Direct Dialogue: Directors Roundtable '06

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This year, we were lucky to have 13 of the industry's top directors join us at the Soho House in New York to debate the business and each other's work and discuss the "What the fucks!" of the job. They also took time to offer each other some helpful life management tips.

The Directors: Back row, from left: Frank todaro, Moxie Pictures; Mike maguire, The Directors Bureau; Neill Blomkamp, RSA; Kinka Usher, House of Usher; Middle row, from left: Nicolai Fuglsig, MJZ; Jim Jenkins, Hungry Man; Steve Miller,; Ran
The Directors: Back row, from left: Frank todaro, Moxie Pictures; Mike maguire, The Directors Bureau; Neill Blomkamp, RSA; Kinka Usher, House of Usher; Middle row, from left: Nicolai Fuglsig, MJZ; Jim Jenkins, Hungry Man; Steve Miller,; Ran

We'd like to thank you all for coming. We're so pleased to have such a stellar group here today. Why don't we start out by talking about change. The advertising industry has been undergoing a lot of change in the past few years, it seems even in the last few months, with the growth of initiatives in new media and branded content. How has all this affected your jobs as directors? Where do you see your roles evolving?

Steve Miller It's not really that different. I think with all the different forms that a story might need to take, a commercial, a viral, whatever, it just has to be super solid as a central idea.

But do any of you feel like you're being called in earlier on by agencies, when ideas are in their infancy?

Stacy Wall To some degree. The only change is that they want you to do more when you're shooting because the onus is to do more for the virals or bonus pieces that are only going to be on the internet. I agree with your comment that it's still storytelling. Randy [Krallman]'s piece for Ecko, for example, was fantastic. I saw it online, and it's a great piece of filmmaking, a great idea.

Frank Todaro I've been brought in early on projects. They say, "We don't know whether it should be a mock TV show, a film, commercials, or some episodic thing for the web." You work on it for a while, and sometimes it just disappears. Or you don't hear about it until six months later, "OK, we're back, it's totally different, are you still interested?" And it's like, what happened with the other thing?

Jim Jenkins I think creatives are reluctant to bring you in before they have an idea formed because they don't want you to do all their thinking for them. They want to come up with a solid idea, not something that's going to evaporate.

Stacy I was joking with someone about when we first heard that television commercials were going to die. I don't know when you guys first heard about it, but I think I heard it in '94. So it's been a long, slow fruitful death because it seems like we're only making more of them, which I'm all for.

Neill Blomkamp I think part of it is the fact that viral advertising is the future. Ecko is a really good example of that. In order for advertising to reach people, you have to make something now that people will go out and find. They have to want to see it. The more that people have access to that kind of information, the more the rate that you can force content down people's throats in a 30-second environment begins to drop off.

Jim That may be true, but there's always going to be appeal for broadcast. There's a communal experience about an ad that everybody loves.

Stacy If we could all pitch in money and get Randy's piece on American Idol, everybody in the world would be talking about it.

Randy Krallman I'd really appreciate that.

Steve Has anybody done the whole track back on Tivo to see a job they didn't get, to see what it ended up looking like?

Randy I used it to see an adidas spot that Stylewar did, where they're golfing and they don't have clubs. If I didn't have the DVR, I would have been frustrated to not be able to go back. I think it's an interesting part of the evolution. As things get better and better, you're going to want to watch it again.

Frank Or there's jumping over the entire pod of commercials.

Randy Shoot them in super slo mo so you'd have to watch them at normal speed.

Brian Currently, I think the reputation of viral stuff is low budget, highly entertaining, moreso than what's on television. But I think some of it is going to start borrowing the production values and the quality and the money that goes into television.

