The 2009 Directors Roundtable

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Is there a recipe to making a great viral? How should you treat treatments? What's it like to grow up on the set of Blade Runner. . .or Jackass? We learned all that and more last month at the SoHo House in New York, where a dozen of the industry's finest came together to laugh, kvetch and inspire each other with their experiences on set and off.

participants: Dante Ariola, MJZ / Craig Gillespie, MJZ / Michael Haussman, HSI and Person Films / Jeff Labbe, Sonny London / Dave Meyers, @radical / Phil Morrison, Epoch / Noam Murro, Biscuit Filmworks / Jake Scott, RSA / Luc Schurgers of Minivegas, Anonymous Content / David Shane, O Positive / Benzo Theodore, Park Pictures / Stacy Wall, Imperial Woodpecker

Read more from the 2009 Directors Special Report

Watch video excerpts from the rountable

The Recession
Do you want to know who you're bidding on jobs against?
Passing and Losing Jobs
Are the Boards Changing?

Creativity: Stacy, you just launched your own company, Imperial Woodpecker. Why now?

Stacy Wall: It felt like the right time to do it. It's just a way of recharging me about the business, in a way. It makes it smaller, more entrepreneurial. I'm setting the table for my eventual and expected irrelevance. [There's] a financial upside. We don't have 30 employees to worry about, not to be crass about it. It would help if we booked a job. Creativity: For the rest of you, just to get the unpleasantness out of the way upfront, working in a recession, has it changed the kind of work you're seeing, or do you think it will?

Michael Haussman: It's two different subjects—how creative things are and how much work is going to come out. There's always going to be work because you need to advertise, especially in a recession, but it's a matter of whether it's going to be just to introduce the $19.99 specials; are people going to be scared to be creative and take chances.

David Shane: It's a weird time because clients are facing the most reluctant consumer maybe in the history of television, much less the internet, so you would hope that they're not going to get safer than ever. Do you think it's analogous at all to the dot-com burst? I remember clients literally begging agencies to insert explosives and gerbils and explode them for comic effect, and then the bubble burst, and I remember, figuratively, holding a bunch of gerbils in my hand, going "What happened?" Did things get very safe after that?

Phil Morrison: [in old man voice] Did you say something about dot com? That just seemed to be simply that those commercials went away, right? But I didn't notice anything overall really happening after that bubble burst.

Creativity: What are you guys feeling now? What are the boards like?

Jake Scott: It seems to be a roller coaster to me. Most of the time I think it's shit. I think there seems to be an awareness, in agencies, that these times being what they are, that this might be the time to push it, to encourage a client to try something they haven't tried before. I was out of commission last year because I was working on a film. I've come back and I think the board flow is pretty good, I've seen some good jobs. I'm bidding against you [Noam], I think. I like that job.

Noam Murro: Yeah, it's not bad. I'm not sure anything dramatic's going to happen. I think these kinds of things have a tendency to slowly descend. I don't think all of a sudden it all dries up, all of a sudden it's all bad. I think that it turns you, you don't turn it. That's my biggest scare, that you don't actually feel it, with you being ass-fucked, you're slowly being turned and all of a sudden you're going, "What happened?"

David S.: This isn't that bad!

Phil: It's freeing to feel like you have, to some degree, a free pass on taking stuff you might not normally.

Craig Gillespie: There are jobs that I'll pass on, that I'll then see someone else has done and I'll go, "Wow, there wasn't much of an idea there, and they actually did a good job with it."

Jake: How many times have you lost on a job that you really wanted and then seen somebody do it, quietly admitting it to yourself, Shit, they did better than I [would have], no wonder they got the job.

Craig: There are definitely jobs where they're like, "Oh we're bidding so and so," and I'll say to my production manager, "Well they should go with him. He would be so much better for that concept than I would."

Jake: I once sold Jonathan Glazer on that frozen moment job [for Nike]. I was like, "Oh it's like that Radiohead video that Jon Glazer did," and the next thing I know, he's fucking doing it! It's great—I think it's healthy. We all have horrible egos.

