No Doubting Thomas

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Kevin Thomas seemed to appear out of nowhere when he raised American eyebrows on the wildly popular Citi "Identity Theft" campaign out of Fallon/Minneapolis, featuring unknowing cardholders who get burgled by dastardly ID thieves. Relying on a clever conceit that mismatches bodies and voices, the simple two-shot spots maximize the impact of the idea and the humor, true to form with Thomas' overall approach to directing. "It's very rare that you can break the rule that simplicity is always best," notes the 42-year-old U.K. native, who works out of his own Thomas/Thomas Films in London. On Citi's hijacked bodies, "That's such a simple idea you don't want to be too fussy with it. It's the lip synch that makes it funny. All I had to do was get the casting and timing right and keep it simple visually. I really believe that good direction is quite often about showing restraint, not about trying to be too clever." Since that first round, in the U.S. Thomas has wrapped another set of ID theft spots, as well as a locker-room laffer for Bud Light, featuring a man whose space gets violated by a crew of his naked buddies. He also directed some absurdly funny cinema-inspired work for Eclipse gum, depicting uncomfortably close breath "tests" in a courtroom and a '50s sci-fi lab.

Speaking of sci-fi labs, where did this guy come from anyway? Turns out he's been churning out impressive work for years in Europe. "I wouldn't say I ignored America, but I first wanted to get a good reputation on my home turf with my peers," he explains. A tough gig-his cohorts were agency folks who had seen him produce award-winning work as a creative at Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO, TBWA, Lowe, and M&C Saatchi. He moved into directing full time in 1998, first repped out of Blink and then Godman, before he opened Thomas/Thomas Films with producer/partner Philippa Thomas (no relation) in 2000. Keen commercials observers might recall his spots out of Forsman & Bodenfors for Scandinavian telecom corporation Comviq, like one featuring a tennis match in which the announcer turns out to be a loud talker on his mobile phone and the more recent "Leonard," in which a husband arriving home early doesn't realize his mobile isn't ringing until his wife's naked lover emerges from a closet to answer a different cell phone.

All this funny business implies that Thomas is something of a card-which he is. "It was rare that we weren't cracking up during the entire process," notes Fallon writer Ryan Peck of Citi. "When you get along as well as we did and share the same mildly-retarded sensibilities, the work tends to get funnier at every turn." Abroad, however, Thomas has proven himself more an all-around talent than class clown. "In America I like that people think I'm a comedy director because comedy is one of the hardest things to do," he says. "But I'd like people to see other sides of me as well." Clearly, there are many. He also directed a stirring Silver Lion-winning PSA about a man who assaults every fourth woman he runs into, humanizing the hard statistics of male violence toward females. He also paints visuals like a commercials Picasso, as in the dramatic Icelandic landscapes featured on a commercial for Orange. Even more impressive is his recent Carling beer spot featuring hordes of citizens raucously engaged in a massive pickup soccer game, using the Glasgow cityscape as their playing field.

Repped in the U.S. by Sandi Mollod, Thomas just signed to direct a nine-spot NBA Finals campaign for Mother/New York and plans to settle here for the summer to solidify his Stateside presence. Building trusting partnerships that ensure good work hasn't been easy, but he's doing pretty well for the new kid on the American block. "I'd work with him on anything," says Fallon's Peck. "He's collaborative, super-funny, down-to-earth, and he wears glittery shoes." Shoes that hopefully will continue to lead him to fresh, creative places. "If Citi hadn't come along with an agency that allowed me to be hands-on, my American reputation could have been a completely different kettle of fish," Thomas reflects. "I'm getting all this great stuff from the States now, but it could be that I'm really struggling. You've got to be good, but you've got to be lucky as well."

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