Stacy Wall, Jim Jenkins
Stacy Wall, Jim Jenkins
It's always going to be about something that captivates your imagination. You hear these stories about kids creating movies out of video game characters. That's great, but it's still creating scenes, about two people talking to each other, having a conflict or a resolution of some sort, or fiction that captivates you. I think the ones that try to play games with you online or involve you in a mystery, that's great too, but I think they've found that the number of people who are actually going to play that game are not as great as the one that people respond to. Again, I hate to keep going back to it, but it's of the moment right now, Randy's Ecko piece. It's mysterious and it makes you want to question whether it's real or whether it isn't real, so you are intereacting with it on a level that's a little bit different than a pure storytelling fiction, a, b, c, linear stuff, but it's still a story.

Does everyone know about the Ecko piece? Randy, can you give us the background?

Randy Marc Ecko has an urban clothing brand and several brands within that, including a video game called Getting Up about grafitti. Dave Droga and Patrick Milling Smith came up with an idea to promote it with someone spraying graffiti on Air Force One, and have it be completely anonymous and not know whether it happened or not. The Pentagon denied that it happened, which made some people think it really did, and that was kind of the goal of it. But to your point, the whole hoax phenomenon, I think it's getting kind of played out, there's diminishing returns with that. Sega from a few years ago was brilliant, Ecko [worked] because it had a political bent and an interesting backstory. But in general, the hoax stuff has kind of run its course. It's got to have another layer to it to be interesting.

Frank Some genres will be really hot and run out, but that manner of delivering the stuff, taking it strictly out of television and into other places is certainly not going to stop. I watched a show like Entourage, which is kind of a good show, but the product placement was astonishingly unsubtle.

Kinka Usher It's also in tons of features. Marketing is invading everything. Corporations are looking at every possible outlet to reach you, from the youngest possible age until you're dead.

Randy I think all that stuff's going to evolve. I think as a culture the brands are important to us. Good or bad, we care about them. I will watch a Nike ad. I won't watch a Snuggle ad, but I think those things will get weeded out, but I think there will always be a place for it. It's part of entertainment.

What about trends that people have seen? There's been an onslaught of great visual effects in spots and also a lot of wonderful in-camera work, like what Nicolai did on \ Where do you think advertising's going?

Kinka Effects are finding themselves much more in the videogame realm. You're seeing them more like cartoons than subtly trying to enhance a story.

Neill But I think the audience is getting tired of computer graphics. People want to see a human being executed in reality and know things actually happened.

Kinka Well, whether they do or not, it's really the fact that it looks real.

Neill But computer graphics don't necessarily look real.

Kinka On "Balls" you don't see any effects.

There aren't any effects in "Balls."

Kinka But it feels like there is.

Stacy It's interesting, with Nicolai's piece and Randy's piece, there's this debate about whether or not it's real. You know that artist Andy Goldsworthy who goes out in the woods and makes icicles? I saw him give a speech and he said that he makes his pieces and then photographs them. That's what he uses to display his art. And he said it's getting to the point where there's so much digital manipulation that people don't believe that he does it anymore. That's a really interesting point as it relates to almost everything we do. I think it's great that it's all practical, but it's an interesting place where we are where that's even something that you want to make sure people know. You don't know what's true anymore.

Steve Spiderman, I didn't want to see it, because you know it's CG. I know it's a decent movie and everything, but I'd rather see something shot practically on a smaller scale that has some drama to it.

Stacy Brian's spot with Tracy McGrady, the Gulliver's Travels kind of piece, I could watch that over and over, and there's probably so much going on in that. I certainly hope that everything moves toward in camera because I'm not smart enough to do the other stuff. Brian should direct the next Spiderman and I might go see it.

Jim Brian's spot, though, it's just a good idea. "Balls" is a good idea. With a lot of agencies—now that everyone's seen Lord of the Rings, it's like, "Let's use massive." All of a sudden you see these boards with 10,000 people.

Kinka I'm a huge advocate of practical because that means I can control 100 percent of what's going on.

Mike Maguire I remember the first time seeing Twister. That was amazing. It was massive but there was a bit of restraint. Yet in King Kong where two guys are running through the jungle with the dinosaurs for like 20 minutes, it was so gratuitous. You felt like Peter Jackson didn't have the heart to walk back in to the CGI guys and say, "We've got to cut it out."