David: It's better for the soul than watching something you passed on and [realizing], That fucking blew!

Michael: I never really want to know who I'm bidding against. I figure we're all artists, we all have a different approach toward something, and if that other guy got it, he just had a different approach to something and they liked it.

Stacy: I did what I considered to be two "fantastic" calls on the LeBron James "The Chalk" job that Mark Romanek ended up doing, and he clearly ended up doing a better job than I would have done. I really think that commercial found art. I think Craig, your spot on the Super Bowl for about the guy's life, that was beautiful—I love that thing.

RSA's Jake Scott
RSA's Jake Scott
Craig: It was great, we had two days to prep that. I lost a job last year on the Super Bowl toTom Kuntz, the Fedex one. And he did a great job on that, and you know what, I actually feel better when it's good.

David S.: I lost that job to Craig, and I agree you did a fantastic job.

Noam: Sometimes it's nice to see them do a shitty job.

David: You make a good point.

Jeff Labbe: Do you always ask who you're bidding against?

Stacy: No, I think in that case, we did just because we were so down the line with them.

Craig: I've found it's just pointless, knowing anything. Because you can do a conference call and be like, "That was a great conference call!" And then it's like oh, they went with someone else.

Stacy: Sometimes you like to know because then you know what you compare to.

David S.: One thing that it can tell you—if you're bidding against three totally disparate people, that's actually a worrying sign. If it's three people or teams, and none of them have any connective tissue, then I start to think they don't know what they want. [But] it doesn't stop me from doing the call.

Dave Meyers: If it's disparate, I'll usually take a lot more risk with the treatment, write some crazy creative stuff if I can.

Phil: If it looks really disparate like that, I try to then make it really super clear what I'm like, so there's not some sense of, well we hope we can get out of him something that's like what someone else does because we've got to pick one of them.

Jake: That's a very good point. I'm going to adopt that method.

Stacy: A good approach—that took me a while to learn—is write the treatment in the way you think it should be made, not the treatment that should get you the job.

Michael: With Dave, Jake, myself, I don't know how many other guys did music videos or were doing them a lot, I thought it was the most fair way to win jobs. They would get three directors they liked and you won on your treatment.

Noam: I would venture to say that all of us write the same goddamn treatment for the same ad. You have a script that is pretty much that, and then you do a call. At the end of the day it's about chemistry, and then you have to go put it on a piece of paper. I think the whole idea of having a treatment to begin with is completely enslaving us all to do something that we don't really like to do, and it's unnecessary.

Stacy: I think sometimes you do get a little bit of room for interpretation. Anecdotally, the thing we got to do with LeBron James, The LeBrons, where he played all the different characters, that initially came in as a sitcom. They wanted it to feel like a sitcom and I wrote a treatment that was more of a no, let's do it like this.

Dante Ariola: I was bidding against Traktor my whole life, especially when I did comedy, and sometimes I wish I could have written the Traktor treatment because I love what they do. But there's the Traktor version of this spot, and there's how I would do it, and they are diametrically opposed, hopefully both funny, but it's just a different sensibility.

Dave M.: It's pretty much like a studio with a script, but when you're a director for hire versus a filmmaker, it's down to the subtleties of what we do. I always think about your [Noam's] Hummer spot—there's an emotional core to it that's going to be different than if I had done it or anyone else here had done it.

Noam: I think that's why there are so many of us and why it's so great because you do make it different—because of who you are, not necessarily the idea.

Craig: The treatment does in a lot of ways seem like a contract, and I sort of deliberately try to keep it general enough so we don't get locked into something.

Phil: Treatments, [and] the fact that it seems to me that prep time is so much shorter than it used to be—those two things combine to make it much more rare that it's a collaborative process. I feel like when there were only conference calls, the conference call was about a process, not about a finished product.

Benzo Theodore of Park Pictures
Benzo Theodore of Park Pictures
Jeff: I left the agency life in '04 and we never asked for a treatment. And they were agencies like Wieden and Chiat/S.F. When I started directing, I had to learn how to write a treatment because I never saw one. I get so much more nervous about writing a treatment for the American market because you've got to shoot tomorrow, versus the European market where you can get on a follow up call, and you can craft it together.

