THE CHILD (LIKE) PRODIGY - Nicolai Fuglsig, MJZ
Perhaps it wasn't until he showed his Sony "Balls" that the industry took proper notice of Nicolai Fuglsig. Even before that, the director of the awards-contending in-camera beaut had never been shy about going all-out on a job, having channeled his boundless energy to massive, complicated productions for Mercedes, adidas and Fox Sports. Commercials might seem an odd forum for the Denmark native, who started out on the frontlines, first fighting as a soldier in the Danish army and then snapping up photos as a photojournalist during the Kosovo war. But the director, who admits to being afflicted with a bit of the Peter Pan syndrome, has never been one to sit still. Here, he discussess his inspirations and where he hopes to head next. AD
What is the most important thing about directing to you?
To throw every single cinematic heartbeat and your soul into it, no matter what and hope that it very much inspires everyone around you to do the same and more.
What did you learn from your experience on "Balls"? How did you make sure everything went smoothly?
I learned to trust my gut instinct, think fast, adapt and act. Smoothly? Well, in spite of damaging 32 cars and six houses it could easily have been a ballet of even more destruction and logistical nightmares, but I just grabbed my own sweaty balls and a riot shield and jumped straight into the beauty of the unknown trying to tame the colorful beast to perfection.
You're known for constructing little models of every shoot you do. What kind of setup did you have for "Balls"?
Well, building models or doing miniature style battle plans is only a minor and early part of my preparations, but if I can play it out on a small scale, I am so much better at directing and executing it out in the really big dollhouse of life. For "Balls" I had great fun with a few spare shoeboxes, some toy cars and a bag of tiny multi-colored paintballs.
What are your thoughts on in-camera versus visual effects?
I've become more and more a fan of the in-camera approach but I must say I do love the postproduction collaboration. And when we finally get it right it can be just magical.
You're also known for you childlike point of view and your playfulness. Where does that come from?
Yeah, being an alpha male ladies man trapped in childhood really sucks! I guess it's time to grow up and commit. But I'm driven by an always naive curiosity. I'm a serious player who wants to keep playing the challenging games. I will always be a playful human being.
Who or what is your biggest creative inspiration? Why?
I am a big sucker for news and the hardcore realities of real life. The whole world around me is what inspires me most.
Who is your favorite filmmaker? Why?
Without a doubt Michael Mann because he is such a serious player who always get his reality-inspired stories right. His uncompromising and very cinematic details creep under my skin.
What is you favorite film? Why?
Heat is my favorite film because of great acting, a heist and a shootout like no other.
Who's the person you'd most like to have a one-on-one conversation with?
I would like to have a one-on-one conversation with a kid of my own, but maybe it will never happen.
What impression would you like to leave people with about yourself?
That I have inspired them so also they will follow their hearts in everything they do.
When's the last time you questioned yourself? Why?
I do it all the time. I am the biggest critic of my own work and the moves that I make.
Where are you heading?
One day I want to do some fucking great movies. That is for sure where I am heading.
THE SOLO STANDUP - Tom Kuntz, MJZ
Tom Kuntz, formerly half of late directing duo Kuntz and Maguire, hasn't skipped a career beat since making the solo leap. This year he continued to build his stash of comedic gold spanning from broad —he shot MacGyver for Mastercard—to tastefully dark, with spots for Amp'd Mobile, Starbucks, and Skittles, the latter for which he's helped to craft a delightfully bizarre new identity, on offbeat laffers like "Beard," "Leak," and "Trade," featuring the lovable but unbearable opera-singing rabbit. AD
Describe your approach. What kind of lens do you see the world through?
I generally look for something interesting to grab onto. It may be a character, it may be a dynamic between two characters, it may be a piece of art direction. Once I have something interesting to hold onto, then I build on it from there, always trying to maintain that first that thing that excited me.
You've done really well as a solo artist. What have you learned about directing on your own?
I've learned that I still love my job. When Mike [Maguire] went off to do his thing, part of me simply wondered whether I would still enjoy doing what I do. And the truth of the matter is that I love my job now more than ever before.
What was the most challenging aspect about Skittles' "Beard"?
The main thing I knew was that I wanted the bearded man to have this strange disposition of steely confidence, of being aloof to the point of almost being rude and condescending. And that the woman should also have her own issues of wanting to be loved, that he subtly touches on when he strokes her cheek. It was very hard to find an actress who could deliver that subtle level of emotion, but I think she did a great job. She seems so sad to me.
