You're probably not yet familiar with Jaume Collett Serra, known simply as Jaume, pronounced JAH-ma. That's Catalan for James. He's from Barcelona, just like Manuel from Fawlty Towers, but don't worry, unlike Manuel, his English is good. And also unlike Manuel, he's pretty good at what he does. In fact, he's already got something of a killer reel, and he just turned 24.
In the spirit of impulsive youth, Jaume, who is signed with The End in Los Angeles, gets off to an arresting start with his reel intro. A monk writes in a book, drinks soup and has what appears to be a hallucinogenic freakout. Then a nail appears in his mouth, which he places in a candle already studded with nails. Finally, he throws the soup on a wall, where "Jaume" is chiseled in flames.
Though it looks rather sophisticated, "I shot it in my garage for $1,000 with a Bolex," Jaume explains. It seems that after joining The End, he couldn't quickly get a music video gig to his liking; "I went three or four months without directing anything, and I was getting frustrated," he recalls. "So I made an explosion of imagery that I felt inside. I built this little set, I contacted this actor who looked like a monk and I shot it over a weekend. The soup is myself. The monk eats the soup and takes a trip. Then he takes the nail from his mouth and puts it in the candle and you can see he's been there before. I am the experience."
Sounds a mite bombastic, but when Jaume says he's the soup, just shut up and ask for the crackers, because the open is followed by an extended AOL spec spot that's the soup and the salad. It's about a man with only one outlet in his room who tries to simultaneously operate a fan, a record player and a lamp, and suffice it to say it's a very Euro-intense visual tour de force. Jaume also has a Bulgari watch spec spot as well as some little-known, low-budget real spots on his reel, for Sony Playstation, AMF bowling balls and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, all of which are quite visually seductive in their own way.
Then he got a big break a few months ago, when a visually-driven Latin American-market Miller Lite campaign, designed with crossover potential by Square One in Dallas, went mainstream-national via Fallon McElligott. The campaign is led by the "Tamale" spot, in which a thirsty sap stops at a dusty roadside eatery and orders a beer, but first the mysterious mandarin behind the counter has him eat something homemade -- which instantly turns him to dust. The beer goes back in the fridge and the counter stool is cleaned off for the next victim. It's an old routine, but it's never looked this good before. Other spots in the campaign feature an amoeba-sized party dude who woos a lab technician from under the microscope, and a blindfolded man who beats everything at a party except the pinata, both very accomplished.
So where do you go to school to hone this kind of talent? Art Center in Pasadena? Jaume came close when he moved to L.A. at the age of 18 to study filmmaking, but he went to the Columbia Film School, which is "like the worst film school in the world," he says. "I wasn't familiar with Los Angeles, I didn't know what I was getting into. I picked my college from one of those thick books that list all the schools. I thought the name was cool, and I just went where I could get a visa. I knew USC and UCLA, but USC I couldn't afford and UCLA wouldn't accept me."
He stayed at Columbia four years and completed the program at night, working by day as an editor for his last two years at L.A. post house Nonlinear. "That's really where I learned everything," he says. He was editing music videos "for a lot of crappy bands," and figured he could do much better himself. So he put $3,000 of his own money into a video for a song called "Don't Be Long" by a band called the Tories, which came to the attention of The End. That was the beginning. "They found me," he says. The video features the band playing in a rising freight elevator intercut with street shots of a guy who is eventually struck by a car, only to turn up in the elevator as it ascends to what may be heaven -- but whatever's going on, it's got that lush Jaume look.
"When I first met him, he was armed with only this one music video," recalls The End exec producer Luke Thornton, "but it was clear he'd grasped a very subtle narrative; slightly dark, very tongue in cheek. There's a shot that has a coin flipping -- something he'd generated on the Mac and seamlessly integrated into the video. I was very impressed with that. I was hoping we'd build him as a music video director, but then he went off and shot his open by himself. I was completely blown away by it. So we gave him money to make some spec spots. He did AOL and Bulgari, and I was completely blown away by them."
So what's Jaume's secret? "It's a highly textural look, very polished filmmaking," says Thornton. "Is there a trick? The trick is in his head. He's just in command of film. I met his mother, a very nice lady. She says he was always like this."