Phil: We started making treatments in order to get the job, and then it became expected.

David S.: If you really love a job, that can kind of bleed through. They can intuit that, so I think that's important.

Luc Schurgers: For us, we're just new to this business and we're bidding against guys with 10, five years of experience, so we really need to kind of go that extra mile. We put a test in there, a CG test, a little edit, some ideas for sound.

David S.: We're fucked!

Jake: Nicolai Fuglsig, he'll go and shoot the job. I think you better watch out for him.

Dante: That guy, I went on a tech scout, so we all met at the production company [MJZ] in London, 5:30 in the morning. But [he] was literally opening the gate. I'm like, "You're not on a shoot, what are you doing here?" He's there doing a mood board. I'm like, I'm fucked! I could not work that hard. It's like you, man, CG tests? Come on!

Luc: We do an animatic to see how it feels.

David S.: Please, please stop. On behalf of all of us, please stop!

Noam: This goes against the grain of what this is all about. Seriously, there is a certain amount of prep that starts to get in the way of actually making something great.

Jake: It's a different style. Look at Fincher. He doesn't make a movie without knowing how it's going to look, feel, smell taste. I would imagine you're [ Benzo] pretty spontaneous.

Benzo Theodore: I try to be, yeah. But still, for all the viral work I did, it seems spontaneous, but there's actually a lot of camera testing, planning; going into it we'd shoot tests.

Jake: There's a lot of comedy directors here, right? How do you get into comedy?

David S.: You have a really disapproving mother.

Craig: You're just too well-adjusted. Coming from the agency side, I have a lot of sympathy for the pressure that they're under. I don't find [treatments] to be that big a deal. I shoot what they promised the client, then I shoot what I think might be better. There are so many things I've shot that I've been told won't air, and somehow they get it on the air—people getting their limbs cut off, or cats with blood all over them.

Noam: There is a reason why good editors don't just punch the numbers and cut because they can bring something into the fold that you didn't think of. The magic that everybody's talking about is going to happen because you start walking the walk, not because you sat in a room, inspired with a glass of cognac. I think that's really going to benefit the spot.

Creativity: We hear so much about the new generation of directors who are maybe more of the Fincher school of planning things out. Do you find that's more of a thing now?

Noam: Even in effects spots I think there's still quite a bit of room to create a tone and approach. You have to be technically savvy and all that kind of stuff, but in conception, especially in an effects spot everything is open, you can do whatever the hell.

Luc: Yeah but there's a lot of stuff you can shoot in a way that it's not much different, it doesn't have that much effect on the storyline, but you save yourself a shitload of time, and if you work with a post company you could save yourself a lot of dollars. It's a balance. We do a lot of stuff, especially at lower budgets. You go, "OK, cool, it would be great to shoot it like that, but if you do it like that, it would save it quite a bit."

Biscuit Filmworks' Noam Murro
Biscuit Filmworks' Noam Murro
Dave M.: I do post in almost everything I'm doing but I think most of us are after the emotional impact. You might be bringing an expertise in post, but all of us get the most acknowledgment from accomplishing a finished piece that's interesting. I think a comedy guy could easily do a visual effects piece if you surround yourself with all the right people. There is a box quality to how we're perceived, and I'm always trying to break that box.

Jake: Fredrik Bond's a good example—wanker! He's quite versatile—he does good comedy, good effects stuff, across the board very, very strong. It could be the most effects-y thing, but he always seems to get into character. I think this goes back to what you guys were all saying, really putting yourself into your work. I had a look at everybody's work and there's a very strong identity in all the directors sitting around this table.

Craig: Hey Noam, I notice you always seem to be able to get your editor on your jobs. That's an enormous amount of control, right there, where there's a sensibility that's similar to yours.

Noam: You try. You ask for it. And you beg and if you get it, you get it, if you don't, you don't.

Dave M.: I have a guy I get on about 50-60 percent of my stuff, Chris Davis. I just think they bridge the gap. I like to visit in the beginning to get the director's cut going and then let him sit with the agency. He carries on the filmmaking, the aesthetic and he informs the agency.