Neill, your stuff always looks so organic.

Neill The irony is that I loathe the visual effects process. I want to limit the amount of computer graphics and use what is real mostly. If you could have motion capture on a person who could walk around in real life, as opposed to in studio, I'd be interested in using that technology. To forfeit him engaging with real people kills it a little bit.

Kinka It's still about story. Once you get into the effects world, you lose part of yourself.

Jim We hand over big chunks of our time that should be spent on performance, or coverage. It's a pain, you know, but it all comes down to the idea.

Nicolai Fuglsig That's the difference between working in Europe and working in the United States. In Europe we tend to stay on the project until it's done, whether it's sound design, visual effects, prepping.

Jim Don't you think that makes the work better?

Nicolai Fuglsig, Randy Krallman, Paul Hunter
Nicolai Fuglsig, Randy Krallman, Paul Hunter
Nicolai For sure. A hell of a lot better. In the States, the tradition is you have to leave the project. Then the creatives totally take over, even after you've gone through the edit and stuff.

Frank Even before that, [you say] here's why we need to shoot it this way, here's how we need to cast this guy. It can't feel happy.

Kinka Then the agency goes, "That's OK, give us one happy take," and you end up giving them the happy take.

Frank And I promise you it's going to be in there. I have to say no, I have to now be an ass and say I don't want to do that.

Kevin Thomas You have to say no, but then you get the reputation.

Paul Hunter I think it depends on what point of the project you're on. If you have a new campaign and you're not following someone else, then you can get away with more. You come out the second time, they lure you into thinking Yeah, we're gonna do something cool and then you find out you're not doing something cool.

Kinka What about the radical idea of getting final cut? What about everybody getting together at the guild and say, "You know what, we're not working unless we get final cut?"

Paul It'd make the work better.

Brian I don't know if this is true but I was told that in the early '80s that directors finished projects. And then in the late '80s directors got greedy and wanted to move on to the next project, and that it was American directors' fault.

Kevin They'd be shooting back to back.

Kinka Well the editing process was a lot more complicated because there were chems and flatbeds and to make one change took half an hour. Now, it's push a button, it's far too easy to make changes. That's why in the early '80s when everyone was on flatbed, the director was in there working on edits because it was too complex, took too much time.

Steve I think a big part of it was also that in the '70s apparently, agency art directors shared production roles. They were considered producers and basically they were responsible for part of the edit, whereas a producer would normally have that role, art director-producer, apparently, so that's changed and Europe didn't have that.

Jim I wish there was some feature on AdCritic where you could say whether you assent or dissent with the cut.

Brian Or what if you had a directors cut section?

Kinka But aren't you exposing us to being difficult again? It's bad, but ultimately, it's got a really negative connotation if you go, I don't support this cut, everybody back at the company's like wow, we don't like them anymore.

Or, we could put that feature on and then people can judge for themselves whether your cut is better than the agency's.

Brian That's the way to do it, is let the work speak for itself. If a directors' cut was not something just for a directors reel, then that could be kind of cool. But I've got to say also there have been plenty of times when I'm grateful to have handed off the project and not have to go through that tedious process that so many agency creatives have to go through after you've left, with the client and then doing six different versions, and very often it ends up back where you started sometimes. That's kind of hell.

Stacy I was on that side. I was lazy and then I'd let the editor do their thing and then I'd maybe show up one day. It's kind of a boring analogy but it's kind of like The Old Man and the Sea, if the fish that comes back to shore somewhat resembles the fish that we caught then good for him, the process they have to go through, unless they have a great client, it's brutal. I've resisted doing directors cuts myself now because I just remember when I was a creative and directors cut would come in three months down the road after we'd battled with our clients to get something decent on the air and then someone would say, "Well did you see Fincher's directors cut of your spot?" And you'd look at it and it would be like 97 seconds long, it had no product in it. Yeah great, I would have loved to be a part of that.

Kinka Do you guys do all your own cuts?

Brian Beletic Always.

Kinka I don't, because I don't know where it gets me. Like it or not, I put out a reel, that's stuff that's on the air.

