look, too – it inspires the others to also drift upwards, towards the ceiling. Cleverly, as everyone takes leave of their footwear, the Off The Ground album sleeve artwork is approximated, reminding viewers that OTG is both 33 and 45, or the modern-day shiny equivalents thereof. 

Despite spending much of his time there suspended in mid-air by ultra-thin wires (Gerry Anderson could sure have used some of those in the 1960s) Paul had a whale of a time getting creative out at IL&M. “It was a very good fun day and they’ve got a great team,” he commented later. Matthew Robbins, leaving modesty aside for a moment, concluded, “the film will take your breath away if we’ve done our job correctly because it is…immaculate reality.” 

Alright, Matthew, we’re breathless.

Last updated on June 15, 2019


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