Zach Math, Omaha Pictures

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"When I look at other filmmakers who do commercials, the guys I really like are very diverse, five-tool players," reflects Zach Math. Well, from the looks of it, the 29-year-old Canadian director, repped out of Omaha in the U.S. and Toronto's Steam Films, is carving out his own place in the big leagues, given that he too has the makings of an all-around star. When it comes to laughs, he can play it straight, over the top or just downright twisted, as in a deliciously warped spot for Canadian candy store Sugar Mountain, which recounts the tale of separated Japanese lovers reunited by a candy-gram delivered by a blatantly faux stuffed bird. For his wacky stylings, Math took cues from Astroboy cards and even the mythological pulp of Clash of the Titans, modeling the avian messenger after the film's mechanical owl. He chose a more restrained approach on an equally hilarious spot for Liptons, about a soup eater who literally steals the show at a podunk town's annual spoon-hanging competition. Plotwise, not a lot is going on, but the details and pacing are calibrated to perfect narrative effect. "There are really two types of spots," he notes. "Those where the script is so crammed you start to think about compression and being really strategic about the storytelling, and others like 'Spoons,' where it's about expanding on the concept. That was such a simple idea that it was about what to do with the moments that weren't written on the page." Math can also turn it up when it comes to other emotions, as on a creepy Jaws-inspired cinema spot for Discovery Channel's "Shark Week," and a warm and fuzzy Coca-Cola commercial that apparently unearths a treasure trove of nostalgic hockey footage. "Even though we shot well over 80 percent of it, most people look at that spot and go, 'Well you probably didn't shoot any of this.' To me that's the biggest compliment because that really was the goal." Now onto work for Pizza Hut and an under-wraps Sony project, Math first got twinges of his filmic passions as a child watching movies in the attic of his grandfather, a former Canadian film exec. "It was kind of a dreamy place to hang out," he reminisces. "The walls were covered with publicity shots, and I grew up watching classics like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon. There was very much a romantic feeling and quality about it." That he actually wanted to shoot movies didn't gel until later, after he studied film and communications at Canada's Queens University and at NYU. Now that he's directing full time, Math purposefully steps away from the camera to rejuice his creative engine, most significantly on his annual volunteer work with cancer-stricken kids, which recently led to his goofy documentary-style pro-bono short about an unlikely German rap duo (see ilovegermanrap.com). With his finger in so many pies, is there any one thread that connects what he does? "Whether it's nostalgic, or dark, psychological horror, comedy, or a bizarre 'What the fuck was that,' what I do deals with the human condition in key ranges," he says. "We're scared and uneasy, we laugh and feel nostalgic at other times. All those things connect on a human level and that's ultimately what I strive to do."
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