N: I'm in L.A. Where are you?
L: I'm in Los Angeles too. Are you at home?
N: No, I'm actually in the office. Dragged myself here. It's not easy, believe me. It's getting harder, isn't it? To wake up and do this everyday, it's really hard.
L: How's the Kevin Garnett job coming along? [a job both directors bid on]
N: Oh boy. Oh boy. I don't know how to do this.
L: Noam, what do you think, I'm always curious about this, bidding against people. What was it that you think you said to them that was the clincher?
N: I think I'm just a much better director, overall, than you are. I think they recognized that very easily.
N: I don't fuckin' know. How would I know? It's so funny that you say that-why somebody gets a job, why you don't get a job.
L: It's incredible, right?
N: It was easier for me to get a $66 million dollar movie [The Ring 2]-fewer meetings, less horseshit, fewer phone calls and treatments and shmeatments and all that-than to get a $260,000 yeast infection commercial.
L: On The Ring what was it that they saw you think in your work that made them connect with that?
N: I have no idea. I guess it's the body of work.
L: It's funny because I think people make connections in all sorts of crazy ways. I remember when I was shooting some commercial, one of the boards had a balloon in it. I had a shot of a balloon on my reel and I got hired for the job. I'm sure no one's willing to admit such simple thinking, but in the end I was sure that was it. People make these connections and it's enough. Films can be like that too.
N: I think so. I think the whole process of choice is so very subjective when you think about it. It's an arbitrary sort of personal connection, but I think that's what's exciting about it all because it's like rolling the dice each time you go out.
L: I find that clarity is such a valuable thing. Oftentimes I feel like you get scripts and they want to know what you want to bring to it, which is a good thing because you have that freedom there. But at the same time, it's so valuable when the people that ultimately you're going to be working with have a pretty clear idea of what they want from the get-go because the communication is so much better from the start. It's odd to me when it seems an agency will take a script or boards and just kind of throw them in the air and see where they land. For me, the jobs and the working experiences that I'm happiest with are when it is more like a single bid type of thing. They know what you do, what you're good at and then from day one you're just moving forward with it. There's not that kind of frustrating process at the beginning of a job.
N: I think that some of it also has to do with culture of agencies and styles. There is a certain size or structure of an agency that does dictate a bit of what it's going to be like. What are the approval mechanisms internally, what do they have to deal with? It's not a blaming thing, though.
L: It is a product of the environment somewhat.
N: Yeah, that dictates some of what you're going to go through. It depends also, who in the chain of command you happen to work with.
L: The tricky part about that, though, is you don't want the environment to be a detriment. I find more and more with schedules it gets difficult because so much valuable time can be kind of eaten up early on, when it would be better used in the shoot, in the direct planning of the shoot or in the finishing. It amazes me how many jobs we do where we have to edit and have something ready to present within a few days. But when you look back at what went into it, earlier on in the awarding process, it seems to be kind of a casual schedule. It's strange to me, that phenomenon.
N: Well, I think the strangest part of this is the post process. I just did a project for London and it's not a privilege, it's almost a mandate, for you to show them the cut you want. They want to see what you want out of it. I'm not saying that we don't get the opportunity to do that in the States, but as a process, or a structure, here it's still considered that you shoot, give the dailies, they go cut it, they show it to you and a lot of times you go, "Huh. I didn't see that one yet."
L: What's odd to me, it sometimes comes as a surprise your desire to be involved. "Oh wow, you're really staying with this!"
N: I think some of it is changing. Especially when post is involved heavily with effects, it gets to be more collaborative. But it certainly is still very much "You shoot and then we cut." It's really surprising to me that agencies are not demanding for the direction. But it's good for business, though, you can go back to back. So maybe I should shut up. It's a funny business, isn't it?
L: It's the same sort of thing you do as a cinematographer from job to job. You show up, you shoot and then you leave. Not being involved in the editing process, often by the time you see it, it's almost hard to recognize. I've seen commercials on TV and didn't realize they were something that I shot until right at the end. The process of editing to me is so informative. You learn so much by seeing. I've learned from the films that I've shot-in order for the process to function in a creative way, you need that time to step back and leave it for at least a day or two and come back to it. In films you always do that. You get a scene cut and you purposely step away from it, come back to it a few days later and watch it again. It becomes clear immediately what's working and what's not. It's tough in commercials. Oftentimes you have four or five edits and they start to blend together. You get a few days away, you come back and the things that work instantly make themselves clear. You get that clarity. That's the most impor-tant time I think, because that's going to ultimately affect what you come away with. That's the last part you ever want to consider trying to rush through. But it always is the most rushed part, inevitably. It's odd.
N: You have to step away. It's a necessity of the process. Anything good has to surprise you at the end. Unless it is very simple, like a one-shot thing with no editing involved, there are probably 250 ways to tell that story. And then there's the layer of music, voiceovers, graphics. You want to be surprised by it. It would be presumptuous to go into it and say, "I know exactly what it's going to be." Some of the great projects that I've at least been involved in, were ones that surprised me at the end of that process. I have to say one thing, I don't know how you direct and shoot. I guess it's something that's second nature at some point, but to me, it's complete magic how you do both.