Maybe it's the editing experience that makes the difference? "I think it's just in me," Jaume says. "When I look at what I was doing when I was 12 years old with a videocamera, you can sense there is a style there. I've been through a lot of crap already that directors go through, and I know what works and what doesn't work. I was able to do a really good job with very little money at the beginning because I knew exactly what I needed to make it happen. I know the process well enough to make everything myself, I don't need to pay people. When I have the money to do something more important, then it's just having fun."
At press time, Jaume was having fun with a Carl's Jr. burger campaign for Brittany/Stevenson in L.A., and he's still on the lookout for music videos. Indeed, video-seasoned directors like Tarsem, Sam Bayer, Mark Romanek and Spike Jonze are among his favorites. "I like directors who, when you're watching their stuff, you don't know what's going to happen next."
What's not going to happen next is any Hispanic-market pigeonholing. "I try to avoid the Latin American market," he says. "I know a lot of people there, I know what they go through, and I don't like it. I did the Miller spots for that market because the concepts were ingenious. But the market usually treats the audience as if it's not intelligent."
And people sometimes treat Jaume as if he was not mature. "They joke about my age," he chuckles. "On the beer spots, there's a general rule that you can't cast people under 25. I was 23 and I was directing it. To be funny, they wouldn't let me drink the beer."
Tough break, kid! -- Terry Kattleman
In 1986, architect/designer Noam Murro was named Artist of the Year by the Israel Museum. A decade later he joined HKM to direct commercials, and he now has a European Evian spot on his reel in which a man seems to pee at a urinal continuously for about a half hour, tagged, "In moderation, please." Though this may sound like a Fountainhead-style fall from grace, it's nothing of the sort. The Jerusalem-born Murro, 35, describes his former fine-art life in Israel with a dismissive "so I designed a stainless steel coffee set."
Trained at Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Art & Design, he came to the U.S. in 1987 and made a "very abrupt switch to advertising," he explains, mainly because it "takes about 20 years to get a building built or a car design built. I wanted something with a faster pace." So he landed in New York, his adopted home, at the age of 25 with his design book and a spec ad book, "like any other student." He got an AD job at then-hot shop Goldsmith/Jeffrey. "But film has always been at the top of my thinking," he says, "'even when I was child using my father's old Nikon 8mm camera."
"At first it was just apparent he'd be a really good art director," recalls Gary Goldsmith, now exec CD at Lowe & Partners/SMS. "Then as I got to know him, I could see he was heading for film. He's seen every movie ever made three times."
"I used to be an usher in a Jerusalem movie theater," Murro shrugs. Yet he never saw a commercial when he was a kid. "TV started in Israel in 1967," he explains. "It was black and white, state-run, no commercials. When we got pirate cable years later, I finally saw some European television. My influences are films, not commercials. Woody Allen on one hand, Bertolucci on the other."
As an AD, he worked on acclaimed campaigns for Crain's New York Business, EDS, Us magazine and, appropriately, El Al Airlines, but it wasn't long before he was directing in-house for G/J. Besides corporate-cool spots for EDS, of particular note is a local campaign for New York's Katz's Deli, still on the Murro reel, that is so persuasively cinema-verite you would swear it was shot with a hidden camera. An old lady complaining to the counter guy about a burnt knish and scalding tea is straight out of an Eyewitness News expose on "Dangerous Delis," but in fact she's an actor working from a script. "They were brave enough to go with it," says Murro of the client. "They're such a New York institution, you want to convey more than just pastrami."
Murro has shot for several restaurant accounts, and he always manages to convey more than just pastrami. "Noam's great at going out and making something happen," says Goldsmith. "He's not the type who's sitting around waiting for the perfect board or the perfect budget to show up. He's like an indie filmmaker."
He's so indie, he has no film training to speak of, but "not going to film school has made me a better filmmaker," Murro insists. "You pick up your sensitivity from other fields and bring it to the film world. Composition, for instance, comes from the three-dimensionality of architecture."
Murro's other funny food work includes a sardonic Denny's comeback campaign from Lowe, starring wiseguy actor Jim Holmes, who's cheerfully snotty to kids. His wacky Long John Silver's foray, for Jordan, McGrath, features a spot so comically edgy, it was yanked off the air. Shot as mock reality TV from a dashboard-mounted camera, a state trooper stops a motorist and steals his Long John's lunch after ordering him to "step away from the bag, sir."