Neill You're putting what you believe is best forth.

Jim I try to not to do it too, unless it's really bad but I try to not do it too because part of being a director is getting it through and on the air.

Neill But if you do a directors cut, you're proving your point with it, they may go with it.

Steve It's the most frustrating thing in the world, when you have a cut you're happy with finally and you see something on the air that's a piece of shit.

Kinka Not only on the air, but on AdCritic and everything else .

Paul Do agencies look at director's cuts?

Stacy They look at AdCritic now. Thanks a lot, guys. I don't think they do look at reels anymore. They just sit on AdCritic and see what's the spot of the day.

Frank But how do you get a director's cut to be seen? There are times when you hand over your film and you're like, I don't think there's a way to screw this up.

Kinka I think ultimately you can really shoot for a good cut. If you shoot way too much coverage, you're screwing yourself. It's all about limiting what you're shooting and forcing the cut.

Jim John Ford used to say he did his editing in the shoot.

Stacy It's nice to meet some of you guys today for the first time, because despite all of that, you guys have still managed to put together great work. I'm not saying that we should pat ourselves on the back, but as you said, it is part of the game. I don't know what the politics were like on adidas or Ecko or any stuff that I like—but then you see something that's really good—I sort of grant it even more credit because that got on the air.

Jim I think it also happens more around personalities. That was [David] Droga. Brian, you were with [Chuck] McBride, who's great. I've never had a bad experience with Gerry Graf. Good people keep doing good work. Those are people you've got to deliver for.

Frank Can I give one "What the fuck!"? Treatments. There is a big cottage industry of treatment writers, which would suggest to me that people aren't writing their own treatments. And there's this misconception out there with agencies that they're getting their treatments written by the director himself. I've been in the situation and they're like, "OK, we need it tomorrow." Does it matter that I'm shooting right now? Someone else gave you this thing tomorrow, with pictures, 45 pages and a soundtrack. Do you believe that that person wrote it? Every time I've asked someone that, they're like, "Are you saying he didn't write it?" I'm like, "Yeah." The big crime is not that someone else is writing it, it's that people are getting these things and thinking the director did. If you really want this person to do it, let them actually write it and give them the time to do it. For me it's a question of full disclosure.

Kinka Usher
Kinka Usher
Kinka What we do is becoming a writer's medium, like the feature business is very much a writer's medium. More successful films are made by writer/directors.

Mike I think a great topic is balance. How do you find balance in your life? I'm engaged and I can't even believe I found time to ask a girl to marry me. There aren't enough hours in the day. Never mind all this horseshit that we always talk about. Give me some advice—how do you juggle it all?

Brian That's a question I ask every director and I've never gotten a good answer. The only decent answer I've ever gotten, which was still really lame, was from a producer. She said, "I take three months off in a year, three in a row." So I started doing that, in the summer.

Jim I took off six months last year.

Steve That's when I worked.

Brian I'd like to hear from Paul, because Paul is the busiest man I know. Do you have kids Paul?

Paul Yeah, I have one. When I have my time off, 100% no phones, no pagers, and just focus on my kid. A week, two weeks go by.

Brian How many music videos did you do in 2006?

Paul Two.

Brian How many commercials?

Paul One a month. That's about what everybody else does, right?

Randy No. You're an industry.

Paul I'm trying to build to get that script or that reel where I can take six months off. You're always trying to find that job where you're going to be able to do your thing. It's always building, building.

Neill I spent six months in 2005 on a commercial that never got used. That's my "What the fuck"!

Mike Dude, I spent a year and a half on a movie that never got used. Hollywood's just like advertising.

Steve We all like to think it's worse.

Paul I had a bad Hollywood experience, but a good Hollywood story. The project that I took [Bulletproof Monk], the script was horrible, but at the time I was really cocky, so I thought whatever I did, there wasn't anything I couldn't make better. And I totally got slapped in the face. It was a good eye opener for me. I'm not embarrassed to say that but I realized I couldn't yell and scream for a year to get my idea across. I don't have that much energy. To me, that's what it takes to do a Hollywood movie. I don't have that kind of personality, I'm very quiet.