What about "Trade"? It almost reads like a mini movie.
I was very interested in making these characters less "comedic" than the earlier spots, because I had a strong notion that the comedy here was in the content itself. It read like some sad fairy tale.
The rabbit has a very annoying charisma to him. How did you achieve that?
That was exactly what we were going for. From day one we said this rabbit has to be annoying, yet we must love him and find him amusing. I find that to be one of the hardest types of characters to cast; someone who needs to be annoying, yet not annoying, if that makes any sense.
Who is your favorite filmmaker?
If forced, I'd probably say I'm most inspired by David Lynch's ability to have a long, successful career while never seeming to compromise, and for the most part, creating these amazing, insane, art films. I would love to have a career like his.
THE BIG SCREEN GEMS - Phil Morrison, Epoch Films; Bennett Miller, Hungry Man; Dayton/Faris, Bob Industries; Jason Reitman, TateUSA
It's not often that a commercials director will make the big screen leap and return with his creative soul intact. It's even more rare for five of them to do so, in a single year, and come out not just bitter-free, but more glowing and successful than most of the Hollywood fray. The directors you see here did just that. Newly minted household name Bennett Miller reached the stratosphere directing Capote, which earned him an Oscar nomination in the company of heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, George Clooney, and Paul Haggis. Dayton/Faris succeeded in moving the most dollars ever at Sundance, for their endearing charmer Little Miss Sunshine, which opens in wide release next month (out of Fox Searchlight). Phil Morrison received critical praise for his character-rich family portrait Junebug; and Hollywood scion Jason Reitman proved his silverscreen prowess on the indie hit Thank You For Smoking. Here, four of the directors discuss their take on the craft, and how they're feeling about their newfound home on the big screen. AD
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
How would you characterize your point of view?
Jonathan Dayton: I think that first and foremost our approach is really about the intersection of our two sensibilities.
Valerie Faris: One place our sensibilities intersect is in bringing a kind of humanity to characters, not reducing them to caricatures.
JD: Like on the film, it wasn't about being a visual. It was much more about getting that mix of humor, and melancholy and emotion. That was much more of a challenge than being funny or visual. We liked the mix that the film allowed us to explore.
What's the most important thing to you about directing?
JD: Starting fresh each time. I think what always surprises me is that even though we've been doing this for a long time, I always feel like I'm starting over each time.
VF: Yeah, never feeling like you've figured it out. Being open. That's pretty important.
Looking back on the whole experience of making your film, what was your biggest challenge?
VF: I think for me, it was the time that it took to get it greenlit basically. That time of wondering if it was ever going to happen was definitely the most challenging.
JD: It's so nice to sit here and talk about the struggle, but the fact is that when we were struggling, we had no idea it was ever going to happen and we'd invested so much time and energy. It's a real act of faith to keep going even though you don't know what's going to happen. That was the hardest.
How has the experience affected your view toward directing?
VF: I think it's made us approach things slightly differently because it's a different process we used in planning the film than we did in the past. Commercials are very storyboard-based and for the film, we did plan everything out, but we didn't have fixed ideas of what each shot would be. We mostly concentrated on the staging and the location, and thought mostly about actors, performances, behavior and movement. Once you get all that working right, it's very easy to find great angles.
What's your biggest creative inspiration?
JD:It changes all the time. I always go back to Billy Wilder.
VF: Hal Ashby, Saul Steinberg we absolutely love. If you look at any of his books, they're just full of ideas. It's an endless pursuit.
What's your most recent favorite piece of art?
JD: Sufjan Steven's last record, "Come on Feel the Illinoise."
VF: Also this year I really loved this film called The Five Obstructions. Lars Von Trier really admired this director [Jorgen Leth] who has been out of commission, so he brought him back and made him do these five films, all based on a film he had done in the '60s [The Perfect Human].
JD: It's an incredible film about the creative process.
What's the most important thing about directing?
For me it's about being free of too many pre-conceived notions, being open to surprises, being eager to be surprised. Not thinking something is "right" when it conforms to what I expected in advance, but rather to experience it the way I would if I were in the audience.
What kind of lens do you see the world through?
pm Mostly I just want stuff to be funny or sad in a way that takes right and wrong into account, and respects the difference. Just try to avoid being cynical. Try to be aware when it's creeping in and shake it off.