"Apparently, we offended some troopers," Murro chuckles. "I always get encouraged when something is pulled." Murro was also encouraged by Cellular One and an unusual self-mocking comedy campaign from Hill Holliday, in which the company spokesman is an incompetent boob. "I was amazed at how courageous the client was," says Murro. "A big company almost making a fool of themselves . . . you'd expect them to sing 'hallelujah' to themselves, but this makes them seem approachable and friendly."
The comedy continues with a recent international Fanta spot from Cliff Freeman in which a disappointed soccer fan puts his foot through a TV set. But Murro is not about to pigeonhole himself as a laughs-only guy. "I never look at it that way," he says. "It's just good concepts, which frequently end up being funny. There are two sides to my work: the cinematic and the human. The combination usually ends up being funny."
So we'll have a pastrami on wry, and hold the sour pickle. -- Terry Kattleman
His name's Eden -- just Eden, thank you -- and he used to be a performance artist. But don't get the wrong idea: He's not one of those Karen Finley yam freaks or anything. He's a down-to-earth Londoner, and his Converse spec spot made the Hottest New Directors showcase at Cannes '97. And if you think Eden, repped internationally by The Artists Company, is just a tad prelapsarian for a director's moniker, he insists it's his real first name. He was christened by his mum, who had seen East of Eden just before he was conceived. "It's not a pretentious thing at all," he says. "It's nice and simple and memorable, and people have always called me that."
Eden, 36, is a fine-art grad of local Middlesex Polytechnic, where his performance art and film careers began. Just what did he do performance-wise? "Oh, the usual physical stuff," he recalls. "The semi-clad self-laceration that people do in galleries. It's often about endurance. For instance, I made a tape loop of myself doing situps and pushups, so it looked like I could do them forever. Then I would be in front of the monitor and try to copy what was on the tape in real time. And of course in real time I got exhausted, and there were sensors and microphones wired up to my body to take pulse readings and what have you."
Eden started videotaping his performances and editing his tapes, and in 1989 he went on to produce and direct a performance art documentary called Performance, shown on Channel 4 in the U.K. He was part of "the Derek Jarman crowd," as he calls it, then he took an abrupt commercial turn and got a job cutting film trailers. Enough with underground art, Eden figured; it was time to join a growth industry. "The knowledge you learn about being succinct with your material is priceless," he says. After five years in the film trailer/TV ID biz, it was time to join another growth industry, inspired in part by acclaimed directors Mehdi Norowzian, who was one year ahead of him at Middlesex, and Jonathan Glazer, who'd once worked at the same trailer company. So in 1996 he made an impressively artsy spec spot for Aiwa. The no-dialogue :30, themed "Find your own headspace," features a David Bowie-esque rebel type squaring off in a microphone and loudspeaker sound battle with a fat tyrant. "I wanted to conceive the idea in as pure a way as I could on a very limited budget," he explains. The spot got him signed with The Artists Co., where he made a second spec spot, the aforementioned Converse :30, which features a kid, apparently in a focus group, demonstrating how he feels all the time by tipping his chair back just to the toppling point, much to the alarm of his staid interviewers.
This is the spot that led to his first 'real' work, a refined Sol beer campaign for New York's Amster Yard. Says Sol copywriter Fred Stesney: "The Aiwa spot was frantic, way out there and very European, but it's the Converse spot that really interested us. He made a nice story out of four or five people sitting in a room. Not a lot of people can do that."
"They're a small shop, they were open to my ideas, and they had some of the best beer scripts that were available at the time," notes Eden. "The commercials are exquisitely written."
Unfortunately, the Mexican market-targeted Sol campaign, which features pensive voiceovers expounding on wise men, shadows and fortune tellers, never aired. "They got shelved," sighs Stesney. "They were too high-minded. Mexican focus groups basically said, 'What the hell is that?' American focus groups said pretty much the same thing. They want frogs and lizards."
