One of the best lessons I learned was from Slash during a video shoot for Velvet Revolver. It was in the middle of a band meltdown worthy of Behind The Music. The band arrived four hours late and in the middle of the night. I only got one take before [drummer] Matt Sorum walked off of the set because of tensions with Scott Weiland. It was a domino effect from then on--Duff [McKagan] begging to go home because it was past his bedtime, 20 video girls ready to leave because their feet were bleeding, power going out, and Weiland demanding we shoot the video without Sorum. I remember Slash noticing the disappointment and defeat in my face, and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Everything's going to work out, the work is going to be incredible, this is just Rock and Roll." That was a turning point for me. Rather than focusing on the chaos, I focused on the things I could control, which allowed me to have fun and pull the shoot together. Slash has been to hell and back, so I not only direct by those wise words, but I also live by them.
What do you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
You can't do everything yourself.
What are you still learning about the job?
One of the great challenges is in politics affecting work. During my last pre-pro meeting, there were 24 clients of varying levels. Every decision was under intense scrutiny--and this is after focus testing. A failed campaign in this climate means people lose their jobs, so nothing is being left to chance. This type of environment makes creativity more difficult than ever. How does a director navigate every level of the political chain and still deliver something they are proud of? I don't expect to ever find the silver bullet answer to this, but I try to be adaptive on the less critical details while holding on strong to the necessary ideas.
Watch some of Cullen's spots
Read more from the 2009 Directors Special Report