The New Direction

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Introducing the latest batch of directors to stop us in our tracks. Their reels glimmer with the promise of a fresh eye, a unique approach, and often, a surprising ease at orchestration both behind the camera and at the computer console. Also, we present a look at some of the most exciting newcomers from the agency world and that other familiar talent incubator, MTV, as well as a peek at a young directors consortium that's challenged—well, sort of—the concept of the collective.

Gaëlle Denis Passion Pictures

City Paradise
City Paradise
At the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors Showcase in Cannes this year, the audience at the Grand Auditorium of the Palais des Festivals got to chase its night of merrymaking with six minutes of pure visual intoxication as one particular tale unfolded on the screen. This was City Paradise, which told the surreal story of a female Japanese expatriate and her adjustment to London life. The misty hued short displays a painterly collage of quixotic characters and cityscapes, imagined with a mind-boggling interplay of live action and computer animation. Like the film itself, the director Gaëlle Denis, of Passion Pictures, a 30-year-old London-based French native, pulls from a broad range of influences when it comes to her storytelling.

"I'm always inspired by design and photography and fashion," says the graduate of London's Royal College of Art. "I'm influenced by painting, but as well I'm influenced by theater and the stage, the way elements are put together to create a nice frame between the foreground, the background, the middle ground, as well as the dynamic of the actors. I think sometimes in City Paradise you can see that by how the actors and elements are appearing on the screen." It's hard to believe that this was Denis' first experience in combining various media, not to mention her first go at directing live action, but she's most at home when she's trying something new. "For me, the most important thing about directing
Gaelle Denis
Gaelle Denis
is telling stories and discovering new techniques. It's about always learning and reinventing." In fact, prior to City Paradise, she earned the 2003 BAFTA best animated short award for her short Fish Never Sleep, which was actually her first venture in 2-D computer animation. The film was inspired by a four-month scholarship stint in Japan, and although it too boasts Denis' powerful sense of art direction, unlike City Paradise, Denis stuck with a single medium, using a dazzling restricted palette of red, white and black. "In a way, I think it was the best way to lead the story," she says. "I used to do painting, mixing a lot of colors together. Then when I went to Japan I just rediscovered lines, shapes, contrast. The shadows of the objects are very different from what you see in Europe. I just wanted to restart from the beginning and tell a story where the technique would not be too disturbing. Having just three colors helped me to structure what I wanted to say, so in a way it was kind of a basic exercise."

Currently, Denis is working on a short and a feature, both of which incorporate live action, and is also pitching on an art direction job for a major feature film. She's already dipped her metaphorical brush into the commercials world, having worked on animation/live action-combo spots for Pier One with fellow Passion director Tim Hope as well as for Honda, in a team effort with RSA's ACNE. While the spots are glorious displays of Denis' handiwork, they don't compare to her solo flights, on which she has yet to embark in advertising. "Especially when you mix live action with animation, you always need to be involved in the live action yourself because you have to think of the direction of the lights, the position of the camera and the scaling," she notes. "Even before starting the animation, it's important to control every stage to make sure that you will give your best at every step. It's not because I only want to be on my own, but I think it's easier when one person is connecting the others." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Si & Ad Academy Films
Click for work.
Click for work.
Si & Ad are relative newcomers to the commercials scene with just a few spots to their name, but they share a long harmonious history of working together. Seven years ago, the pair started out as a design team creating websites for Virgin Records in the U.K., which seems like a fitting place for 31-year-old Si, Simon Atkinson, who studied design at University of Salford in Manchester and earned a student D&AD pencil for best new media design. The label was, however, a strange landing pad for other half Adam Townley, 34, who graduated with a math degree from Kings College. Nevertheless, the numbers and arts formula must have clicked, as the team went on to direct behind-the-scenes films for music videos, and eventually their first clips job for the band The Music. Since then, Si&Ad have built up solid cred in the music video world out of Academy, shooting clever visuals for the likes of McFly's "Room on the Third Floor," a delightful depiction of the band as living breathing components of a plastic make-it-yourself model kit—inspired by the hobby shop around the corner
Click for work.
Click for work.
from the duo's office. There's also Chikinki's "Like it or Leave it," which pays homage to a Guy Bourdin photograph and toys with depth perception assumptions to create a totally fresh stage for the rockers' performance. As for moving into spots, "the transition from music videos was a natural progression for us," says Townley. Natural, but requiring a kick in the pants reel-wise, so last year, the duo decided to jumpstart their commercials career by writing and directing the visually dazzling short Street Dream, in which they illustrate a jazzy, spoken word day-in-the-life tale by shooting a man in various positions on a chalked up cartoon sidewalk backdrop. "We needed a short conceptual spot with dialog," Townley explains. "People wanted to see we could work with actors ," adds Atkinson. "We did it just to fill up those areas we hadn't touched on." Turns out, the pair recently returned from New Zealand, where they reconfigured the short's idea into an upcoming PSA for Auckland City Mission for Publicis Mojo. Prior to that, they brought happy album snapshots to life in their first U.K. spot for BT Broadband.