KinkaI had a similar experience as Paul [on Mystery Men]. I came in thinking I could turn this thing around, and I was promised a lot of stuff, and a lot of things changed. You find that when you make a movie as a director that you're very far down the totem pole when it comes to making ideas happen. Anybody thinking about making a movie here, I think it's incumbent on you to write and develop your own idea, because if you're going to go in like Paul or I did as an action cut guy, you get swallowed up really quickly. I have to say, when you get to working with really great actors, they're like working with great creatives. It's the same experience. That was the best part of making the movie that I made. I really enjoyed the act of physically shooting it, but I loved everyday going to the set working with Geoffrey Rush or Ben Stiller and being able to have that dialogue with them was far and away the most amazing experience that you never find in a commercial.

Nicolai Mike, I'm dying to hear your story.

Mike A script came in to Tom [Kuntz] and me and it was the untitled The Onion movie. We started reading and we're like, "This is amazing." It was sooo funny. Fox Searchlight. We bid against other directors, we pitched and literally on the ride back to MJZ our agent called us back and said you guys got it! Right away there was this synergy about the entire process. We shot it, there were no producer problems on set, we edited with [Eric] Zumbrunnen, nothing indicative of something that's going to crash and burn. Then the first time we tested it, it scared the hell out of the studio people.

Frank For what reason?

Mike I think the studio was like, "Is this the kind of movie we want to align ourselves with?" It was racy and pushed a lot of buttons. And with that hesitation, it was like hesitating on an Onion story. Every day that passes, a joke can get a little bit stale. And I read something where Tom was asked, "What was your biggest regret about the movie?" And he said that we didn't just do it on video and get it out there. I agree. They put millions of dollars into it, it tested fairly well, but to them there's always a risk/reward.

Frank [To Alison Maclean] Did you write your film?

Alison Maclean I didn't write Jesus' Son. I wrote my first one [Crush, with Anne Kennedy] and I spent seven years writing what I'm trying to direct now. So I do a lot of writing. I don't have the studio experience, but I have the difficult all too near impossible independent experience, which is trying to sell or make a low budget feature that's unusual, trying to get movie stars attached. I spent all of last year waiting for movie stars to be available, so that's another version of difficulty.

Mike It's all difficult. There's never a part that's easy. It's all difficult. Risk reward.

Alison That's why you better care about what you're doing.

Kinka I have a question for you [Alison] because you come from features to our side. I've seen a lot of features try to make commercials and they're horrible. You're a special case because you've been able to cross into our world.

Alison Well, it probably took about four years to get that first commercial, before I got the first PSA and then commercial. I love the discipline of having to shoot a story in 30 seconds. I tend to get scripts that are more performance or character-based. So I'm always trying to break in now into the more visual storytelling and find that I get limited by the way people define me.

Can we talk a little about the career arc? Especially for the directors who have been at it for a while, has there been a change how you develop your career?

Kinka I think it's all cyclical. You're young and hot and then they want the new young and hot guy. Also, our work is relationship-based and those relationships don't always produce work every time. Sometimes those relationships can go south creatively, and then you can start to see your career flash before your eyes. So it's about ending those relationships and starting new ones. Another thing that happened to me was that a lot of the creatives that I worked with went on to be come directors, direct competitors. Could you imagine if Gerry Graf or Eric Silver went on to direct? Once they're gone, who's the relationship with?

Kevin, prior to working a lot in the U.S., you'd done a really broad range of work in the U.K. But now here, you're probably primarily known as a comedy director.

Kevin Thomas, Neill Blomkamp
Kevin Thomas, Neill Blomkamp
Kevin Yeah, I hate that. Basically I think it's much easier for a lot of agency producers to put you on a shelf with a category. I think if you're a good director, you're a good director. I lost a job recently because it was black and white and I didn't have anything in black and white on my reel. Citibank was so successful, which was a good thing and a bad thing. It was great but then you can believe the numbers of Citibank-type campaigns I get every week. So it's kind of frustrating because when I was working a lot in Europe I didn't get pigeonholed.