Michael: It's your responsibility as a director to present your vision. But a lot of that vision also is sometimes 50% post. I was probably shooting a cloud there, a mountain there. In the end they're looking at this thing, they don't know there's a cloud that goes there. It took them three weeks to decide on a cut, and you're already off doing something else, and you feel out of the loop. I feel kind of crummy about it.

Dave M.: Usually on a post-driven job, I'll jump on a sword that I have a say on the post company or I'll pass.

David S: Do you all do director's cuts?

Phil: Less and less. It seems to me that with stuff like Adcritic, you're less the person who's in control of what gets shown of your work, so director's cuts seem to be meaningless.

Jeff: That's why you really need to just stay involved. I really think a lot of directors are just busy and they don't want to stay involved.

Phil: Schedules have gotten so squeezed and you're trying to figure out a way to have an acting nuance still fit into 30 seconds and tell the story—that's a hard thing to do quickly in an edit. There gets to be a point where it's nobody's fault, but it's like sorry, we don't have time for this anymore, we just need to make it the thing that we know will work.

Craig: It's really frustrating when you've spent all that time shooting a spot, and the guys show you a cut, 24 hours later, and you're like, "Guys, did you look at the film?"

Dave M.: Have you tried editing on set with the VTR guy?

Dante: That's a little too much multitasking for me.

Dave M.: I've had really great success with that. They don't watch me edit, but I'm doing it on the sides, and near the end of the shoot I'll present the edit, not every job. Then you get them to say, yes they like it. It's like the treatment contract.

Noam: But you're losing one of the most important things about the editorial process, which is to surprise yourself. My editor, every time he presents the cut to me, it's much better than what I thought, or different from what I thought.

David S.: Woody Allen said, "I'd much rather be in the editing room than on set."

Jeff: It's all Steve Jobs' fault. Mac computers taught people they can edit, shoot, film and everything else. Then you have the client saying, "I can edit my own. Let me look at your cut..." (laughs)'s Dave Meyers's Dave Meyers
Stacy: The Doritos commercial in the Super Bowl that was the number one rated commercial was created by two guys from a contest. The headlines were like, "They trumped the whole industry!" I'm sure everyone at this table gets jobs because you have a certain creative reputation, but you also have a reputation that you can force a job through. That's why I'm looking forward to the Doritos team getting crushed like a pebble by this business. [Agencies] want the job to be great, but they also want the process to not destroy the relationship with the clients.

Dave M.: I think a lot of the brands, like when I've worked with Nike and HP, the client rolled in and he was an intelligent guy who empowered the agency to be provocative.

David S.: It's true. I was shooting a Heineken ad once and we forgot to replace the hero bottle with the stand-in bottle and the client was like, "Fuck it, that was the best take. Don't worry about it." That's rare. But it's a beautiful thing.

Creativity: Are you guys being asked to shoot more content for multiple platforms, not just necessarily basic spots?

Jeff: If they want web components we tend to know going into it. I find those to be one of the times you can be more creative and they even want your ideas and scripts.

David S.: Well, there's two types of virals. There's the kind that was designed and dedicated for web use and then there's the 30-second commercial that develops elephantitis. Jamie Barrett said this really funny thing to me, it was something like, "Let's make a viral and we'll use everything we didn't think was good enough to make it in the 30." So sometimes they ask you to make a viral out of something that shouldn't be used.

Dave M.: I think they're still trying to figure out viral. I accidentally had a pretty famous viral of the kung-fu guy doing the backflip ["Afroninja"]. That thing was a mistake and it was leaked out and someone got fired and all that. And now that guy has a movie about his life and that's a successful viral. But for corporations to come in, I always advise that they have to take extreme risks in order to get viral.

Stacy Wall, of newly-formed Imperial Woodpecker
Stacy Wall, of newly-formed Imperial Woodpecker
Creativity: So what was the case with everyone who made films that have really gone viral? Swear Jar even won an Emmy.