The duo also recently made its U.S. commercials debut on HIV/AIDS —
"Si brings the pickle, I bring the cheese."
PSAs for Kaiser Family Foundation out of Crispin, in which a cluster of young people intertwine in a massive modern dance, multiplying to the thousands to demonstrate the spread of the the virus. The pair shot initial scenes with actors in camera and then used the horde-creating software Massive. As individuals, Townley and Atkinson may have their particular tastes—"Si brings the pickle, I bring the cheese," says Townley. "I like cheesy films and and Si likes very cool arty films and high-brow books." Yet when it comes to their work, "We mix and match," explains Atkinson. "If one person is working with the artist, the other can work closely with the DP. You've got to be on it all the time and having two people allows us to concentrate more fully on different aspects of the shoot." Adds Townley, "We find that we both tend to agree on most things, and our decision process is very swift and efficient." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Lena Beug Reginald Pike/Reginaldo

MADD 'Papers'
MADD 'Papers'
Just last month, Lena Beug finally said goodbye to her longtime gig at MTV, where she spent the better portion of the last decade. Born in Cork, Ireland to a German literature professor father and a New Jersey painter mother, the 30-year-old Beug moved to New York eight years ago and soon after landed an internship at the music channel, eventually working her way up to becoming art director in the graphics design department, where her swan song was to help oversee the recent massive redesign of MTV2. Having recently signed to Reginald Pike and U.S. outpost Reginaldo for representation, Beug finally made the leap to directing full-time, just a year and a half after her first official live-action job. It was then that Beug had decided to turn her camera on her longtime friend Clay Weiner, a Publicis copywriter and bad Justin Timberlake impersonator. That film turned into a teaser for the Video Music Awards, announcing, of course, the best dance clip, and eventually paved the way to the full-blown .

Although "Intro Guy" was Beug's first live action directing stint, "It was just so clear in my mind what every detail of the campaign was supposed to be," she says. "You only get the tip of the iceberg in those spots, but in my head, it was a whole world. I could have made a whole movie about the guy." That obsession with character and detail is paramount to Beug's M.O. "Whenever I see a script, I'm really intrigued with the person who's in it, the back story," Beug says. "That's what I find most fascinating, trying to create a viable world in which that person lives. When I was a
Lena Beug
Lena Beug
kid, if I went anywhere with my mother, she would stare at people to the point where it would get really embarrassing. She would totally get lost in other people, and I definitely inherited a bit of that." Beug has gone on to conduct more character studies for MTV2, on promos featuring the shiny-faced, self-obsessed "Mean Girl" as well as the quirky teen-cum-plastic surgeon girl who performs The Swan-like operations on her entire stuffed animal collection. "That was kind of a torturous casting," she recalls of the latter. "I wanted to find someone who represented that moment when you're still playing with dolls but you're definitely starting to become aware that the world is not such a safe place–someone who hasn't figured out who she is yet, like Christina Ricci in The Ice Storm." Recently, Beug finally applied her directorial touches to her first agency-sponsored job, on PSA's for Canada's MADD out of Saatchi/Toronto, in which toked-up hipsters get their minds rerouted when unexpected characters hilariously come out of the woodwork, cautioning them not to drive.

When it comes to her vision, Beug also notes that "art direction is very, very important for me. That's something I'd love to do if I wasn't directing. I love trying to control the palette in really subtle ways. If a room is in blues and purples, I might put the talent in a bit of yellow and orange. Working with color is my favorite thing." Nevertheless, she likes to keep her sense of style in check. "You know how some commercials are so stylized that's the first thing you notice?" she asks. "That's not what I'm going for. I'm trying to make you enjoy the action of what's happening, but not knock you over the head with style. I approach things definitely with character first. That's why I think the details are so important. You can forget about yourself for a moment and live in the world of that person. When all the elements come together in the right way—they way it's shot, the location, the person, the acting, the colors—that's the element of magic in the whole thing." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Benjamin Weinstein Steam Films

Hot Docs 'Agog'
Hot Docs 'Agog'
The refusal of actors to work generally constitutes bad news for a director. Not so for 30-year-old Benjamin Weinstein, who got his big break in filmmaking as a direct result of the biggest case of actor defiance in recorded history. "I was living in L.A. during the SAG strike," recalls Weinstein of the 2000 labor dispute between commercial actors and the advertising industry. "At which point a lot of attention became focused on Canada, because so much production was moving here. I figured I'd put my passport to use and go back home." The Ottawa-born Weinstein's first gig in his native land came in 2002 in the form of a $12,000 country western music video, springboarding him into a deal with Blink Pictures, where he still directs clips today. A partnership with Steam Films quickly followed in 2003, marking his official arrival on the advertising scene.