Eden, undaunted, has gone on to shoot a U.S. campaign for Webster bank and Pagano, Schenck & Kay, Boston, built around an intriguing zoom-in technical conceit. His European work includes a funny Vauxhall spot from London's Cogent, in which a man cleans himself as if he were a car -- he calls it a "slight homage to Jacques Tati" -- and a vignette-driven Dutch-market Amev insurance campaign, for BBDO/Amsterdam, most notable for the spot that closes with a tender lesbian kiss. "There was talk of ending it just before they kissed, but it just wasn't strong enough," Eden recalls. "I find it a very pure, emotional moment. I'm glad the client had the wherewithal to stick with the idea."
While he waits for a client with the wherewithal to supply a Stateside breakthrough campaign, Eden is open to all possibilities. Dialogue work would be nice, but he's "not being that narrow to point myself in a particular direction," he says. "We're not standing on the table screaming, 'Give us a dialogue script.' It has to be a good one. I haven't found myself too restricted by having strong performances in a spot without dialogue."
As for his performance art days, there's no looking back. "You can't be in an art clique all your life," he says, though he won't discount the usefulness of the experience. "I've been in front of the camera as a performance artist, and it's quite terrifying," he recalls. "I remember the terror quite clearly, and it helps me now to relate to actors." But above all, "I'm glad that now my images get out to a wider audience." he insists. "The lesbian kiss scene is as avant-garde or provocative, perhaps, as some of the stuff I did as a performance artist."
And if we may say so, Eden, it beats the hell out of watching you do pushups.
-- Terry Kattleman
Twenty-six-year-old Ramaa Mosley's commercials and videos are beautifully awash in cool blues and jewel-like greens. "I get really focused on color as a major part of my work," she readily admits. "I'm constantly thinking and talking about color."
Another attribute of Mosley's style is what might be called the stare; the moment "when a person reveals him or herself to the camera." The people in her work often look confidently and knowingly at the viewer. Take what may be her best-known work, her Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners commercials for Rockport. The ads focus on personal achievement -- a climber who is comfortable with his fear, a computer game programmer who's comfortable with never growing up -- both addressing the camera squarely. The shoes are there, but nobody talks about them; Mosley's spots typically lack the harsh glare of the hard sell. Another example is her "Thinking of Someone Else" spot for L'Oreal, which has nothing to do with cosmetics until the text, "I am naked without my makeup" shows up, followed by the familiar, "I'm worth it."
"There's something amazing and instantaneous about commercials," says Mosley, who is represented by Johns+Gorman. "They tell things in a very dynamic and rapid way." Nonetheless, she is particular about the projects she takes on. "I live really simply so that I can take only the work I want to do. I believe that ultimately the person that I answer to is myself. I don't care what everyone thinks about what I do." Sometimes she combines creative risks with political ones. Consider the pro-choice spot, "I Believe," which she did for the Naral Foundation. It doesn't preach, as much as it explains the integrity of women and their choices.
Growing up in the artist's community of Ojai, Calif., about 75 miles north of Los Angeles, Mosley found school uninspiring. "I was too limited in how I was able to express myself," she says. "The only way was through grades, and I'm terrible with tests." She decided to study at home, and Mosley was lucky enough to have supportive parents -- her father, a "tree-trimming, plumber artist" and her mother, a teacher, helped nourish Mosley's creative drive. They chose an unusual name for their daughter. In Hindi her first (Ramaa) and middle (Devi) names mean 'God' and 'Goddess' (Diva) respectively. With a pair of names like that, how can you lose?
In 1988, at the ripe old age of 16, Mosley went out on her own and shot a documentary about "how environmental problems affect kids," she explains. "I wanted to make a change in the world." The film, We Can Make a Difference, won a Global 500 Chicago Film Festival Award of Merit. Hungry for more film work, Mosley found HKM Productions in the phone book, lied about her age and landed a job in the acquisitions and development department, where she read scripts and directed spec spots. Soon after, she produced and directed a CBS After School Special, Pay Attention, parts of which were featured on Eye to Eye with Connie Chung. The piece is still screened in schools around the country.
Then in 1990, she went to college at Bennington in Vermont, where she directed two more documentaries, Two Seasons and Home, about Jamaican migrant workers and La Vida, about the Aymara Indians in Bolivia, commissioned by the Dutch Government. But Mosley balks at being labeled a documentary filmmaker. Her commercials are too important a part of her professional life.
