Life of a legendary ad man
● Keith Rose, who has died in Cape Town at 63, was the largely self-taught filmmaker and director of many of the most memorable TV ads made in SA or anywhere else.
His work won every top international and local award going, including seven gold Lions at the Cannes Lions festival. He was president of the festival’s film craft judging jury in 2011.
Rose was one of a select few inducted into the Clio TV Hall of Fame. He was named by UK trade magazine Shots as one of the top 100 advertising people of all time and by Campaign magazine as one of the top five directors in the world.
He was inducted into SA’s Creative Circle Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Loeries Hall of Fame in 2014.
Many of his ads remained vividly in the mind long after he made them: the Chapman’s Peak ad for Mercedes-Benz, the mouse on the BMW steering wheel, the Legend and Beautiful ads for Allan Gray.
They were more than commercials, they were works of art, and his approach to them was as meticulous, eccentric and obsessive as any Hollywood film director’s, minus the ego.
He knew exactly what he wanted and stopped at nothing to get it. Budgets and deadlines were slaves to his art.
For the BMW mercury ad, in which a blob of mercury is made to look like a car driving on the road using a computer graphic, he imported a computer so large that he said he needed military clearance because it had the capacity to build a nuclear bomb.
It took six weeks to train the mouse for the BMW steering wheel ad. It was described as the best car ad ever made, won two gold Lion awards and put SA on the international stage.
Rose was born in Johannesburg on March 24 1955 and grew up in Krugersdorp near the gold mine where his father worked as a surveyor.
After matriculating at Randfontein High School and completing his military service he worked underground at the mine for a year before getting a job at the SABC as a sound technician.
He did every course the SABC offered and freelanced on film sets, doing whatever dogsbody work was needed. But the camera was his first love and when the cameraman filming Zulu Dawn fell ill he took his place before anyone could argue.
After leaving the SABC he spent several years working on movies in the UK and Europe, then returned to SA and worked as a cameraman on commercials.
By 1990 he’d made four of his most iconic ads and started his own production company, Velocity Films, with US producer Barry Munchick.
“In this game the commitment has got to be total,” Rose told the Design Indaba in 2009. “There are no half measures, the stress levels are big, and sometimes you pay the ultimate price.”
Rose committed suicide on Chapman’s Peak Drive.
He is survived by his wife, MarieLouise, and four children.