Were they not as inclined to do that there?

Kevin Not as much as here. There are a whole lot more directors and agencies here. It's much easier for a TV producer to put you on a certain shelf than to say, hang on, this guy might be right, just take a look at this.

Frank Because at some point they're going to have to put that reel in front of a client who's going, "Why do you want to use this person again?"

Stacy I didn't get a job just because they said I'd never shot pants. They literally said, "He's never shot pants."

Have any of you guys feel that somebody did take a risk with you and it opened up new possibilities?

Kinka I think that happens on low budget jobs, actually. That's where you can really make inroads in your career when you go back to smaller jobs in which they're just happy to have somebody.

Stacy I always admired Joe Pytka's work. His reel shows the ability to do anything. Years ago I wanted my reel to be eclectic, but luckily, the people at Epoch were smarter than me and said, "That's not working," so they focused it on comedy for a while and all of a sudden I got more boards. And also what you touched upon, doing a job that's for nothing because it's going to be really funny, good or interesting. You do that then just hope that AdCritic doesn't get the other one.

Pau I have a question for Brian because you have both humor and visual. How'd you build that?

Brian Kind of like a lot of these comments. But I have a lot of interests and I'm attracted to a lot of types of stories and visuals. Every project, like we all said, is just applying your artistic self to the story or the product that needs to be sold. I think the hardest time I ever had was when my reel wasn't streamlined. There are things that aren't on my reel that I wish were, but they make it too all over the place. So Brian Carmody said, "Let's try a comedy reel, a serious reel and a beauty reel and I'm just going to send those out accordingly." Board flow, immediately! It was like a bullet with a point.

Jim You have to go about it in different ways. I got this big campaign from Dave Droga for TBS. I barely knew him, but I introduced him to the client. You've got to do whatever you can do to get jobs that break you out.

Brian And then when you get sick of doing one thing you start pushing more seriously. I know you said agencies probably don't watch reels anymore, but a lot of the good boards do come from the young ad guys who don't know who's who. They're new to the game so they watch reels, so I think they're still important.

Kinka I have a question for everybody. Actors, one of the most difficult things for me about going into directing was how to work with actors.

Steve I think that's part of what you evaluate in casting. You look for intelligence, you look for somebody who is able to be in a situation, someone who's going to get, with all the information you can give them, how to be in that moment. I do most of that in casting.

Kinka What happens when you do that and he comes to the set and he sucks? Frank I had a guy who was great, and then he came in and had a complete brain freeze and couldn't remember the line. It was four words. You want to sort of say, "Are you kidding me?" But that just freezes them up a little bit more. You just step away and take the pressure off them. I actually had an experience being at an agency trying to direct actors in radio, actually. I learned a hell of a lot that way.

Mike I just chat them up, from day one.

Stacy I can't stand callbacks. I think callbacks are almost as useless as the wardrobe call. My personal experience is that I've known who I've wanted from the initial tapes and I just push through callbacks to get that guy for the job.

Brian I think it's the most important day of the job.

Alison Don't you every change your mind? I often change my mind.

Stacy I'm very stubborn and very lazy, which is a toxic combination. Everybody has their own way of doing it. I don't like callbacks because they take up workshop time for me to learn about the actor, how they react to direction. Most of the time, in callbacks they want it to be a dress rehearsal and they want to be able to hit the cue on the tape and play it at the meeting in two weeks and go, "That's my commercial."

Brian I think callbacks can be the most tiring day, but they can be the most important. You have to have a notepad open and you have to create an environment where there's silence if you need it, and you just write your notes because the worst person for the camera might have the best ad lib and you'll have to write it down because you won't remember.

Kinka I actually love callbacks. I do all my experimenting there. For me there's tremendous value in that. If there are 35 people, the first thing I do is say, "Cut the list down before we do this." But then when I'm in there, I'm blowing through people.

