Czar.US

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Dutch-headquartered production company Czar is already reputed in Europe as home to some serious awards show booty-spread out over several directors, 11 Lions of various lusters, not to mention a Grand Prix. Founded in 1991 by director Rogier Van Der Ploeg, Rene Eller and Geraldo Vallen, the shop went on to open satellite offices in Belgium and Germany. In 2004 it began to creep into U.S. consciousness as a creative hothouse, having hooked agencies up to the likes of Lionel Goldstein, the directing duo behind the wacky Gold Lion-winning "Ear Tennis" spot, among others, and more recently, PES, a New Jersey native who has injected his totally fresh multi-media weirdness into commercials for Diesel, Bugle and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The company has actually had a stateside presence for nearly a decade, when it was set up primarily as a vehicle for director Van der Ploeg, after he won the Grand Prix in 1996 for the now classic Nestle/Rolo spot "Elephant," featuring a grudge-holding pachyderm. In the last few months, however, Czar has gained some considerable momentum after its re-introduction to the U.S. market via a new partnership last fall with U.S. executive producer Steve Shore, who conveniently brings a production piggyback partner via the already established shop Public Domain, where he's owner/EP.

Since the hookup, Shore says one of his goals has been to be rouse agencies to Czar's talents, primarily Lionel Goldstein. "I think certainly among the cogniscenti the awareness of Lionel Goldstein existed, but not in the general sense," he explains. It didn't hurt that the team was fresh off nabbing Cannes Gold for "Ear Tennis." The pair, who simultaneously have their own solo careers under their real names Koen Mortier and Joe Vanhoutteghem (see Creativity, November 2003), made an impressive U.S. debut on a campaign for Fox Sports featuring twins congenitally joined at the fingertip and Nike's "Runaway Bride," which play up the team's comic documentary forte to varying degrees. But Czar's other players are not to be ignored, including the aforementioned PES and his self-described "candy-coated" approach to directing, as well as director/DP Lieven Van Baelen, who shot the stirring "Dumpster" HIV/AIDS PSA for DDB Seattle and Kaiser Family Foundation.

Overall, the compact body of U.S. work fits comfortably into Shore's aims to set Czar's bar high creatively, and to produce between five and 10 spots within the first year (Czar did eight). "We could afford to be patient with Czar and only do the commercials that we thought were important to do and I'm really proud of that," he says. "That's where Public Domain really came in. Czar was under no pressure to support the overhead in the U.S." Moreover, "we wanted to slowly, but surely introduce to the market all this great talent the company has," he adds. "But I don't think I'm even halfway there." Judging from the work of the company's nearly two dozen directors (see czar.com) he certainly hasn't. Shore says the next Czars to look out for include up-and-comer Steve Ayson and even founding director Van der Ploeg, who's been on sabbatical from directing in the U.S. but is primed for a return. "I think I have to take a nice, deliberate approach," he explains. "When you've got that many people you have to go at it with a measured approach or you end up confusing the marketplace."

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