Having never taken a formal filmmaking class, Weinstein leveraged the lessons of his cinematic idols. "My earliest influences were great storytellers like Lumet, Altman, Ashby and Coppola," he says. "I've always aimed for the type of mastery that they represent. Instead of being a specific category of director, it's about being a great storyteller—period." Weinstein has attempted to follow that model, and his reel reflects a broad spectrum of tone and style, from suspense to comedy and everything in between. "I'm helplessly attracted to any discipline, as long as it's rooted in a strong idea," he says.

The director's "Agog" spot for the Hot Docs film festival solidified his mastery of comedy, featuring a carpenter who maintains the same bewildered expression throughout the course of his day—whether he's working with heavy machinery, getting drilled at the dentist's chair, or making an awkward yoga pose. Weinstein displayed a firm grasp on visual wizardry in his effects-heavy "Magnet" spot for Subaru, in which various objects—including a bike, a soccer ball and a kayak—are drawn to a passing Forester. "
"My relationship with special effects is like that of an alcoholic."
My relationship with special effects is like that of an alcoholic. We experience massive highs and lows together.," laughs Weinstein. "But as long as they're truly organic to the material, and not an arbitrary gag, I'm a crusading believer." And then there's the frenetic overlapping timelines of Paper Route, the branded short film Weinstein created for Toronto newspaper The Star, which won Best Brand Film at this year's Creativity No Spot short film festival. "The most imposing challenge was time," says Weinstein. "Eight speaking parts, three apartments and 10 pages of dialog in one 12-hour day."

Weinstein plans to tackle even bigger challenges in the near future, with a feature on the top of his to-direct list. But in the meantime, the director has no plans to abandon the spot format. "I will always be interested in commercials because of the creative potential," says Weinstein. "When working on a great script with an inspired creative team, directing commercials can encapsulate the very best of filmmaking—the sine qua non of the writer/director collaboration. And I feel like right now I'm just in my infancy in this medium." (Richard Ho)

Edouard Salier

Edouard Salier
Edouard Salier
"In France, they say I'm a hard sell," says Edouard Salier. It's not hard to see why since the French-born director is behind the controversial short Flesh, which screened at the Venice Biennale and made its U.S. debut at Resfest this year. The multimedia film takes an alternative terrorist's-eye view in recounting the events of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks, projecting images of graphic girl on girl action onto the twin towers and almost every other architectural icon in the city, all of which turn to rubble after being struck by an ominous armada of airplanes. During Resfest, the typically open-minded crowd became dead silent, the stillness broken only by the rant of one embittered woman who had lost a loved one during the attacks. While Flesh is likely to rattle not just New Yorkers, but many a Koran-devoted Muslim, "I'm not a politician," Salier asserts. "I'm just an artist. It's an illustration of the world in which we live. I'm 29 years old, from the generation of MTV, video games and also of terrorism, so it's a mix of everything for me. To me this was the most important event of the beginning of the 21st century. I made this to ask the big questions. "

Salier studied graphic art and design at the Paris-based ESAG-Pennighen and started out designing record sleeves for electronic music bands in France. An encounter with French hip-hop producer Doctor L led to his first video for the band Assassin, after which he went on to direct more clips for French and Latin American artists. "
"The most important thing for me is to make a sort of art."
The most important thing for me is to make a sort of art.," he says. "It's about creating something different, opening the eyes of the public. That's the kind of work I want to do." One of Salier's earlier shorts, Empire, features happy scenes of Americana, morphing like camouflage around initially unrecognizable forms of fighter planes and battle tanks. The effect is visually jarring, but emerges from what Salier says is a simple process similar to the one used on the film Predator.

A technique mixmaster devoted to experimentation, Salier boasts a reel that spans a wild range, from bare bones live action for Bacardi and PlayStation, to ethereal image layering in promos for MTV. Salier also recently completed spots for Orange and Evian, out of Euro RSCG, featuring more classic graphic styles. The technical aspects are cake as far as Salier is concerned, but it's his decision to apply them to unexpected ideas that have led some to dub him a young Michel Gondry, with which Salier politely takes issue. "Michel Gondry now is an established director and is also old school style," he explains. "My generation grew up with home computers and can make movies anywhere, so I don't know if that comparison is a good one." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Pleix Blink.Ink/Furlined

Click to see work.
Click to see work.

The animation and film collective behind some of the most conceptually and visually innovative shorts and music videos to emerge from the thriving Parisian scene has made its first major foray into the realm of U.S. advertising. Pleix, the seven-member team behind heady videos for Basement Jaxx, Plaid and Kid606, as well as a spread of wildly varied short-film and installation projects recently wrapped its first U.S. campaign for Pontiac and Leo Burnett/Detroit. Themed "Pontiac: Designed for action," the three-spot campaign is laden with meticulously chiseled electronic backgrounds of living light. In one :30, "EQ," a prismatic palette of colors replaces the urban backdrop and pulses to an electronic beat while the Pontiac cruises by. In another, "Swarm," a glowing mass of techno plankton swirl by the subject vehicle's contoured hull. "Worlds," a 60-second execution set to the pleasing drone of Franco fuzz-rockers M83 combines both effects, with a myriad of sheet metal cruising through an electronic reality of shimmering building faces, motes of electronic gauze and pulsing accents. Pleix completed the project through Diane McArter's new Los Angeles production company Furlined and its partner company, London animation specialty shop Blink.Ink. The effects were done with the Mill, London.