David S.: "Swear Jar" was a 60 with a benign tumor. That was weird in that it was, perhaps delusionally, intended to be a Super Bowl spot, but we always knew we could always make it something for the web. It was like a hybrid and we were hedging our bets, really.

Creativity: What about the Ray-Ban stuff?

Benzo: It's weird for me when a client comes in and says, "We want to do a viral." A video isn't a viral until it becomes a viral. For Ray-Ban, Cutwater contacted about ten filmmakers, including Jeff (Labbe) and gave us an insane amount of freedom and trust. Really, it was as simple as them throwing a few ideas out there. Go brainstorm for a few days and get back to us. So that's what I did. It was the quickest conference call of my life. I said, "OK, Chuck [McBride], two guys, one guy throws the glasses, the other catches it on his face, no hands." And he said, "Alright, cool, do it."

Creativity: Was there a lot of post on it?

Benzo: Not a lot. My friend Johannes [Gamble] did the post but mainly it was mostly in-camera practical effects, hiding edits. It was just amazing how much freedom I had on it. When people would do these videos about one trick that escalates, what did it for me was when the trick rides closely to that line of theoretically possible according to the laws of physics and gravity. If it's way outside of that, I just don't think it would create the kind of dialogue that other ones do.

Luc: Virals are great to make but you always have the issue of the budget.

Stacy: I actually think that what you did with that and what other people are doing in that form, thank God it grew the way it did and so many people saw it because it's actually made a reality, "Hey, if you make a commercial that's good, people will like it and they will talk about it." Now, because a client can see hits, it's placed a premium on things being good whether they are on the internet on TV or wherever. That's the funniest thing about it.

Luc: The thing about a viral is that it can be really successful even if it's not something good. It can just be funny or weird. [For Ray-Ban] we made a cow giving birth to a guy and it had hundreds of comments.

Epoch's Phil Morrison
Epoch's Phil Morrison
Benzo: You can't keep following the same recipes because eventually the jig is going to be up. That gives us the responsibility of outdoing ourselves every time. For me it's always about concept first and then figure out the approach. When I set out to do the Levi's Jumping Into Jeans, I called Johannes and asked, "How do we do this?" I didn't think wires would be good and he just said, "Take the resources away from effects and put it into casting guys who could actually do it." There's people out there who could do it. So yeah, it was a great idea, to cast parkour guys.

Michael: I worked with Cutwater on Levi's Knockout. They said, "You've got to make it so bloody that it gets censored." So the girl's got a really bloody nose. But then they said they're going to put it in cinema because it's not going to go viral. And then we had to get rid of the blood.

Benzo: That's really cool though that you set out to do a viral and it ended up in cinema.

Michael: But I failed the viral. I think a successful viral is an extension of Jackass in a sense. The "I got a camera and just shot my friend jumping in this whatever."

Creativity: You actually worked on Jackass, right?

Benzo: I shot video for all three seasons and was the still photographer for both features. It was probably the closest I'll be to ever touring with a rock band, seeing things no person should have in their head. But I do think that there are certain things from that I was able to bring into videos. Like having the camera crew as a character, for example.

Michael: So (to Benzo) if I say to you there's a shot of a girl walking past a group of guys and they get hit with an invisible punch, how would you do that with a Jackass approach, as a viral?

Benzo: It's about creating a possible argument. When I did the first Ray-Ban, I never thought it would create an argument about if it's real or not. I just thought it would be entertaining and stupid. It kind of amazed me that people would be arguing about whether it was real or not. It seemed people would be bummed out if it wasn't real.

David Shane of O Positive
David Shane of O Positive
Creativity: It sounds like you're really keeping the viewer in mind. Do you guys all do that? What's first in mind? Is it the viewer, or is it art or the idea?

Michael: I think it's different viewers we're talking about. I think he has his thumb on the viewer that I don't have my thumb on. There's a different entertainment value than if you're making something for a cinema or for a commercial.

Jake: When you describe those Ray-Ban or Levi's things to people, I would describe them, "Oh yeah, sounds like a Spike Jonze thing," but it has completely your voice. Completely. I think that that's helpful in terms of making something feel real. And real to you. And the fact that you're in it. And that's the strength of Jackass , and that's the strength of any of those things. They're dead honest. Who's seen Gomorra? Gomorrais a mafia movie done in a viral style.