L: For me, in terms of doing both, it depends entirely on the kind of work you're doing. Sometimes it can serve the work because so much of it is based on the visuals. But if I were going to do a piece that involved an incredible amount of dialogue or a lot of performance, it's the kind of thing where I wouldn't be behind the camera.
N: For instance, I was talking to someone about how [Steven] Soderbergh shoots all his own stuff. He gets really close to the actors, doesn't move from his chair. I really don't understand that. I'm more a traditionalist that way, in that there's a cinematographer, etc. When I see "produced, directed, shot and edited by Moishe Gezuchen," how do you do that? It's just against the grain of what this business is about, which is lots of people coming together and working toward one goal. It's just a very strange thing.
L: Yeah, we were talking about that at the [Creativity] photo shoot. That's insane. I really don't understand how being behind the camera the whole time could in any way improve one's perception of performance. For me when I'm working on films as a cinematographer, performance is there but you're also having to think about a lot of other stuff, when somebody's gonna move and where you're supposed to end up.
N: What's also interesting is how do we weed through what comes through the fax. I think it really is at the end of the day, all about money. No, I'm kidding. It is about work and what the work means. I assume you feel the same. It's all about what's good, and if it's good, we'll do it. And if it's not good, it doesn't really matter how much money it has-no, I can't do it. And I think that really is the unifying thing, no? It's very funny. You know when good is good, it's like walking into a house. You go in, it's like love. I guess you can analyze what makes it such-it's gotta be clear and conceptually driven.
L: I think when something is really good it's not like only one director would see it as being good and another wouldn't. There are those ideas that are strong enough that pretty much anyone who looked at them would go, "Fuck this is pretty good." For me sometimes, it's also if I see something that I feel is a good idea and feel like for whatever reason it's something I relate to and can bring out what's good about it. And I have seen boards before that I feel are really strong, but in a way, I don't totally relate to them. Like broader comedy isn't something I feel like I have a real connection with. You never want to stereotype yourself, but it comes back to if you look at someone's reel, you'll see spots that are funny but it's a certain type of performance or certain style of work. You kind of get a sense of what that person's strengths are.
N: I think also, as much as it is a business where you're hired to execute somebody else's idea, it is about personal connection. There's nothing you can do about it. You look at something and say, "That's who I am." I've seen boards that are extraordinarily challenging that I just didn't care about but there may be an interesting technique or this or that.
L: And for all intents and purposes could end up a good commercial, right?
N: I guess. It's like, what's a good commercial? That may be something to talk about. Is it something that you look at and say, "Does it do the service it's supposed to do or does it satisfy our needs as creatives?" The political thing to say is when it merges-when the needs of whatever the product is in the marketplace are fulfilled and when it is a creative thing-then it is successful. At the same time, if you really want to get to the bottom of it, it really is about the creative process. Good things are good things. It's like every time you try to do something that satisfies a "need" dictated by a client, it's gonna end up being shit. And then when you do something that stems from your internal beliefs, most likely that will be a disaster too, but sometimes there's a chance to do something original and that is where the yellow brick road is, where it becomes so wonderfully surprising.
L: It's interesting with commercials because it's that struggle of art versus commerce. Do you ever get boards and think, These are kind of interesting but I don't see how these will function? To me there's a little bit of a conflict there. The agency may be able to sell the idea through, but ultimately it's going to have to be finished and it can get painful at that stage. Ultimately what matters most I think to a director is more the art side of it, that's what you're brought in for, but at the same time, the reality of it is that it needs to function on a commerce level.
N: At the same time though, I guess it's an internal process where you look at something, put that filter on anyway and decide whether it's good or bad. I think that essentially, it's either good or bad. There are some gray areas, but it's that simple. It's sounds romantic, but it is a little bit of that. I think it starts with the people who come up with it. Sometimes you're amazed how incredibly original the ideas are. You scratch the back of your head and go, "How did they think of that?" The other side of the equation is that it's a business that's probably the most derivative one on earth. That's why it's exciting.
L: The strongest ideas to me are the ones you respond to in a creative way but at the same time they're going to function in a commerce way from the get- go. Some commercials somehow manage to include all that, they're artful and really beautiful, but they also function perfectly in terms of what it is that they're selling. Like some of the "Got Milk?" stuff you've done is a good example. They're these amazing commercials but they really do function. They're really kind of perfect for what it is they're advertising.
N: To be quite honest, I never know. I think a good commercial, I agree, is where all these things come together. But I think there is a very strong difference between what advertisers think is good for them and what really is good for them. That's where it becomes tricky.
L: Absolutely. And then I think everyone has an opinion on that, which is why at a certain point I think as a director, it's good to consider that as well.
N: Right. Look, the interesting thing about this business is that it is instinctual. Some of these guys live with these ideas for six months, which is a long time, and you have to pass a judgment on the ideas in 30 seconds. I think that's part of what we have to keep for ourselves, that sort of clean point of view. I don't know if" Got Milk?" for instance, sells more milk. I guess it does, but I don't know that for a fact. Our place in the process is different. You assume the responsible thing has happened. We're just a piece in the puzzle. We're not the puzzle itself.
L: It's funny, though. In commercials there's the process of bidding on a job and then talking about it, and then in the end when you finally get the job, emotionally there's a whole other thing you have to deal with. It can be a pretty big range-from excitement to just utter despair. You never know.
N: (Laughs) You never know.