2008 Production Company of the Year: MJZ

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MJZ's shining stars...click to enlarge and scroll down for photo key
MJZ's shining stars...click to enlarge and scroll down for photo key
MJZ president and co-founder David Zander calls himself a "simpleton." He doesn't do web pages. He doesn't do television shows. And unlike the rest of the industry, he's not bothered about figuring out the next evolutionary step in commercials production. Rather, he likes to keep focused on the very uncool sounding business of doing great spots. By this very simple formula, MJZ turned out what Creativity deemed to be the year's overall best reel and earns the honor of 2008 Production Company of the Year.

Zander says the opportunities for great work weren't as plentiful in 2008—it certainly showed in the broader industry output—yet MJZ still managed to produce the lion's share of the year's brightest gems. We never thought that Skittles could top "Rabbit" or "Touch," until we met the put upon office worker in a chocolate brown suit, his crepe paper hair fluttering in the AC breeze as he makes the case that he's "Just like everyone else!" in the Tom Kuntz-directed "Pinata." Kuntz, in fact, was at his finest this year, turning out a slew of other great comedy work like Old Spice's "Foam," snarky candy conversations for The Natural Confectionery Company, out of Fallon/London, Goodby's White Gold music video extravaganza for the California Milk Processor Board and the ridiculous monster pigeon invasion for Fedex and BBDO. Nicolai Fuglsig, who has been tied up writing a film, still made time for the fantastic balloon fight in "It's Mine," for W+K and Coca-Cola which, in our opinion, was the brightest spot in this year's Super Bowl, as well as an effects-heavy spot for Puma and a solar stopping execution in BBDO's huge Monster.com campaign. Dante Ariola showed his range on a campaign for Farmers Insurance and spots for Jordan Brand, Powershares and Rhapsody, while Blue Source and Victor Garcia elevated the art of the automobile commercial on Saturn and Lexus, respectively.

As for Rupert Sanders, 2008 was his year. He cleaned up at awards fetes with Halo "Believe," taking the spot as the world's most globally awarded director in our annual Awards Report, and continued to prove himself on all fronts—visually, emotionally, comedically—on Monster.com's "Legs," Travelers' "Delivery" and "Clocktower," for Brand Jordan. Meanwhile, Kuntz and Fuglsig kept Sanders company on the list of most honored directors, while the company itself shimmied through the awards circuit and nabbed its third Palme D'Or, as well as the top spot on our list of most globally awarded production companies.

All this adds up to a standout 2008 for MJZ, despite the noticeable absence of major players like Spike Jonze, who was in the throes of production on his upcoming big screen adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, and Fredrik Bond, who was busy strengthening the foundation of his own London shop Sonny, causing a notable drop in his U.S. output—though Bond did step in for the heart melting "Aviator" for JCPenney. Craig Gillespie, who directed Goodby's "Maverick" spot for the Obama campaign, was largely occupied by bigger film pursuits. His Mr. Woodcock laffer tanked at the box office and with critics, but he redeemed himself on the much celebrated Lars and the Real Girl. "Craig has unfolded in a beautiful way," Zander reflects. "It started out with practicing and practicing and practicing. We worked together nearly 10 years, and I find that incredibly satisfying."

Gillespie is just one example Zander can use as defense against the oft-flung claim that he's in the business of buying, not developing talent. Yet when asked directly about it, "It's incredibly difficult to say how much we contribute to what I believe to be [the directors'] tremendous ability," he says. "Do we affect 5 percent, 7 percent? It's hard to say. The good news is, it's working. The combination of things is working, and that's what's important." It's exciting to see what that combination will yield with the company's most recent signing of writer/director indie darling Harmony Korine, of Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy fame, who Zander says is currently writing on projects.

And, to put it bluntly, "MJZ is awesome!" says director Kuntz. "Seriously, I'd never think of going anywhere else. They are so professional, loving and totally unpretentious. No flashy, Hollywood business, just serious, smart people who care about getting good work made."

In fact, that's the only thing that matters, according to Zander. "I just think it should be all about the work, and all about the process," he says. "My dad died in December, and he was 99 and 7 1/2 months old. Three months before he died, I asked him, 'Hey Dad, can you give me a word of advice?' He said, 'Yup,' and snapped his fingers—'It's over before you know it.' I think it would be great to work on what you really think is great and to enjoy the process of doing it, because it's over before you know it. That sounds a little New Age-y and pathetic, but you lose your last parent, you just go, Fuck! This goes by quickly. I want to enjoy the people I work with, have a laugh and do the absolute best work we can. It's that simple."

