Pytka, Joe (1938- )

Published on .

Joe Pytka was born in 1938 in Braddock, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. The son of a machinist, Mr. Pytka grew up during difficult times for the steel-making region, and it is to that upbringing that he has attributed his strong work ethic. A perfectionist, he has a reputation for routinely eliciting the best from those with whom he works, and he has earned numerous awards for excellence in his profession.

Mr. Pytka first wanted to become an artist; he began studying art at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum at the age of 8. Although he was accepted into Carnegie Tech's art program, his father persuaded him to try his hand at something more practical; his brief career at the University of Pittsburgh studying chemical engineering was, he has said, "disastrous." Never earning his college degree, Mr. Pytka left school for a job at a film lab in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Pytka worked for several years making documentaries for WQED, the Public Broadcasting Service TV station in Pittsburgh. Applying documentary techniques to 30- and 60-second TV spots, he began shooting commercials in the late 1960s to supplement his income between the longer projects he was doing in documentary and dramatic TV programming.

Mr. Pytka did not turn seriously to advertising until the early 1970s. Some of his early work included spots for Iron City Beer, Pittsburgh National Bank, Nationwide Insurance and Stoney's beer. He worked primarily with Ketchum, McLeod & Grove, Pittsburgh.

Although Mr. Pytka has two feature films to his credit—the critically acclaimed box-office disappointment "Let It Ride" (1989) and the commercially successful "Space Jam" (1996)—he is best known for the more than 25,000 commercials that he has directed.

Mr. Pytka's advertising classics include "Thank You for Your Support" for E.&J. Gallo Winery's Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers; "Hare Jordan," featuring an animated Bugs Bunny and basketball superstar Michael Jordan, and "Bo Knows" for Nike; "Nothing but Net," featuring Mr. Jordan and Larry Bird for McDonald's; "Uh-huh," sung by Ray Charles, for Diet Pepsi; "Real Life, Real Answers," for John Hancock life insurance; and the mess-making infant for DuPont Stainmaster. Other award-winning spots include those for Hallmark Cards, Infiniti, Apple Computer, AT&T Corp., Polaroid Corp., ESPN and Mars Inc.

Other major clients have included Eastman Kodak Co., IBM Corp., American Express Co., United Air Lines, General Electric Co., Federal Express, Walt Disney Co., Anheuser-Busch, Levi Strauss & Co., The Gap, Delta Air Lines, Miller Brewing Co., Adolph Coors Co., Chevrolet Motor Division, Ford Motor Co., Dodge Car/Truck Division, Volvo, Coca-Cola Co., Hershey Foods, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the American Indian College Fund, AltaVista and Microsoft Corp.

Mr. Pytka's brother, John, is also a respected advertising director. Together they launched their production company, Pytka, in Venice, Calif., in 1984.

Considered by many to be at the top of his field, Mr. Pytka's work has earned him numerous awards, among them a Grammy, two Grand Prix awards at the International Advertising Festival at Cannes, seven Palms d'Or at Cannes, three Directors' Guild of America Awards (with 14 nominations) and many Clios.

Mr. Pytka was awarded the first prime-time Emmy for a commercial in 1997. The winning spot, "Chimps," was created by BBDO for cable TV's HBO. In it, chimps are shown reciting famous lines from films featured on HBO while noted ethologist Jane Goodall studies them through her binoculars. Later, we see her in her room with the TV tuned to HBO in the background. In a voice-over, we hear her journal entry: "Their inexplicable behavior continues. Got to go now. 'Braveheart' is on." Unnoticed by Ms.Goodall, several chimps are watching HBO with her through the window.

Mr. Pytka has consistently been at the forefront of innovations in visual style. For example, he used the so-called shaky camera technique well before anyone else. And in spots such as those for the "Heartland" campaign for Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light or in spots for Bartles & Jaymes Wine Coolers, he pioneered the idea of casting real people in TV spots.

According to Advertising Age, "Mr. Pytka's uses of lighting, warm humor and emotional relationships won worldwide acclaim and established him as the most consistent master of the best in American TV commercial work." Despite his reputation for ranting aggression on the set, he consistently ranks as the top advertising director in the U.S.


Born in Braddock, Pa., 1938; launched Pytka, a Venice, Calif., production company with his brother, John, 1984; directed the theatricals "Let It Ride," 1989, and "Space Jam," 1996; won the first prime-time Emmy for a commercial, 1997.

Most Popular
In this article: