Nina Flohr, creative director of the luxury private aviation company VistaJet, didn’t want to take a conventional route when producing a new flight-safety video for her high-net-worth clientele. So she commissioned artist Tom Sachs to do it. Sachs has long been fascinated with aircraft and even re-created an airplane lavatory for his 1999 sculpture Lav A2. He has also collaborated on several mock–instructional videos with his former studio assistant, filmmaker Van Neistat, who directed the VistaJet spot. “We both fly a lot,” Sachs says. “We thought we’d consider ourselves experts in that.”
The duo selected an unlikely starting point for their video: the never-released Todd Haynes short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story from 1988, in which Haynes used “all Barbie dolls for the entire cast,” Neistat notes. “And what ended up happening was he didn’t get the rights to use Barbie, nor did he get the rights to use the Karen Carpenter music.” Both Sachs and Neistat first saw Superstar at underground venues in the ’90s. “It was more influential than either of us realized at the time because it gave us permission to make movies without ever asking for permission,” says Sachs.
For their stop-motion animation, which debuts on flights this month, Sachs and his team used his signature rough-hewn esthetic to create sculptures of the interior and exterior of a VistaJet plane, a Bombardier Global 6000, along with a cast of dolls. Passengers were modeled after Flohr and her father, VistaJet founder and chairman Thomas Flohr, while the cabin hostess bears an uncanny resemblance to Sachs’s wife, Sarah Hoover. (The artist is coy about this latter likeness and about whether any actual Barbie parts were used in the production.) One comedic highlight comes when the elder Flohr smokes a “cigar” while listening to reggae music. (Smoking is allowed on the charter flights.)
Despite making the video, Sachs has yet to fly on a VistaJet, although he did examine the interior of one to take measurements. “We’re the help,” he jokes.