Benjamin Weinstein

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The refusal of actors to work generally constitutes bad news for a director. Not so for 30-year-old Benjamin Weinstein, who got his big break in filmmaking as a direct result of the biggest case of actor defiance in recorded history. "I was living in L.A. during the SAG strike," recalls Weinstein of the 2000 labor dispute between commercial actors and the advertising industry. "At which point a lot of attention became focused on Canada, because so much production was moving here. I figured I'd put my passport to use and go back home." The Ottawa-born Weinstein's first gig in his native land came in 2002 in the form of a $12,000 country western music video, springboarding him into a deal with Blink Pictures, where he still directs clips today. A partnership with Steam Films quickly followed in 2003, marking his official arrival on the advertising scene.

Having never taken a formal filmmaking class, Weinstein leveraged the lessons of his cinematic idols. "My earliest influences were great storytellers like Lumet, Altman, Ashby and Coppola," he says. "I've always aimed for the type of mastery that they represent. Instead of being a specific category of director, it's about being a great storyteller-period." Weinstein has attempted to follow that model, and his reel reflects a broad spectrum of tone and style, from suspense to comedy and everything in between. "I'm helplessly attracted to any discipline, as long as it's rooted in a strong idea," he says.

The director's "Agog" spot for the Hot Docs film festival solidified his mastery of comedy, featuring a carpenter who maintains the same bewildered expression throughout the course of his day-whether he's working with heavy machinery, getting drilled at the dentist's chair, or making an awkward yoga pose. Weinstein displayed a firm grasp on visual wizardry in his effects-heavy "Magnet" spot for Subaru, in which various objects-including a bike, a soccer ball and a kayak-are drawn to a passing Forester. "My relationship with special effects is like that of an alcoholic-we experience massive highs and lows together," laughs Weinstein. "But as long as they're truly organic to the material, and not an arbitrary gag, I'm a crusading believer." And then there's the frenetic overlapping timelines of Paper Route, the branded short film Weinstein created for Toronto newspaper The Star, which won Best Brand Film at this year's Creativity No Spot short film festival. "The most imposing challenge was time," says Weinstein. "Eight speaking parts, three apartments and 10 pages of dialog in one 12-hour day."

Weinstein plans to tackle even bigger challenges in the near future, with a feature on the top of his to-direct list. But in the meantime, the director has no plans to abandon the spot format. "I will always be interested in commercials because of the creative potential," says Weinstein. "When working on a great script with an inspired creative team, directing commercials can encapsulate the very best of filmmaking-the sine qua non of the writer/director collaboration. And I feel like right now I'm just in my infancy in this medium."

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