Stacy I need to learn how to do that. I can't even watch Making the Band and not cringe.

Steve In some cases, the most disrespectful part of the process is when a client says he likes number three but can't tell you why. That's like taking your direction away from you.

Frank Choosing the cast itself is part of the directing process. It's not like, give me some people and I'll direct them. I'm not going to draw blood from a stone.

Brian In my opinion, a good agency producer can make or break your experience.

Kinka I completely agree. There's nothing better than having a great creative producer, but I also have seen over the years the cutting back of production departments, and making them do more jobs, taking assistants away, and it is a big job.

Jim It's all about the creative director. A good creative director won't have bad producers working for him. In a bad agency, everyone reports to the account director. In a good agency, everyone reports to the creative director and everyone's responsible for the work.

Frank And a good account person is somebody who gets the work and gets behind it and is able to sell it to the client and articulate the idea better than anyone else in the group.

Jim I was on a shoot once where the account person disagreed with the creative in front of the client and the creative director fired him. It was a wonderful thing, but the creatives will do anything for that creative director from now on. It's all in service of the idea. All we offer is our ideas and when it's up to the account person to protect the ideas. . .

Alison MacLean
Alison MacLean
Alison Can I say one "What the fuck!"? Why am I the only woman in this group? In 2006 it's kind of pathetic.

Brian What needs to happen for there to be more female directors? Is it sexism or just a lack of women interested in directing?

Alison I think it's the former. I think some of those attitudes are there and they're hidden and entrenched. I work in both films and commercials and I feel that it's more blatant in advertising. People will actually say indirectly to me or to my production company that maybe if my name was Al the reel might have gone down a bit better or that women creatives have wanted me but they can't sell me to a client because it's a conservative client or that women aren't funny. I've heard things like that indirectly.

Kinka Luckily, we're a fairly progressive business, we'd all agree here.

Alison Are we?

Kinka There aren't that many female feature directors either. It's not just advertising, but all parts of society. How many women run Exxon? Certainly we can be much more proactive in getting women involved, but it's a tough deal.

Alison I agree.

Stacy First of all, it's not a joke, I think I've gotten a couple jobs, or gotten on calls where they thought I was a woman, and I think that's also the only reason I got into college. But Epoch is run by Mindy Goldberg, and when I first heard about Epoch there was Paula Grief, and right now on the roster there's Miranda July, and I think she's a genius. Her film was incredible. But what I think is almost equally embarrassing about the industry is I can count on one hand the number of creatives who are not white guys. I remember being a creative director trying personally to broaden the perspectives of the creative department through our hiring but also being given a mandate by the brands to go out and hire a great—I hate to be blunt—black writer. It sounds so pathetic, maybe it should go off the record, we tried. There are great talented guys, some of them we couldn't hire because they were doing their own thing and they didn't want to come, but it was even hard to find books. The ad schools have a dearth of them. When I looked at that cover [of Creativity, March '06] and saw that they're all white men, I thought that was embarrassing.

Randy I've been working with a lot more female creatives and I think it's now a more welcoming time for female directors. Not that it's happened yet, but I think it will because the times of the heavy-handed tyrannical guys who swing their dicks around and take control are kind of waning.

The people here who used to be at agencies, did you find a boy's club culture, an atmosphere that would make it difficult for a female creative director to rise to the top?

Steve I think definitely less so than other industries. There's a lot more female power in agencies than others.

Frank My wife until recently worked in network television. She was one of the few women there and it was really a boy's club. At an agency, it's much more democratic in that if you've got great ideas and you can bring it, you're going to get rewarded. I suppose there's always some measure of sexism, but I've known plenty of really talented creatives who are women, the extent to which they've decided to go to film. We have Pam Thomas at Moxie who's really talented.

Alison, when people come to you for your reel are they expecting some sort of "female" voice? Maybe people are expecting women to have a certain approach rather than their own personal point of view, which I think men are given the chance to do.

Alison I know I've definitely gotten jobs as a woman because the client is female—and their audience is primarily women, but it's hard to generalize.

