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Randy Hackett is another of the legion of up-and-coming directors with an agency background, but he stands out from most of this group -- he never worked at a hot shop, a megashop or even a mid-sized shop. The 40-year-old native New Yorker went to the University of Vermont, where he studied English and political science. He started in 1985 at a local agency in Washington D.C., then he was a speechwriter for the Democrats and a political commercials producer there. In 1992, after a stint in Boston as a freelance copywriter, he became creative director at a little agency called The Neiman Group in Harrisburg, Pa. -- an area best known, as Hackett proudly points out, for Three Mile Island. But he didn't get there till a long time after the disaster, and he assures us he doesn't glow.

As far as Neiman may be from the bigtime, it neatly laid the foundation for Hackett's directing career. "They did a lot of television for statewide PSA-type campaigns -- anti-smoking, HIV testing and radon testing -- so it was a great opportunity to write and direct," he points out. "You'd never get this chance at a large shop. I was basically able to award myself everything that came across my desk and build a reel that ultimately was pretty funny." Indeed, not all of his Neiman shoots were grim PSA outings. In fact, a comedy spot from his Neiman days still survives on Hackett's reel. It's for a gas utility called UGI, and it's one of the funnier Eskimo jokes we've run across, in which an Inuit father, sitting in his igloo, says to the nerdy gas guy via subtitles: "My daughter likes you. I will permit you to marry her for 20 pelts and a Bruce Springsteen CD."

While at Neiman, Hackett knew he would eventually make the transition to directing. He left in '95 to join now defunct Reiss Pictures, then on to Open Frame, moving to New York-based Compulsive Pictures just a few months ago. He has some very inspired low-budget local comedy on his reel, including spots for Crunch Fitness' "No Judgments" campaign, from McCann-Erickson/New York. One spot features Kimi, a bizarre babe with her hair done in deranged pigtails, who sadly explains she spells her name with a smiley face over the final I. "I think everyone should have a happy name," she says mournfully.

"When they wrote Kimi, they envisioned a California cheerleader type," he says of the Crunch creatives. "Then, when we saw this woman, who's actually a PA, I said, 'This is Kimi.' And that's her own hair."

His recent Home Runs campaign, from Boston's Holland Mark Martin, sells grocery home delivery with women's exaggerated responses to the concept. One woman feels like she "won the sweepstakes," and proceeds to carry on in her house like an ecstatic lunatic while her enfeebled mother stares impassivley at a tiny TV on the kitchen counter. Another middle-aged woman, caught in the street without makeup, insists she'd marry the delivery boy, and she does, appearing at the impromptu wedding still without makeup, looking haggard but determined, as she swears, "I love you, grocery boy!"

Hackett also has his one spec spot still on the reel, since it's just too good to part with. It's a '98 AICP/MoMA winner he co-wrote for a service called Roommate Finders, in which a very annoying heavy guy, who actually takes evidentiary Polaroids of the interior of the fridge, chews out his three roomies for drinking his personal orange juice, moving the bottles in his cologne collection and using his special towel.

Hackett's Russell Stover Mother's Day candy spot is "definitely weird," he proudly notes. In a bit of cock-eyed Hitchcock, a guy plays both himself and his mother, as he gives her a box of chocolates. "Such a clever boy!" she says with a sinister smile as they sit on the couch together. "This was Russell Stover's first venture into comedy, and they were nervous about it," says Kirk Kirkpatrick, CD at Stover agency Bernstein-Rein in Kansas City. But the client turned out to be in good hands. "Randy has a spontaneous sense of humor, even while he's shooting," Kirkpatrick notes. "We had to be on our toes, he was constantly coming up with new ideas. He's very much a perfectionist, as well. He spends time on the little things -- like art direction, wardrobe and propping -- that can make a good spot great."

"Casting, too, is something I spend a lot of time on, and I'm very anal about it," says Hackett. Though many of his spots are zany, they always have a certain depth of detail -- like the little bride and delivery boy figures atop the Home Runs wedding cake -- that makes them almost strangely profound. Hackett's not a Zucker Bros. kind of comedy guy, for example, he notes. He says they're "too broad." Stanley Kubrick and Dr. Strangelove are more his style. "Performances that are subtle and understated in outrageous situations," he muses. "Dark humor, a staple of English and European comedy. It's becoming more acceptable in America, now that Americans are so jaded."

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