Alex Blum

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The name T. Alex Blum appears in the opening credits as co-producer on the Fox film Behind Enemy Lines, starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman. Not a bad step for someone who's been doing spots all his life. "Producing movies is something I always wanted to do," says Blum, executive producer at the Santa Monica office of bicoastal Headquarters. But he's hard-pressed to admit that he had much to do with it. "I was able to do that because of my relationship with John and the place that his career is at," he explains. He's referring to the film's director, John Moore, whom he's repped in spots for the past two years. For Blum, success, whether it's in features or in advertising, has largely been about nurturing directors and letting creative passion lead the way.

"How we got where we are now is by developing and working with directors we believe in," he notes of his 10-year-old shop, which he runs with New York executive producer Tom Mooney. "We've always had more of a culture based on believing in individual directors, managing their careers in a long-term way and going wherever that goes." Consider the directing team known as Joe Public, who've been repped by Headquarters in the U.S. for the whole 10 years. "We literally started from absolute scratch as far as representing them here," says Blum. "But we really believed in their talent. Their work was distinctive, quirky and it had a great point of view, but it took a while for people to get it - and it took a while for us to get them working with people that would appreciate what they did." It took several years before they got their first big break, on some warped "Got Milk?" spots out of Goodby.

In recent years, Headquarters has built up quite the comedic reputation, not just with Joe Public, but also through Budweiser "What Are You Doing?" helmer Lloyd Stein, and even visual master David Cornell, who has noticeably added dashes of humor to spots for Visa and Charles Schwab. Last year the company launched BrandTV, a satellite that represents Sean Mullens (the guy behind Nintendo's nasty-squirrel spot) and Wayne Holloway, who directed the brilliant slapstick series of Adidas Olympics spots, featuring British comedian Lee Evans and BrandTV executive producer Bryan Farhy (see Creativity, September, 2001). All this funny business was never part of the master plan, however. "The talent that you represent takes you where you want to go," Blum notes.

Which brings us to how Blum got involved in Behind Enemy Lines. The producer lucked into his first film simply by backing Irish director Moore, he insists. "John's really talented and had done some interesting work when we took him on," he says. "It wasn't a question of getting him a lot of work in America; it was a question of getting him the right work." That happened to be the high-octane Sega "Apocalypse" spot, for FCB/San Francisco, which featured a butt-kicking Japanese cyberbabe thief, and aired during the 1999 MTV Movie Awards. The spot was noticed by the studios, and soon after Moore signed with Fox for the film. Making a movie was virgin territory for both Blum and Moore, who acted as a team throughout. "I was trying to play a positive role in helping John be as effective as possible, helping him navigate the process and helping everybody else understand him," Blum recalls. "It's a little bit like being a translator, trying to help everyone get the most effective results, because not everybody's communicating in the most effective way all the time. The same thing is true in advertising - it's about figuring out how to get the best creative result by managing the process intelligently. I don't care what kind of producing it is. That's what good producing is."

After 20 years in commercials, it's safe to say Blum is one who knows. In 1977 he got his start as an intern in the Paris office of Lintas, where collaborating with hot helmers like the Scott brothers and Adrian Lyne piqued his interest in production. Blum freelanced in New York as a PA, location scout and line producer, then spent four years as head of production at Dennis Guy & Hirsch before joining commercials vet Rick Levine. Blum eventually went on to run the U.S. branch of U.K. production shop Spots, working with directors like Michael Werk, David Cornell and Tarsem. After an ownership deal with the folks at Spots fell through, Blum, joined by co-executive producer Mooney and Cornell, opened Headquarters in New York and Santa Monica.

The ever-modest Blum says it's being surrounded by brilliance that keeps him revved. "There's sort of a test for me," he says. "I've had this feeling with John Moore talking about a movie script, or on conference calls with Joe Public, or in conversations with David Cornell about jobs: You're in a meeting with that director and they say something that makes you think, 'Fuck, that's so great! That's why you're a director and I'm not.' That's the fundamental part of it for me - working with talented people and helping them realize their ideas. I want to be around people that I find interesting on a creative level. I don't find the business in itself so fascinating that I want to do that every day."

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