What was your biggest challenge in directing Junebug? Did your experience in commercials help you at all with this? What new things about directing did you learn from the film?
The biggest challenge on Junebug was time. We shot it very very quickly. On TV commercials I usually try to work toward a moment with the actors where we don't cut. We keep rolling and all the stuff we've talked about between the previous takes has sunk in and the actors can go beyond stuff that's merely right or appropriate to something more surprising or emotional or subtle or not-subtle, or whatever the thing is that is somehow simultaneously perfect, but not what you every would've expected. (Then, of course, you hope that's what will end up in the commercial.) But on Junebug, there was rarely time for that. It had to be more exacting, less free-wheeling.
Has your approach to directing changed?
I can think of two good changes. One is that I've gotten some really nice responses from creatives about Junebug. That's been gratifying. For instance, I don't know for sure, but I got the feeling that having made the movie had more to do with getting that Volkswagen job ["Safe Happens" spots] than having made commercials. And I was very happy to get to do that job. The other thing is that I think inevitably commercials reflect the vibe of the set and the people working on them. The Junebug crew included many of the people who I work with all the time on commercials (DP Peter Donahue and his crew, production designer Dave Doernberg and his crew, costume designer Danielle Kays, AD Chip Signore). The movie was produced by Mindy Goldberg and Epoch, with whom I've made commercials for a long time. There's an authentic familial spirit at Epoch. Making the movie only made this stronger, I think. So now, every time we shoot a commercial, it's like a reunion.
Jason Reitman, TateUSA
What's the most important thing about directing for you?
No matter what you are directing, feature or commercial, drama or comedy, tone is the inexplicable thread that holds a narrative together. At the end of the day, tone is the only thing a director is truly responsible to bring to the table. Nothing bugs me more than a film in which the tone changes from moment to moment.
Who or what your biggest inspiration/influence when it comes to your craft?
Probably music. I usually can't get my head around a story until I have a song in my head that sets the mood for the narrative. I consider myself a pretty rhythmic filmmaker–this translates to dialogue, shooting, and editing.
How does the experience of directing a film differ from directing spots?
They are actually very similar. At the end of the day, you're trying to tell a story. You run into the same problems in all mediums of filmmaking. As a director, you're measured by your ability to respond to those challenges. The feature obviously carries the issue of stamina and of scope, but the day-to-day is very similar. I suppose one big change in my particular case was the incredible talent I got to work with on TYFS and how their celebrity changes the mood of a set.
THE INSPIRATION - Mark Romanek, Anonymous Content
Mark Romanek is the kind of creative idol who'd be on posters above beds of aspiring creatives and directors. His meticulous attention to detail and relentless commitment to innovation have overwhelmingly yielded filmic works of wonder. His clips always serve to shed dazzling, sometimes controversial light on their subjects, including the late Johnny Cash, Jay-Z, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna and No Doubt. Of late, the director has been slowly building his commercials oeuvre, with impressive entries for ESPN, Nike and Acura to recent work for iPod and Olympus. AD
How would you describe the lens through which you see the world?
I have a new daughter, so in general, I am trying to stay optimistic about the "human experiment," but it's hard these days.
What's the most important thing about directing?
Staying in the moment.
You're consistently cited by the creative community as a huge source of inspiration. Who or what is your biggest creative influence?
Nature. Human and otherwise.
What's been your most fulfilling advertising experience?
The ESPN "Makeshift" spot I did with Wieden & Kennedy was the most fun I've ever had shooting a job. And it turned out well.
What's been the most fulfilling job of your career?
mr Writing and directing One Hour Photo was quite fulfilling. It's by no means a perfect movie, but it was more challenging than making a spot or a video, hence more satisfying/rewarding. Making the Johnny Cash "Hurt" video was quite a fulfilling experience as well.
What did you learn about Hollywood? It's been reported that you had signed to direct A Million Little Pieces. What do you think of the whole James Frey debacle?
One thing I've learned about Hollywood is, if they think they can sell it in a thirty-second spot, then they might make it—I'm not sure there's anything terribly wrong with that, by the way. As for James Frey, I think he was forced to choose between publishing the book as non-fiction or not having it published at all and he made a grave error of judgment. That said, I think Oprah Winfrey's public flailing of him was hypocritical, nauseating and disgraceful.
What is your favorite film, book, song or work of art?
Film: Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fellini's 8