"Pleix's nucleus is a group of graphic designers, 3-D artists, musicians and filmmakers."
Pleix's nucleus is a group of graphic designers, 3-D artists, musicians and filmmakers who have been co-creating visuals and installations since the late '90s. Beauty Kit, a short film dissecting the societal pressures on young women to adapt to the universal standard of feminine beauty, was created in 2001. In 2002 Pleix created "Itsu," a music video for Plaid that caught the attention of record labels and production companies, and they were soon signed to nascent music video powerhouse Colonel Blimp, now part of Blink/Furlined. The Pontiac project had its roots in an idea Pleix had for a U2 promo about "creating a city of light and using long-exposure light trails to connect the band's movements to their environment." Working from three briefs, Pleix and the Leo Burnett creative team, Jon Cymbal and Brian Cusac, fleshed out the idea and the team then headed to Vancouver and shot the cars with DP Gary Waller in an enormous industrial space. Waller "built a unique lighting rig that was basically enormous adjustable soft lights," recounts Pleix-er Eric Augier. "This allowed us to utilize tracking vehicles, cranes, rigs and the full repertoire of car shooting equipment to get dynamic shots, while always keeping the car in a uniform beauty light. We did five days of shooting without a single light change."

The spots are easily the most sophisticated 3-D/composite job yet for Pleix, and the Mill created a temporary dual Flame/3-D suite to finish the job. The collective had already done a French Audi spot, which mirrored the splintered city effect they had first created in their landmark 2004 video for Kid 606, "Sometimes." The Pontiac work is now airing in the U.S. and the Pleix group have turned their attentions back to a personal project, a new short-film piece that is already the subject of much anticipation in the digital arts community. But advertising work is increasingly a primary focus for the group.

"We met Diane McArter in Paris earlier this year when she was setting up Furlined with Blink in the U.S. and we decided to go with them," says Augier. "Pontiac came up immediately, so it's a very promising start, but, ideally, our next job in the U.S. will not be for cars." (Sandy Hunter)

Joachim Back Park Pictures

Click to see work.
Click to see work.
Danish director Joachim Back has been living in New York for only six months, but what a six months it's been. As soon as he landed, he shot a campaign for Viagra out of Taxi/Toronto and Canada's Partners' Film Company that went on to win a Gold Lion, Back's first, at Cannes. "It was one of those good stories you get and you just have to do it," he says.

The job was indeed a perfect fit for the 33-year-old director, who says he thinks it's simply funny "to say the real truth." The award-winning campaign features men who tell the truth about Viagra with accounts so explicit they have to be censored with bleeps and, of course, little blue pills. "It's been very good, just in terms of the quality of work," Back, who is represented by Park Pictures in the U.S., says of his North American experience. In addition to Viagra, he has directed a darkly comic spot for KFC—in which a man learns why you should never leave the house when his ski mask causes a police action—for Canada's Silverhammer, and has a campaign in the works for the Massachusetts Lottery via Boston's Hill/Holliday.

Back got his start as a production assistant on features in his native Denmark, where he eventually scraped enough money together to create a few spec spots. After working out of European production company Metronome for several years, he founded Copenhagen-based production company Bacon with directors Martin Werner and Kasper Wedendahl in 2001. Back confesses that running a company and directing simply became "too much," so he sold his interest and headed for New York. "It was too much to manage a company instead of making movies," he says. "I'm only good at one thing, and that took all my focus away." His focus restored, Back says he is about "good solutions and a bunch of fun" and that getting the time to consider all the angles is the most important factor in his best work. "
"The pre-pro is the most important for me."
The pre-pro is the most important for me.," he says. "I'm this person who has to walk all the miles. There are so many ways you can do things. There are thousands of ideas that have to come together to make one idea. Usually, if I walk the miles, I can find it. When I am smiling in the pre-pro before shooting, I know it's going to be good." (Jim Hanas)

David Horowitz Rock Fight

"If you were to grow hair out of your palms, what kind of hair would that be?"
If you were to grow hair out of your palms, what kind of hair would that be? That's one of the questions 34-year-old David Horowitz lost brain matter over while directing a promo for MTV. After oscillating between gnarly pubes and the finer sort that grows on the rest of the body, Horowitz decided that palm hair would be something in between, similar to the tufts you find growing under your arms. "There's a certain kind of crevice to the armpit and your palm has a similar kind of pocket feeling," he explains. The spot in question focused on a young man who found himself living out the familiar onanistic old wives' tale, following him through his day as he negotiates many a potentially embarrassing moment.