Not that the two seemingly disparate disciplines can't mesh. Ted Chin, creative director at Ted Chin & Co., Greenwich, Conn., who worked with Mosley on spots for the Visiting Nurse Services of New York, says, "Ramaa has an imaginative and sensitive touch that's very documentary and warm."
She has just completed a spot for Adidas as well as a video for the B-52s "Debbie" with photomosaic artist Robert Silvers, who marveled at Mosley's ability to "be creative while being in complete control of 50 people."
Her current project, Show and Tell, is a short film she plans to submit to festivals. She describes the piece as "surreal vision of life as a child." Mosley is anxious to see the impact of the film's release on her career. "I think a lot will happen once it gets done and people see it. I get to re-evaluate myself as a director." -- Sharon Klahr
Anyone who's had their wrists smacked by ruler-wielding nuns knows that the trauma usually leads to some type of adult dementia. So when Kevin Donovan, former Catholic school attendee, insisted that he was a normal guy, a closer look revealed his Nowhere, USA upbringing as the source of some pretty bizarre ideas. "If you're from Montana or Idaho or western Washington, you can really understand the oddity of those small towns where people seem very polite and normal but underneath there is this perverse sickness that is often characteristic of people in rural areas of the Pacific Northwest," says the thirty-something Donovan, who grew up in Helena, Mont. and directs with Bedford Falls, Los Angeles. So it's no surprise to see Donovan's own Twin Peaks background brought out in work he calls "cinematic/surreal humor."
Consider the recent :30 spot Donovan directed for Nintendo's new game Yoshi's Story. In an effort to perfect their aim, two suburban kids raise hell in Mom's living room by lashing out their 15-foot long tongues at plates and other breakable kitsch. After one pulverizes his younger sister's doll, the other deadpans, "I think you're getting the hang of it."
"There was something very juvenile and visceral for me when I did the 'Tongue Lashing' spot," says Donovan. "There's just something so real about two kids burnt out on videogames sitting around after school making trouble."
Donovan came to New York to work as an art director and proceeded to speed through six different agencies ("I was always looking for the best creative work," he says) before landing at Cliff Freeman & Partners, where he first started directing spec spots. It was there that he shot the much-talked-about Doc Martens "Zealot" commercial, the one in which a self-flagellating mystic crosses a parched landscape, refusing water and sex only to succumb to the tempation of a pair of Doc Martens boots -- with which he happily flogs himself as he continues his journey. That commercial, still a joy to watch five years down the road, moved his career out of the agency world and into a full-time directing role. "I can't think of anyone who has had a faster ascension coming out of the blocks than I did," he says. "Three weeks after signing with Bedford Falls I was already doing national projects."
Although past critics have marked his work as gratuitously weird, Donovan has outgrown that reputation. He's proved his versatility with work like the simple Kobe Bryant Nintendo spot that spoofs ESPN, to the more surreal look of "Couch," a spot for Centura Bank. That commercial features a would-be investor who ruefully observes a giant dollar bill getting comfy on his couch, downing a beer and making disgusting body noises. The message: Your money could be doing more. "When he first started out he definitely had this strange style, and I think he was breaking through the clutter," says John Kaste, an executive producer at Leo Burnett who has worked with Donovan throughout his career. "Now he can really cover the gamut -- I wouldn't hesitate to use him for anything."
Donovan and Kaste recently collaborated on a Nintendo spot that is a conceptual throwback to Apple's "1984." When an audience of teens is lectured by a computer voice droning directives like "Know your place," and "Uniform required," punk kids dressed in glowing bright colors run amok through the Brave New World-like setting.
"It's not that we want kids to revolt, but at some point it's playtime," says Donovan. "It was easy for me to do because so much of school was full of don't do this and don't do that," back in the days when he witnessed "nuns actually once [trying] to break apart two dogs having sex."
Agencies are lining up to tap into Donovan's admittedly warped sense of reality. In the six months since rejoining Bedford Falls (after an 18-month stay at Satellite Films/Propaganda), Donovan has produced a truckload of work for Nintendo, and is just now putting the finishing touches on spots for Kraft macaroni & cheese and Popums. He's excited about the Popums work, because it allowed him to follow his favorite strategy: "Setting something up in a very cinematic way and then pulling the rug out from people with a total twist."