It may have helped that his reel was practically an audition tape. It included spots from producing at BBDO/Toronto, where the Toronto-raised, Ryerson University film grad had spent seven years working with clients like Polaroid, Chrysler, and Red Dog. But he also tossed in some footage of himself, sitting before the camera giving play-by-plays on how milestone ads like "Revolution" were assembled. "It was just to show insight and that I was smart about it," he explains. Obsessed is more like it. "I was a bit of a junkie," he admits. "I still am." Lu had been a fan of Nike spots from high school, and even today he's given to citing Nike moments of yore. His encyclopedia's worth of knowledge must have come in handy from day one on the job.
"It was like baptism by fire," he recalls. Lu had hardly settled into his temporary corporate digs in Portland when the proverbial phone rang. Off he was to Tokyo, where he was going to produce Nike's introduction of "Just Do It" for W+K/Tokyo, directed by Pam Thomas and featuring a blind long jumper and a Japanese baseball star. "It's really weird. It's like they give you the keys to this brand new car and say, 'Here, go, have a good time.' But wait, how do you work this thing?" He must have figured it out, because he pulled those off with finesse and continues to oversee production on much of the client's international work, including Nike's first women-centered campaigns for Asia, and the mind-boggling Nike "Live" campaign for Latin America. With $250,000 and six weeks, he produced 72 spots, which earned a Gold Media Lion at Cannes. Lu has domestic standouts as well. He executive-produced the "Why Sport" campaign, featuring directors Dante Ariola, Tarsem and Phil Joanou. He produced one of Creativity's nominees for 2002 Spot of the Year, "Before," directed by Lance Acord; the retro "Funk Ship" basketball campaign, directed by the Hughes Brothers; and Road to Paris (co-produced with Bill Davenport), Nike's first longform project, featuring Lance Armstrong, which aired on the CBS/Outdoor Life Network. And it's not just Nike. Lu was also on board for the agency's award-winning AltaVista campaign, featuring Garry Kasparov and Pamela Anderson.
With all the producing projects, it's a wonder how Lu has managed to emerge as a gifted director, as well. Besides co-directing the Latin America "Live" campaign, he directed the fictional Nike commercial that appeared as the center of the brawl between Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson in What Women Want. On his latest, not to mention most difficult project to date, Lu was back in Japan as producer and director of Wieden/Tokyo's touching spots for an after school learning program called Kumon, which intersperse contemplative portraits of Japanese children in the classroom with shots from the cityscape. Lu has also applied his deft touch to personal film projects. His shorts, Fish and Miguel, which he managed to shoot overseas after wrapping big commercials jobs, have been well-received on the indie film circuit. The latter was an official selection at Sundance 2001. Like his recent Kumon work, his shorts are rife with moving, well-composed portraiture that demonstrate a natural photographic eye, but Lu insists it's more about being a documentarian than a visual stylist. "I think of myself more as someone who finds real moments and honest connections. I'm less worried about how something will look. I know it doesn't really look like it, but everything doesn't need to be in place. Joe Pytka once told me that anything that's in the frame that doesn't further the drama or communication just gets in the way. It's always stuck with me.
"I honestly believe that going to Wieden has given me what I call my master's in film production," he adds. "I've worked with so many great people that can help me tell my story better, make it look better, or sound better. But the biggest thing I've learned from my mentors is about passion. You have to be passionate about the work. That's what ties everybody together. That's the common thread."