Horowitz is no stranger to the ridiculous situation, having spent more than a decade writing and directing promos out of MTV. There he made his debut behind the camera directing the memorable "Videos Work Here" personified clips campaign, which he also wrote, and then went on to shoot many of the 50-some promos he also penned. While Horowitz still works at MTV, he's repped for commercials out of Rock Fight, through which he has shot spots for Orbitz, ESPN, Old Spice, as well as an upcoming six-spot Gap holiday campaign featuring actress Kristin Chenoweth. And whether the scenarios he directs are silly or not, Horowitz remains dead serious about letting the script lead the way. "Once you have an understanding of the idea and how it makes sense to you, all the decisions, how you're going to shoot it, what kind of casting you want, come out of the initial decision of what these spots are and what they want to be. I try not to come to a job thinking I like to do x, y and z. Instead, I let the job and script inform me of how they want to be approached."

For example, in the recent MTV "Not Suitable for Use by Adults" campaign, which Horowitz also wrote, seemingly grave, adult scenarios take Twilight Zone turns when MTV infiltrates the minds of the older set. A family goes into panic overdrive at a Thanksgiving dinner when Gramps collapses to the floor, only to open his eyes to tell his hobbling wife, "I punk'd you!" In another, a happily married couple undergoes an irreparable rift when the hubby complains that his wife isn't more like Jessica—Jessica Simpson, that is. "These were very un-MTV, very mature moments," Horowitz explains. "So the goal was to not wink at it all, not make it feel like you were setting something up for a big punch line and play it as straight as possible, which obviously led to a certain performance style and camera style, which was more handheld, very observational, not trying to sell the joke with the character. I think I'm mostly drawn in by things that don't necessarily feel real, but have some connection to the way people really act or live," he continues."The MTV work has a real comic idea to it and is big in a sense, but I try to do things that feel like they exist in the real world. I try to avoid hyperbole as much as possible or doing things just to get a laugh or make a noise." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Jake Schreier Plum Productions

Comcast 'Dance'
Comcast 'Dance'
Jake Schreier sits sipping a milkshake on a drippy fall evening at one of his favorite Manhattan hangouts, Waverly Restaurant, a cozy diner dive decorated with wood-paneled walls and headshots of B-list celebrities. At times he seems even younger than his 24 years, which might explain why "I get mistaken for a P.A. on almost every shoot I go on."," he says. "I'm pretty young. I can understand why that would freak people out." But no freaking out is necessary once you look at Schreier's commercials CV, which already boasts well-crafted spots for Pontiac, Heinz, Dr Pepper and Comcast. There's also plenty of promising exuberance and hilarious storytelling in his clips, shorts and specs—which together comprise the rare kind of reel you don't mind revisiting for its pure entertainment value.

A graduate of NYU film school, the Brooklyn-based Schreier entered the spots world after working the front desk at Plum Productions and then directing an impressive spec for Fedex, which he wrote and starred in himself. Prior to that, NYU as well as projects via his affiliation with a directors collective he formed with his film school buddies, Waverly Films, had already yielded a wealth of crude but directionally sharp specs and shorts, including the black and white "Requiem" for Heineken, which humorously depicts a frat house party post mortem. There are also spare, affecting clips for The Thrills (co-directed with Smuggler director and Waverly buddy Jon Watts) and for Brendan Benson, which features the band's straightforward performance on white cyc, dressed up with charming, dark-minded stick figure animations created by another Waverly cohort, Christopher Ford, who happens to appear in some of Schreier's quiet gutbusting shorts like I Love My Cat and Christopher Ford Sees a Film.

"I'm pretty into subtlety."
When it comes to spots, "The biggest thing in directing for me is knowing what you want," he says. "If you know what you want, then you're in good shape." That was a lesson well-learned on his first big commercial shoot, for Pontiac out of Chemistri (now Leo Burnett/ Detroit). The spot features big car gloss without any sheet metal, featuring 3-D type treatment raves roving through city streets like vehicles. "We were doing the tech scout and there were 20 people waiting around for me to say something, and I was working with David Darby as a DP and would ask him what he thought about certain things. He took me aside and said, 'Listen, we're all here for you. Do what you want to do and stop worrying about it.' And that made sense. The crews are great, but especially on a commercial, they're not here for art. They're working and want to do a good job, but they want to know what you want." While Schreier says at this point he's up for almost anything when it comes to commercials, he's inclined toward a more quiet approach. "The only thing I suppose I could say about my own work is that I'm pretty into subtlety," he observes. "I'd much rather be subtle than not." That's apparent on his recent commercial for Comcast, out of Goodby, in which he chose to invest in dance lessons for elderly actors rather than employ professional groovers for a scenario featuring a seniors' shindig in a seventies-style dance hall. "That was more interesting than having some stunt dancers come in and breakdance," he says. " It's more fun to watch these people and what's going on in their faces. The best thing about an idea, especially when it's really short, is when it can connect to something that people recognize as being true." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Jakub Kohák Rokkit/London

UAMK 'Cemetary'
UAMK 'Cemetary'
"Czech humor is specific, a bit similar to English humor, just less clever," says 31-year-old Czech director Jakub Kohák. "However, it is quite malicious." Malicious like a dreary fast-forward funeral, which Kohák created for a driver safety PSA, or a bartender competition that is overrun by wild mobs looking to get their hands on a glass of Golden Pheasant beer.

