The scene: a smoky back room full of gamblers playing a tense game of poker. There's a love triangle about to erupt, the possibility of a royal flush and the dealer may be crooked. The players look familiar, and the song in the background sounds like ... Bob Dylan.
And all of a sudden, there he is, playing cards with actor/cardsharps Ricky Jay ("Boogie Nights") and "Dharma and Greg" writer Eddie Gorodetsky. Rock legend Dylan wears a black hat and waits for an ace of hearts in this 30-second commercial promoting his album "Love and Theft," due in stores today.
Set to the tune of "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dumb," the first song of the album, the commercial isn't a video but a short film made only for television airplay during programs such as "The Late Show with David Letterman" and on cable networks such as TNT, Comedy Central and MSNBC.
Directed by Kinka Usher, best known for the feature film "Mystery Men" and his "Godzilla"-meets-Chihuahua spots for Taco Bell, Dylan's commercial was the brainchild of Columbia Record execs looking to reach audiences outside of the cable music channels.
"Bob is not the type of artist where you're gonna run a single up the charts or get a huge amount of video play on VH1 or MTV. He's just not that type of artist. At the same time, you have to let people know the record is coming out," said a Columbia Records spokesman. "You want to come up with something unique and something within the bounds of the artist. To actually go out and shoot a unique commercial spot distinct from a video is unusual in the record business."
Director Usher, who shot the video with Dylan and friends in a single day, sees it as a shift in the way artists are marketed.
"MTV is not really anything but a network now. They don't really run videos anymore, and so I think that whole avenue for record companies is drying up," Usher said.
The poker setting was Dylan's idea, and the folk rock icon only made one request of Usher.
"He said, 'You know, I just don't want it to be corporate.' And I assured him that I wasn't going to do that, I was going to shoot it like a little film. I know he's very happy with it," Usher said.
After the spot premiered on the Internet at www.BobDylan.com on Aug. 28, Amazon.com's pre-sale orders for the album rocketed the album to No. 1 on its music charts and it has remained within the top five ever since.
The TV spots began running Sept. 3.