Randy I certainly get the inverse of that where people come to me for my masculinity. It's difficult. (laughter)

Jim Jenkins, Steve Miller, Alison MacLean
Jim Jenkins, Steve Miller, Alison MacLean
Paul My personal experience has been being hired by an ad agency, guys walking into the room going, "I didn't know you were black." One of the things I've struggled with is really not being pigeonholed into working for those agencies or McDonald's, where everybody's like, "Yo!" It's been a grind, that's one of the reasons why I'm still in the building stage. I have to continue to build a career and that kind of speaks for itself. When I first started to try to get in the business, a lot of the production companies would say you're never going to be a director, no one's ever going to hire you. There's only one Spike Lee, there's only one John Singleton, and that's as far as it went. A lot of things changed when I started directing music videos. I ran into Nas last night and I was like, "You know, dude, you're one of the reasons why I made it, you gave me the opportunity just to be able to film, to get creative." But now the love of music and hip hop has opened up more things to African American kids, women. So it's all kind of changed. People are now more open. But it's really been a struggle to not be pigeonholed. I try to do things where no one can really identify where you're from.

Were you consciously thinking that on any job you took?

Paul When I first went over to HSI, the thing that we talked about was I wasn't going to take any work that came from black agencies. The idea was to get into agencies that were doing great work, so it took a long time.

Kinka Are you saying the black agencies were doing stereotypical work?

Paul Yeah.

Kinka Was it bad or stereotypical?

Paul Bad and stereotypical. The Goodbys aren't going to hire you; the Crispin Porters aren't going to hire you with that kind of work on your reel.

Jim What's the percentage of really great work anyway at any agency? It's small anyway to begin with, so what's the likelihood, since there are so few blacks in the business that their work is going to be good?

What is the creative like overall these days?

Randy I feel like I'm seeing a lot of stuff in transition, clients in transition. Agencies seem more pressed than ever. On shoots they're working on ten other jobs. I feel for them having come from that side. I feel more obligation to help plus shit because I feel like they're just exhausted.

Steve Do you think it's partially due to the way everything's fractured now? Because there are so many different outlets marketers really don't know where to put their money?

Frank You do have the ability to say no to something that's just not good, even if you don't do anything for a while. You want to try to maintain your integrity, and you start to wonder after a while, maybe everything's gotten a little less daring, or in some cases, much more daring.

Stacy I think it's just that I'm getting all the good boards, Frank, but I'll send them to you.

Can you all tell us your favorite ads outside of your own work?

Randy The new Wes Anderson spot [for Amex].I liked it more than his last movie.

Jim I'm a big fan of the evolution spot that Kleinman did.

Mike I like Nicolai's "Balls" piece. The first time I thought, That's too fucking long and then I watched it again and again. It was the most beautiful thing. It wasn't like, "Oh, I wish I'd done that," but it felt like it was done right. The person who did it, did it right.

Steve Exactly to that point, Tom [Kuntz]'s singing rabbit Skittles spot. Genius. It's so funny that you just said it, because I'm not jealous, it's just not in my vernacular but it's just so bizarre and beautiful. It's a really cool spot.

You did do a talking bass though. That was one of my favorites.

Mike If I were Nicolai, "Balls" would be my reel.

Nicolai I haven't gotten a single fucking job from that. And that's on the fucking record.

Outside of commercials, how do you keep your edge? How do you stay creative?

Nicolai Good food, beautiful women and tailored suits.

Mike I'm a big Rangers fan.

Paul I love food shopping, going through the aisles and looking at people.

Stacy Bob Dylan gave Eddie Vedder some advice one time. Vedder was like it's getting crazy, what do I do? And Bob Dylan, who I happen to think is a genius, said, "Don't watch TV." It sounds very self loathing and duplicitous, but I find myself my most boring when I fall into the trap of zoning out in front of the TV. I'd much rather be playing with my son or seeing an old movie that's passed me by.

Kevin Or just even walking around the streets, absorbing everything, listening to other people's conversations in a caf
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