Kohák studied at the Film and TV School at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), just like Stink's Ivan Zacharias, to whose work Kohák's reel bears a family resemblance in both scale and cinematic detail. Both use editor Filip Malasek, and Kohák has occasionally worked with Zacharias DP Jan Velický. However, "as a boy, Ivan wanted, and worked hard, to become a film director," Kohák says. "In my case, it was a coincidence. But a beautiful coincidence."

Kohák shot several short films while a student at FAMU and was picked up for representation by Prague's Stillking Films in 2001. Rokkit, founded by Dan Dickenson, formerly of Partizan, and Stink EP Daniel Bergman, signed him for U.S. and U.K. representation in 2004. "Everything happened so fast that I started thinking, 'Someone must be joking. It can't be that easy.' But it was," he says.

As for his visual style, Kohák says he likes it when a commercial "doesn't look artificial, chemical; I like to have a human touch in there.
"A commercial should get your attention and wrap around you like the cigarette smoke does after you walk in a smoky bar."
A commercial should get your attention and wrap around you like the cigarette smoke does after you walk in a smoky bar. " His most recent job, for the Tereza Maxova Foundation—an organization dedicated to helping abandoned children—is a melancholy film in which we see the proverbial "message in a bottle," but this time it is an S.O.S. tucked into a baby's bottle. "The basic thing is to choose scripts that you like, that open a new dimension for you," he says. "Mostly, the scripts I get need to be modified a lot. When I get a good script with a lot of potential, I write a treatment specifying my idea of the film, shooting methods, suggested changes, etc. The ideal is when I get a good basic idea that I can further develop. It's like having a good quality skeleton that you can clothe with flesh." (Jim Hanas)

Jeff Labbé

After award-winning stints at Wieden + Kennedy/Portland and TBWA/Chiat/Day/San Francisco, Jeff Labbé can't even count the number of Lions lurking on his shelf. But he recently hung up his agency hat to cross over to the other side, where in less than two years he's already gotten a great head start. His reel boasts lush spec work for adidas, featuring a somnambulistic night runner, and a pair of Power Bar spots featuring the right nutritional balance between great production and peak directing performance. Also check out his just-breaking slew of mobisodes, featuring a wacky disembodied head and torso duo.

Jamie Rafn HLA

Spanish-born Jamie Rafn traveled the world and nearly became a barrister before landing in film. With very little training he shot two well-received shorts and went on to direct his self-written feature Soho Square. The best of his reel includes short She Love Me She Loves Me Not, a humorous, heart-wrenching rendition of the petal-pulling game, as well ultra-watchable spots for Pedigree, Bertoli, and McCains. "He is scarily intelligent, but very easy-going,"observesTBWA/London's John Allison. "His stylistic and technical abilities are incredible and he has a great natural storytelling approach."

Jon Watts Smuggler

After working as an assistant to Brian Beletic, Smuggler's Jon Watts might have learned a thing or two, and it shows from his dazzling set of clips that traverse diverse stylistic territory for Fat Boy Slim, The Thrills, The Wallflowers and Death Cab For Cutie. We predict Watts will continue to make waves in videos and beyond—his senior thesis film, The Invisible Dog, took the grand prize at this year's NYU Film Festival, footage from which he also used to make a student commercial for The New York Times that earned an AICP nod in 2004. He also recently directed an upcoming campaign for 24 Hour Fitness, out of Publicis/Hal Riney.

Maurice Marable Brown Bag/Believe

Many an HBO viewer has been privy to the lush stylings of Maurice Marable, who's behind some of the most visually alluring promos and openers for the channel's most popular shows, including the clever neon marquee credits for Entourage, as well as sensuous, eerie spots promoting Six Feet Under and Carnivale. While the co-founder of Believe satellite Brown Bag Films has already sprung into the advertising world with spots for and Yasmin, the commercials screen has yet to fully benefit from the director's elegantly skewed but accessible artistic eye.

El Clan Siete Samurai

Peru-based directing team El Clan, individually known as Alvaro Velarde and Tito Koster, caused a tear or two to be shed at Cannes this year with their Gold Lion-winning PSA film "Magia" for the Peruvian Cancer Foundation. The poignant black and white short film tells the tale of a street musician who surprises a bald, cancer-stricken girl with a startling present—a full head of hair. The short was only the pair's third project together in their year-and-a-half-long partnership, which has also yielded quirky humorous spots for Tinka and Nescafe. The team is currently in the process of finding U.S. representation.

