Crossing over

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Stacy Wall is determined to cure himself. A long-time copywriter and creative director currently at Wieden & Kennedy, New York, he suffers from a common ad industry-related ailment: chronic short attention span.

Mr. Wall, 33, finds himself talking to co-workers, friends even his family in 30- to 60-second bursts.

"I think a lot of people in advertising have this rap," Mr. Wall said. "You get into the rhythm and habit of writing things in 30-second installments, and you can't even have conversations with your friends that last longer than 30 seconds, just because you're so used to that."

Mr. Wall's remedy is radical. He's made the jump from commercials to content. In August, he will join the production company Hungry Man in New York to work in TV program development. "Can I tell a longer story, can I sustain some of these ideas that work in intense bites and create something that can be sustained in a longer form? That's what I want to try."


Across the pond, Larry Frey is making a similar leap. Mr. Frey, 46, formerly a creative director at the hot shop 180 in Amsterdam, was once a partner with Mr. Wall at Wieden. This month he moves back to New York to join @radicalmedia, the commercial production company.

"Larry was heading our way when he got sidetracked by 180," said Jon Kamen, @radicalmedia's executive producer. "He was always leaving Wieden to join radical as a director. He got distracted."

180 is the ad agency that was formed two years ago by a trio of Wieden's Amsterdam creatives who had been fired for pitching the Adidas account while still at the agency. Mr. Frey joined the group after he had resigned as creative director at Wieden's office in Tokyo.

He originally intended to work with @radicalmedia back then, but decided to help out his friends at 180. "I just thought I'd hang out in Amsterdam and help these guys out and then I'd go my merry way, back to New York ASAP and do some directing," said Mr. Frey. "And the next thing I knew, we had an agency."

The agency has grown to 50 people, and now Mr. Frey feels it can function fine without him. "I'm out the door, finally," he said. He is moving back to New York, with two jobs directing spots already lined up, one in Copenhagen and another in Stockholm. Mr. Frey expects to circumvent the Screen Actors Guild strike by doing most of his work overseas. "If I keep working over here until the SAG strike is over, I'll be fine," he said. "There's enough work kicking around on the Continent, and there are only a handful of Americans working over here. And there's work in Canada."

Mr. Frey has one leg up on other creatives who want to cross over. Before getting into advertising he worked as a production designer and grip. "I'm sure there are a number of people out there who would love to see me fail, but I'm not about to give them the opportunity," said Mr. Frey. "I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a creative guy say `Yeah, I'm thinking of directing.' It's so much more difficult than you think it is."


Although he'll be primarily directing commercials, Mr. Frey is also expected to get involved, like Mr. Wall at Hungry Man, with TV programming. "We have several projects underway with a variety of networks," said Mr. Kamen, who indicated that the company is currently developing a TV show for ESPN.

Commercial production companies such as Mr. Kamen's have been diversifying into TV to keep directors happy. "We can offer our talent great opportunities in things other then just commercial careers. In order to create a viable production entity, one needs to consider these opportunities for the talent."

@radicalmedia is also embarking on a joint venture with Zentropa, the Copenhagen-based production company run by Danish director Lars V0n Trier, one of the originators of the "Dogma" low-budget philosophy of shooting feature films on digital tape with available light. Mr. Frey who has worked in Scandanavia before, is expected to continue working there and will do so out of the Zentropa office, according to Mr. Kamen.

Diversification is another way for production companies to stay afloat in the face of events such as the now nine-week-old SAG strike, which is slowing commercial production. "It's only logical for us," said Mr. Kamen. "We need to maintain the revenue stream. Our margins have been constantly narrowing in the traditional commercial business. We're forced to consider other opportunities to grow our businesses."

The phenomenon of crossovers, creatives who leave agencies to become directors, is a recurring theme in the commercial production business. Thirty years ago a Young & Rubicam creative director named Bob Giraldi quit the agency and put out a shingle for his own eponymous production company, now called Giraldi Suarez. Mr. Giraldi just finished shooting "Dinner Rush," a feature film starring Danny Aiello.


Chuck Bennett, 47, and Clay Williams, 38, former managing partners and creative directors at TBWA/Chiat/Day in Play del Rey, Calif., have both just joined Crossroads Films, a commercial production shop that also has diversified into feature films and TV production. The creative duo is well known for having dreamed up the Taco Bell chihuahua campaign and played a big role in Nissan North America's "Enjoy the ride" work. "We've offered them the TV option, but their focus initially is directing commercials," said Cami Taylor, partner and executive producer of Crossroads. "Once that is in place, I'm hoping they'll get into some of the other areas that we are into."

Meanwhile, over at Hungry Man, Mr. Wall also expects to direct commercials in addition to developing TV shows. "I think Stacy will make a great tabletop director," joked Hank Perlman, referring to the lowliest of directing gigs. Mr. Perlman, a partner and director at Hungry Man and another Wieden alumnus, left the agency creative world several years ago.


Along with another agency exile Bryan Buckley, formerly of Chiat/Day and Buckley/DeCerchio, New York, and Steve Orent, a producer, Mr. Perlman created Hungry Man. Their production company has developed a strong reputation for attention-grabbing comedy advertising, from ESPN SportsCenter spots to Nike's latest "More Love" ads, directed by Young Kim, a former Wieden art director

The company recently hired Alan Broce, 36, a former marketing director at ESPN and an executive producer in MTV's on-air promotions department. Mr. Broce now heads the TV production unit at Hungry Man, which recently signed a production deal with Basic Entertainment, formerly Brillstein Grey.

"We're learning the entertainment business," Mr. Broce said. "In the television world we're basically starting over, trying to leverage what we have done in advertising to stake out a new voice in television."

The company created a pilot for Fox, financed by Basic Entertainment and Columbia Tristar, called "The No. 1 Show in America," a wacky "Laugh-In"-style variety show that was written by Messrs. Perlman, Wall and Broce. Now Hungry Man is preparing to shoot another pilot for Fox in September, a show called "OBF: The Continuing Misadventures of the Official Block Family," which Mr. Wall helped create. The company is producing it with Kevin Garnett, the famous forward of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The show is based on Mr. Garnett's life story as a high school ballplayer who goes pro.


Mr. Wall said he's seeing more people from advertising considering the move into creating content. "The world of television is looking for great ideas, and increasingly they are seeing that there are people with interesting ideas in this advertising world," Mr. Wall said. "It has become a place where producers come to find new voices, and new ideas."

It's not so easy to break through, however. "Our people come from Wieden & Kennedy and Fallon and Goodby, they're used to having good relationships with clients who give them a lot of freedom to be creative and do great work," said Mr. Broce. "For some creatives, when they come to television, they see it as daunting and frustrating. A lot of ad people stay in advertising."

"Who knows," said Mr. Wall, introspectively, "maybe the television business will decide that it doesn't work, and all us advertising people will come crawling back."

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