Richard Sears does some mighty rowdy comedy work, including the well-known Sony "Klutz" spot, where a snowboarder stumbles around his kitchen, proudly showing off his scars, only to accidentally end up with a fork in his forehead.
It seems there may not be a softer side to this Sears. Take his ESPN spots from the popular "Baseball Dicks" campaign, especially the one in which the Zappa brothers track down a manufacturer of counterfeit 'signed' baseballs. Their quest leads them to a warehouse where they discover the culprit -- a clown-costumed Gary Coleman. The two dicks proceed to beat Coleman to a pulp. Aw -- little Gary Coleman? Can't pick on someone your own size? "He's the perfect person to torture; nobody's done it before," laughs Sears, who chalks it all up to the nature of man. "It's kind of in everyone's subconscious; not necessarily to see violence, but to push the boundaries a bit," he says. "Agency people want to do these kinds of things, but they are worried because they think, 'Oh, we can't get that on TV.' So we shoot it and then see if we can. In this case, they cleared it. In a lot of cases, they don't."
One boundary-push that didn't fly was Sears' version of a spot for Nintendo's Waialae Golf videogame, in which a hugely pregnant woman is trying to get her Neanderthal husband to put down his controller and take her to the hospital -- but he can't be bothered, he's putting. In the air version, we hear her scream, followed by the wails of a newborn. The director's cut is a little more graphic: prior to the baby's cry, the woman's water breaks -- clear across the room.
Sears' own birth took place in Southern California under less trying circumstances, and his interest in film started in his teens. "I didn't have one of those Spielberg things, like having a movie camera in my hand at age three," he says. Still, in the mid-'80s, "when independent films started popping, with directors like Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderberg," he decided filmmaking was "accessible" enough to give it a shot. Sears attended the San Francisco Art Institute, where he directed his thesis, An Evil Town, based on the story by Charles Bukowski. The film is as somber as it sounds. "This is straight violence, it's pretty dark," says Sears. "It's a tale about alienation."
The film captured the Best Short Film award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995, as well as winning at the New York Underground Film Festival that same year, and it also helped launch his commercials career. When Karen Coster, executive broadcast producer at Borders Perrin & Norrander, wanted "a menacing feel" for a Spirit Mountain Casinos spot -- in which a man is dragged off by a SWAT team after he removes the tag from his lounger -- she chose Sears. "We were looking for cinema, not camp," she says. "An Evil Town was one of the things that did it for us."
Lewis Kuperman, executive producer at FCB/New York, was also impressed by Sears' cinematic style, but what amazed him most was the director's commitment to realism. In wacky 1-800-AT&T spots with actor David Arquette, the actress slaps Arquette's face to kill a fly. Says Kuperman, "I was going to do it as a CGI post effect, but Sears had a different idea. He called in 'the fly guy.' I don't know how he does it, but he ties a fishing line on the fly and lets it loose. Sure enough, it landed on Arquette's cheek. We got two really good takes in under a half hour, and not one fly died."
Though he's only 28, Sears, who directs at HKM, already has a feature under his belt: Bongwater, starring Alicia Witt from Cybill and Andy Dick from NewsRadio. The romantic comedy about a pot dealer is currently awaiting domestic distribution after several successful screenings at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival. Sears' future plans include shooting another indie feature next year, Gypsy Hearts, but he has no desire to do the next blockbuster. "I'm not planning to follow in the footsteps of Michael Bay," he says. "I prefer independent films: better stories, more character-driven, more freedom."
Despite his film aspirations, Sears won't give up on the commercials world. "I like commercials," he says. "It's like an athlete practicing -- it keeps you