Steve Rogers Biscuit Filmworks

In his 37 years, Australian native Steve Rogers has already founded a successful design company and production shop, Revolver Films, out of which he's already made a big dent in the down under commercials scene directing spots for Volvo, Nike, Renault and Vodafone. Now that's he's newly signed to Biscuit for U.S. representation, he's poised to gain Stateside momentum. His recent efforts include a gorgeous, blade rife spot for Toyota, out of Saatchi/Sydney, a Nike campaign featuring athletes who have Golem-like conversations with themselves and a spot for Chef Boyardee, out of Lee Burnett/Chicago.

Brian Lee Hughes Reginald Pike/Reginaldo

Brian Lee Hughes may very well have the weirdest new reel of the bunch—in one of his spots, a girl licks her beau's dripping, bloody zit, to showcase a drink called, well, a Bloody Zit, for Canada's Macs Froster. Prior to having signed on as a director to Reginald Pike, he'd been an art director on memorable work out of TBWA/Chiat/Day, for Fox Sports, Playstation2 and adidas and had spent time in Denmark, where he worked at Lars Von Trier's Zentropa films and helped to relaunch the Danish production company BSL. Now directing fulltime, Hughes just completed a pair of laffers for Burger King .

Patrick Daughters RSA/Black Dog Films

New York-based Patrick Daughters can lay claim to one of the freshest clips collection we've seen of late, thanks to his videos for Death Cab for Cutie, Kings of Leon and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The Berkeley, Calif. native made a name for himself in painting before studying film and psychology at NYU, where he directed two award-winning shorts In Life We Soar, about children and portrait photography, and Any Creature, about a castaway girl who witnesses a mysterious car accident. He also recently completed the thriller Stitched, a finalist in Nintendo's Eternal Darkness Films competition.

Jorn Threlfall Outsider

Many might recall Jorn Threlfall for his deliciously dirty promo for Channel Four, in which a slew of celebrities rattle off their favorite four-letter words. But there's a more refined side to the director, whose resume also features a history as a classical music scholar and award-winning oboist, and performances with the acclaimed Theater Group "Das Brussel Projekt." Represented by Outsider since 2002, Threlfall had built up his name in film through his promo work for Discover and Channel 4, and has gone on to deliver his skillful touches to Ariel, Mitsubishi, Saab and Lion Cereal.

Jake & Jim HSI

Childhood buddies Jake-Sebastian Wynne and James Canty, better known as Jake & Jim in the U.K., first proved their directing mettle on memorable clips and then went on to continue their fruitful, wacky partnership on clutter-busting spots for Powerade, featuring a superfit cameraman who outruns Olympians on the track and for The Observer, in which an cricket diehard literally becomes the ball during a game. Recently, the pair brought their goofy antics to a campaign for Playstation game Sly3, featuring kids performing assorted hilarious feats of muscle, brains and stealth.

Waverly Films A new kind of collective.

They direct, write, edit, animate—even act—and they call themselves Waverly Films. They're branded overseas as a collective, out of Colonel Blimp and Blink in the U.K. and La Pac in France, but in Brooklyn, U.S.A., where they're based, it's a more confusing issue. The seven members—Ben Dickinson, Christopher Ford, Andrew Hasse, Jeff Kaplan, Jake Schreier, Duncan Skiles and Jon Watts—have individual careers when it comes to their projects in the States. For commercials and videos, Dickinson, Schreier and Watts have individual representation, respectively at A Band Apart, Plum and Smuggler and the others have equally promising pursuits—Ford, the "quadruple threat," directs, writes, animates and acts in much of Waverly's work; Skiles is already starting in on the European clips scene, while Kaplan and Hasse are currently focused on features projects. What makes them Waverly, for the most part, is that no matter what their individual gigs, a fertile crescent of ideas emerges when any configuration of the group convenes, often at their official Bushwick-based HQ, not so different from the way they did things when they were students together at NYU film school.

"We became a business because we had to," Watts explains. He'd directed a video for Jason Forrest that ran at Resfest, sparking the interest of Colonel Blimp commissioner John Hassay, leading to a Watts/Waverly breakthrough clip for Fat Boy Slim. "They wouldn't send us the money for that unless we were a business, so we had to get ourselves incorporated so they would wire it," Watts explains. As for the shingle, "At school we'd all go to the Waverly Restaurant to work on stuff together and we decided to put all of our work on our web page," he says. The site is still up ( and it's addictive, boasting an overflow of hilarious short films, specs and commissioned projects. The reel continues to grow, largely in clips and increasingly in spotsthey recently completed a six-spot McDonald's campaign, out of TBWA/Paris. As for the collective thing, it's each member's unique POV that sets them apart. "If you look at Traktor and Stylewar's work, that's clearly Traktor and Stylewar," explains Schreier. "For us, guys who hang out all the time, our individual work comes out so different." Adds Watts, "I think that's why we're friends. Everyone is of course different, but generally we all think the same things are funny in the same way. At the same time, everyone's developing his own visual style, which is really interesting to watch." (Ann-Christine Diaz)

Viacom Vanguards

Lena Beug Reginald Pike/Reginaldo (see story above)

David Horowitz, Rockfight (see story above)

Ted Pauly Tate USA

Ted Pauly's reel skillfully treads a quiet path from touching emotional work to dry, obscure humor in the promos he's crafted for MTV. "I'm obsessed with casting, specificity in characterization, inobtrusive camerawork, and ugly-pretty, awkward humanity," he says. That's obvious in the host of nuanced performances and clever storytelling curve-balls on his reel, as on the surprisingly feel good "Portraits" campaign, featuring the grounded paraplegic young man who has a perfect day dealing with an off-kilter world and most recently in MTV's upcoming "Defend"campaign.