Stacy: Does it have Doritos in it?

Jake: It's a knockout. It's really straightforward. It's really honest. It's real. You believe it, that's the main thing.

Jeff : But it's all a crap shoot. Isn't that JC Penney Doghouse thing a big viral?

Benzo: That's totally the opposite. It's totally produced, but it's still shared.

Craig: At the end of the day, it comes down to, is it entertaining? Doesn't matter where it is.

Luc: In terms of structure, it has changed, because now you don't need have to have a linear story anymore. You make something and you ask the user use to click a button and that leads into a new kind of ad. That's how you can tell a story with multiple endings.

David: We're always supposed to say we're storytellers and it's all about the story. But I think what people take away from a great commercial or a great movie is this fucking line, this little moment, it's "Leave the [gun], take the cannoli."

Stacy: I have a question for Dante. How do you make your commercials so good? You did that commercial for Heineken where a guy drops all the Heinekens and all over the world men are stopped. Beautiful, beautiful spot. If I knew how to use the internet properly, I would have sent it around to my friends. I just think it's craft. You have great taste, casting like Jake was saying about Fredrik Bond.

MJZ's Dante Ariola
MJZ's Dante Ariola
Craig: I was surprised with the Pepsi spot you just had on the Super Bowl, how much you're saying is shot.

Dante: I'm not claiming that is the next Bob Dylan, by the way, just on the record. I fought against it. I couldn't do anything about it. I'm not retarded.

Creativity: What about having a variety of genres under your belt, to represent yourself as a director? How did that happen? You went from comedy to more dark, lush stuff.

Dante: I wasn't being facetious when I said I really don't enjoy effects, though I appreciate them. I started off on comedy, believe it or not, because I'm hilarious. For me, it's one of the best things about a short form thing like commercials. You're not making a comedic film or a visual film, you can just do little projects in different veins. We all say we try to use this to learn something and maybe you'll apply it to a film, but I think maybe the microcosm of applying those different disciplines is the one thing this business does afford you that you'd be foolish not to take advantage of.

Creativity: Moving on to another topic—movies. A bunch of you here have done them. What's that experience been like? Craig, for example, two of your films came out back to back, one with not so great reviews [Mr. Woodcock], the other one to great reviews [Lars and the Real Girl]. What was that experience like?

Sonny London's Jeff Labbe
Sonny London's Jeff Labbe
Craig: It's a completely different muscle, doing a movie. Fortunately, I got to work that out on Mr. Woodcock. It's funny, you do commercials and they are so precise. You don't really have time to do anything with the camera. I was half way through Woodcock before I realized I can just dolly with the guy as he walks through the bar and sits down at the table. I don't have to cut. And really getting that luxury of how you tell that story because you're going to do a three-minute scene with three people and block it out.

Noam: Beyond the technical issue or the cinematic issue, it's a different political issue. It takes a while to actually understand it and master it. We've been doing [commercials] for so long and know them inside and out, and when you do a feature, you become, for a minute, a first time director. I did a movie and the budget was 6 million bucks. We probably shot, all of us commercially for a billion bucks. Politically, it's a different animal, not in the bad sense of the word. It's just how you achieve what you want to is different.

Creativity: Was it enjoyable for you? What's the aftermath of all of it?

Craig: I've found it extremely enjoyable. The thing you get to really learn from films is to work with actors. I kind of feel bad for commercial actors, coming back to it, and I give them even more attention because they're such a fundamental part of it. You really get to form those relationships and develop scenes with them.

Dave M.: To get to the finish line with a piece of work—I've studied this very hard in my last film [The Hitcher]—I think you have to make sure you're creatively and emotionally pure. You have to choose a producer who can guard you from the studio or a studio that really understands your vision. It's kind of a like a long-term version of things we're talking about with treatments.