MJZ's crew, by the numbers: 1. Steven Monkarsh, West Coast rep, 2. Rebecca Harrop, researcher U.K. 3. Raquelle Stiefler, rep assisstant. 4. Gay Guthrey, Midwest rep 5. Fredrik Bond, director 6. Inigo Oleaga, director assistant 7. Tim Serjos, East Coast head of sales 8. Keith Hide, MD assistant U.K. 9. Vince Landay, producer 10. Suza Horvat, producer 11. Coco Tardiff, rep assistant 12. Joanna Kabbara, accountant 13. Penny Cotton, production manager U.K. 14. Steven Diller, director 15. Rob Leggatt and 16. Leigh Marling (Blue Source), directors 17. Yvonne Bayette, chief of finance 18. Janet Nowasad, head of production 19. Eric Stern, executive producer 20. Shannon Jones, bidder 21. Rocky Morton, director 22. Lisa Margulis, executive producer 23. Trang Nguyen, senior receptionist 24. Brandy Curry, production manager 25. Nell Jordan, producer 26. Dahlia Limperis, accountant 27. Mia Leon, production manager 28. Heather Mulroy, rep assistant 29. Debbie Verdin, accountant 30. David Zander, president 31. Hien Nguyen, director of postproduction 32. Russell Sanzgiri, production assistant 33. Marcus Nispel, director 34. Dante Ariola, director 35. Amit Mehta, director assistant 36. Fernando Velasquez, grounds supervisor 37. Matt Dillmore, director assistant 38. Matthijs van Heijningen, director 39. Hank Lee, accountant 40. Kate Leahy, producer U.K. 41. Debbie Turner managing director, U.K. 42. Clay Williams, director 43. Harmony Korine, director 44. Martha Lucas, bidder 45. Nicolai Fuglsig, director 46. Mike Horlock, production assistant 47. Tom Kuntz, director 48. Sasha Autry, reception 49. Alice Haines, reception 50. Carine Harris, director's rep U.K. 51. Maggie Barnes, production assistant 52. Spike Jonze, director 53. Marilena van Heran, director assistant 54. Justin Bayett, assistant controller 55. Ali King, accounts U.K. 56. Natalie Farrey, director assistant 57. Phil Joanou, director 58. George Ancock, production assistant 59. Craig Gillespie, director 60. Emma Wilcockson, freelance producer 61. Joe Kneale, personal assistant 62. Darlene Mach, PR manager 63. Steven Johnson, production manager U.K. 64. Wendy Giles, bidder 65. Jeff Scruton, senior executive producer 66. Marcia Deliberto, bidder 67. Rupert Sanders, director 68. Ray Dillman, director (not pictured) Victor Garcia, director

Read about the things from 2008 MJZ's folks found interesting in Unleashed.

And the rest:

Smuggler came sickeningly close to earning top honors again in 2008. Its reel showed a potent combination of standout, culturally impactful work, daring, innovative projects and clear expansion of its directors' careers. Among its highlights are our campaign of the year, the multi-awarded Burger King "Whopper Freakout," directed by Henry-Alex Rubin, Droga5's truly viral pieces Net10 "Microwave," directed by David Frankham and "Bike Hero" for Guitar Hero World Tour, by up and comer Jaron Albertin. Randy Krallman maintained fine demented form directing (and voicing) ETrade's twisted talking baby; Guy Shelmerdine, aka the now lone Happy, proved a powerful solo artist on BK's cow stalker spots, while Chris Smith is yes, still super talented with talent, as seen in the Brooke Shields-fronted Routan VW push. Ivan Zacharias also peeked out for a quirky pair of spots for the Karvovy Film Festival. Meanwhile, younger directors like Jon Watts and Renny Maslow showed significant growth on work for BK and Ikea.

Gorgeous too deserves recognition. With a small but spectacular stable of talent, the shop produced some of 2008's most interesting and elegant work, from Vince Squibb's oddly cinematic "Lumberjack" for HSBC, Budgen's "Slots" episode for BBDO's Monster.com campaign, to a pair of jarring attention tests for Transport for London, directed by Chris Palmer. We celebrate Anonymous as well. The shop is home to some of the industry's strongest, albeit most unreachable talents, and it turned out some of the year's most thrilling spots, including a one-two Nike punch from directors Guy Ritchie and David Fincher, more emotionally charged video game efforts from Joseph Kosinski, and the gorgeous "Burst," for Schweppes, directed by Garth Davis. A hearty shout out also goes to Biscuit. Building upon the striking power of the venerable Noam Murro, the shop has reared a formidable bench of heavyhitters, including Tim Godsall, Aaron Ruell, Steve Rogers and Clay Weiner. Some fine moments were Murro's singing dog for DDB London, which took Film Grand Prix at Eurobest, Comcast "Rabbit" out of Goodby, Audi's "Horsehead" out of Venables Bell, Godsall's Jackie Moon installments for Old Spice and Clay Weiner's unstoppable "Dude!" for Budweiser.

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