Aaron Stoller Backyard

Aaron Stoller is perhaps one of the only directors in this biz who can say he's bossed Tom Cruise around on set, which is what he did for a high-action promo for the MTV Movie Awards. His work for the channel has given him a wealth of celebrity experience, also with bands like Coldplay and Ashton Kucher. He's also attached to the excellent "If MTV Were," campaign, co-directed with HSI's Randy Krallman. Stepping off Moon Man territory, Stoller showed off his quirky comedy in a spot for Rogers Wireless, out of Maclaren McCann.

Agency Alums

Matt Aselton Epoch Films

Matt Aselton easily slipped into the director's chair after years as an agency creative at Y&R and the now defunct Union, which he co-founded. He got an early taste of the Super Bowl limelight directing NFL spots like "Tomorrow." Celebrated at this year's Cannes New Directors Showcase, Aselton already sports a pretty polished reel featuring dry humor for Comedy Central, stylish visual storytelling for BrylCreem and Bell as well as creepy comedy, on a new spot featuring a fey Charlie McCarthy doll, for NutriGrain out of Leo Burnett/Toronto.

Harry Cocciolo Tool of North America

Harry Cocciolo has been directing for less than a year, but he's a notable fixture in the business, thanks to his memorable runs as a creative director at Leagas Delaney and Goodby, and most recently, as executive creative director of San Francisco's See. Now that he's turned to directing, in just a few months he's made an upward climb with moving storytelling work for San Francisco Zoo, Blue Cross, EA Sports, Reebok, Sprint and most recently, a three-spot California Lottery campaign.

Brendan Gibbons Hungry Man

From his creative gig at Ogilvy Brendan Gibbons made the jump to Hungry Man this year, landing with a big bang directing two hilarious rounds of the campaign, which shows us the softer, sillier side of the network's talking heads. Recently, he continued the funny business on spots for Comedy Central, but the newcomer actually started to hone his chops years back, when he was both writer and director of the outrageous "Super Power Pytka" mock ad that aired at Joe Pytka's industry roast in 2003.

John Immesoete Backyard Productions

The original scribe and founder of the long-running classic "Real Men of Genius" Bud Light campaign got a jumpstart into directing spots and branded content work with former colleague Greg Popp (see below) on spots for the brewski muse. Then last December Immesoete made the solo leap to Backyard, where he's gone on to direct more laffers for A-B as well as for MetroPCS. He also serves as one of the partners at Backyard's Seed branded entertainment division.

Randy Krallman HSI Films

Randy Krallman was recently seen straddling the line between the agency world and directing—the former Lowe copywriter recently worked on the teen-teeming Coca-Cola "Stories" campaign. He also wrote and co-directed the excellent "If MTV Were Campaign," which anthropomorphizes the channel in the unlikely forms of a nail artist, foosball player, and insurance salesman. Now that he's full-time at HSI, he's gone on to direct promos for HBO's Entourage, featuring an alternative cast and crew of B-list celebrities, as well as arresting new spots for Honda, out of Toronto's Grip Limited.

Jeff Labbe (see story above)

Henry Lu Moxie Pictures

After years of producing some of Wieden & Kennedy's biggest spots for Nike, Henry Lu first turned up behind his own camera directing a fictional Nike spot that ran in the film What Women Want, as well as his own touching shorts Fish and the Sundance-selected Miguel. Now that he's signed to Moxie, he's brought his elegant photographic storytelling to real spots for Nike, Honda, Mastercard and 24 Hour Fitness.

Simon McQuoid Go Film

Teaming with former TBWA/Chiat/Day partner Richard Overall, Simon McQuoid took the directors' reigns on subtle and artfully directed comedy and storytelling for Samsonite, American Standard and Segway. Now that he's gone solo, McQuoid recently turned up the laughs on refreshing performance-driven PSA chucklers out of Goodby, for Partnership for a Drug Free America.

Greg Popp Supply & Demand

After maneuvering massive productions for Anheuser-Busch and the Super Bowl for the past two decades, former DDB/Chicago executive producer now commands a different sort of attention behind the camera. Going from budgets massive to miniscule has given him ample lessons in pulling off all sorts of magic behind the camera, which he's already applied on co-directed Bud spots and branded content work, as well as recent solo efforts for Labatt's and Dunkin' Donuts.

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