Minivegas' Luc Schurgers
Minivegas' Luc Schurgers
David S.: Did you guys find because you are often working in increments of seconds that you have to almost back off in a certain sense, or to kill the actors in working long takes and long scenes?

Noam: I think it's exactly the opposite. I think that focus gives you freedom and intimacy you don't really get on commercials, which kind of becomes this gang-bang and everybody's got opinions and it's all energy. But that quiet moment when you know that the resonance is actually real, it's spectacular. At the end of the day, the whole redeeming thing about movies really is the fact that you can work with actors.

Luc: [To Craig] How was it working with the doll [on Lars]?

Craig: It's a little bit sick about how much effort went into working with that doll. I went down to the factory several times. There were way too many choices, like 14 bodies and 14 faces.

Luc: Did you have a go with one of them? (Laughter)

Creativity: Having critically acclaimed successes, what does that do for you, in terms of the whole system. [To Phil] With your film [Junebug], what happened after that?

Phil: It felt good, but it didn't really make money. What was great about making the movie was that I made it with Epoch. There was no studio and it really made my relationship with the production company all the more strong and familial. It's stressful because we did it for so little money. But it made me scared about commercials because we were producing it out of Epoch. So I would come in and see the Epoch directors making commercials, so I think, Oh God, when I come back and want to make commercials, maybe I won't get to anymore.

Noam: Until you do a movie that you like, it's all basically a phantom thing. At the end of the day, you can't pay the bills if you did movies that are relevant to what you want to do.

Jake: Unless you're Michael Bay. Michael Bay makes the films he wants to make and he does it really well.

Noam: There's nothing wrong with it. He has a knack for it. I don't know if I have that sensibility to go out and make a movie like he does and make $100 million. I'm not sure I could do it. But if you want to make a small movie that's not necessarily commercially viable, it is hard to do it and you cannot feed yourself and your family doing it. The independent money is gone essentially from the landscape.

Jake: Because the weird thing is you can't make a film for $15 million. You're right. Small, personal films are hard to make. They're fewer and far between.

MJZ's Craig Gillespie
MJZ's Craig Gillespie
David S.: There are companies that want to do $1 million or under. I'm struggling with that right now here in New York. We have some things set up with Zach Galifianakis and it's just that we keep getting and losing financing. If we lose financing, we lose a piece of the cast. As [Noam] said, it ultimately means nothing until it's shot. There's no such thing as a $5 or $6 million movie anymore.

Stacy: Call up Doritos, David.

Craig: I love being able to jump back and forth. Commercials are just this great trial and error place where you can do stuff and you work with amazing people.

Noam: I don't view that as the testing ground for my new ideas. It's for you growing.

Michael: I did a very small movie with Nick Cave, a film I wrote called Rhinoceros Hunting in Budapest. It did great in Sundance. It didn't get U.S. distribution but it did great in Europe. Then I jumped on a film to jump on a film which I thought was the next step up. I had Sam Shepard, Val Kilmer and Faye Dunaway, cool people, but a very odd mix. We shot something really excellent. But we got totally screwed in the edit where suddenly it was like let's take the whole ending and put that in the beginning.

Jake: I'm editing my second film now [Welcome to the Rileys] which is a very different thing. With the first one [Plunkett & Macleane]—my ego was out of control at the time. After winning some awards for music videos, I thought I was Stanley Kubrick and I thought I was going to make f**king Barry Lyndon. It didn't work because I didn't really know what I was doing. I tried to prove how many genres I could fit into one film.

Craig: Yeah, I was lucky, I got knocked on my ass with Woodcock.

Jake: [My second film] was a different experience. It was all performance and I had nothing visual to hide behind. I had three very good actors, very small, $6 million. Michael Costigan [producer]. If it gets an audience is another thing, but what I got from it was what I was looking for which is to work with actors and to learn something. I come out of it still with respect for advertising. But it's a completely different animal on every level. I think we can do both and I think everyone should do a movie.

Stacy: You should all do a movie immediately. Go knock yourselves out. I'll take care of the house.

Noam: The one thing I was taught is to take your time. There's no rush. The worst thing you can do is go and do a movie that you don't like.

Jake: I come from a family of film directors and I've watched both [my dad and uncle] make the mistake in what they've done. I've seen my father do it several times, making a film for financial gain or positioning to be miserable for three years.

Craig: It's really hard to get over that first-time director hump. There seems to be a big difference between that and the second time.

Jake: It's a lot to do with self-knowledge, what you're able to withstand. As Noam says about Hollywood, there's a language and a game you play.

HSI and Person Films' Michael Haussman
HSI and Person Films' Michael Haussman
Creativity: Talking about these people your lives are intertwined with, what makes a great creative partner?

Noam: Egoless. When the ego is out of the equation everybody wins.

David S.: I think there's a direct correlation—the best creatives tend to be the most collaborative people, generally, because they're the least insecure. What you're looking for is a situation where you're making each other better.

Jeff: It helps too if you know the creatives are honest and there are no agendas. By nature, we're all problem solvers and want to make it good.

David S.: Do you guys find that you go into edits now thinking, This is going to degrade [it], by however many percentage points, and my job is to stop it?

Craig: I agree, I tend to think it's going to be, How do we save it. It's very rare to have that nice surprise where you walk in and it's like, Wow, it's better than I expected it to be.

Noam: There is the whole thing, watching the agency cut after who knows how long, and it actually is better. Six months later you go, I think they're right. What was I fighting about? I don't remember. This is actually pretty damn good.

Stacy: I think there's another element to it. Sometimes you just know that something's going to go south, so you say, "Well, let's find something to enjoy." I think that's this business' greatest strength—you get to do all these different things, go to all these different places, meet all these different people, so if the commercial comes out good, that's a bonus.

Jake: Don't you ever find yourself standing there and going, God, I love my job? I got to go helicopter snowboarding in the Andes last year because of Hewlett-Packard.

Stacy: I got to go in a zero-gravity plane, man! And you're going, "This is the coolest fucking job ever."

Creativity: Do you guys all feel that way?

All: Yeah.

David S.: It's an absurdly great job.

Creativity: Outside of commercials and filmmaking, do you guys do anything else creative?

Stacy: You're all invited to my art show, it's in New York [see this month's Unleashed]. That's really what I'm starting to focus on. It's just a hobby. I'm going to do a show because my friends have a gallery and they offered me a show. It's acrylic on wood.

Creativity: Michael you paint, too, right?

Michael: To me, hence going back to the bad experience on the movie, I hid into painting. I just did it for myself, I always painted, it was just like the skill. Jake, he's a great painter.

Creativity: Do you paint Jake?

Jake: Yeah, I paint. [Shows a drawing on his notepad] This is a disgruntled '80s director. Dante: I always envy Daniel Day Lewis, in his off time he goes to Italy and cobbles.

Dave M.: Daniel Day Lewis built one of my sets a while back, for a Hershey's thing. He clocked in and clocked out with the other carpenters. That's what he does in his downtime.

Benzo: I do photography. It's been a few years since I've done an exhibition, but I try to do that.

Luc: I run a gallery with my sister. It's a good excuse every five weeks to have some new people in there, have a little party.

Creativity: Jake, what's it like growing up in your family?

Jake: School holidays we'd go work in the editing room. This is a good story actually. Kubrick was doing The Shining on the lot that they were shooting Blade Runner. And my dad was really struggling with the studio on Blade Runner, really struggling. And no one understood the film. And he called Kubrick up to see if he'd come have a look. So my brother and I, on a Friday afternoon, were sent out to get some beers and a curry and some nuts and stand there in the editing room and pour wine and beer for Mr. Kubrick, and they watched the film on a Steenbeck. I'm falling asleep in the corner and at the time, my dad didn't have an ending that he liked. They talked about this until 2 in the morning and at the end, Kubrick's like, look, send someone over on Monday. And my brother and I were sent over to his editing room to collect all these film cans on these dollies and we had to go through them and run them and say what they were. It was all aerial footage of the Volkswagen Beetle on the mountain roads at the beginning of The Shining, and from that footage, tons of it, was the last shot of Blade Runner. The final shot was actually an outtake from The Shining.
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