Production Company of the Year

For MJZ, the proof is in the reel

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Kuntz & Maguire direct for Mercedes
"We're really, really happy with our decision," reflects MJZ president David Zander, referring to his much talked about signings of the Propaganda refugees last November. A year later, the company has vaulted past naysayers' disgruntled murmuring to prove that it did good by whatever heavily scrutinized business decisions he may have made. The buzz around MJZ's new additions in the past 12 months has evaporated, only to be steadily supplanted with industry praise for the intelligent filmmaking that has emerged from its deep bench of talents new and old. MJZ consistently elevated the work while keeping us entertained in fresh ways, so much so that we easily designated it our 2002 Production Company of the Year.

The shop went against several formidable contenders for the title, most notably Hungry Man and its sturdy slate of veteran and burgeoning comedic talents and's worldwide roster of heavy hitters like Errol Morris and Lenard Dorfman. But we were most swayed by the diverse and smart body of advertising executed not by just a handful of MJZ's directors but by its entire lineup. The newcomers no doubt commanded our attention. Dante Ariola's cinematic subtlety was in perfect order for TBWAChiatDay and Sony Playstation, as well as Fallon's curious Lee Dungarees campaign. MJZ undoubtedly helped to boost the creative of our Agency of the Year, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, which brought Spike Jonze back onto the scene with Ikea's masterful "Lamp," a contender for 2002 Best Spot, Clay Williams to the charming "Moo Cow," and Kuntz & Maguire to a witty round for Molson. The duo also broadened their comedic repertoire on quiet Super Bowl spots for Budweiser, Mercedes M-Class, and in darkly humorous turns on Waterpik, and Sprite for BBH/London. Moreover, the pair helped to jumpstart the company's European presence, along with the signing of Fredrik Bond, who helmed his inaugural spot, for HP and Goodby, Silverstein, featuring a hoodlum who gets mysteriously dragged by an out of nowhere desktop arrow.

Clay Williams shoots for Ikea
Although the new directors undeniably have cemented the company's A-list status, Zander insists that, if anything, their addition has only underscored a philosophy about talent that's evolved since he and director/partners Rocky Morton and Anabel Jankel formed the company in 1990. Last year, well before Propaganda's demise, he told Creativity, "My innate interest is in work that's higher-minded." Whether in the realm of comedy/dialogue or visual storytelling, MJZ vets in 2002 continued to uphold that thinking. Morton's dark humor riveted us on Mike's Hard Beverages and Fox Sports. Craig Gillespie brought his deft comedic sensibility to Citibank, 7-11, and Holiday Inn Express. Jonathan David coupled humor and cinematic elegance in his work for Blue Cross and Mercedes, and Anabel Jankel brought a quiet smile to a spot for Hellmann's. Striking visuals streamed in from Victor Garcia with continuing work on Mercedes and from Keir McFarlane on racer subculture for Honda, in "Civic Nation." Marcus Nispel, prior to a sabbatical for his upcoming remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, lushly portrayed athletic grace and brawn for Gatorade, and Sean Thonson brought a photographic sophistication to Yamaha and Dove.

"It's like why guys come to the Yankees,"observes director Mike Maguire. "You know your'e going to be part of a winning team. Guys come to them sometimes for less money, sometimes for more money, but at the end of the day they come to win. There are the Rangers who spend money and they suck, God bless them, but then there are the Yankees and there's George Steinbrenner, who spends money and gets good guys and is consistently a winner. He may not win the World Series every year, but his team is always top of the charts. That's kind of like Zander, he's kind of like a fucking Steinbrenner." Like him or not, says Maguire, "the guy has a good business sense and he knows what he's doing."

Dante Ariola creates an epic for PS2
In fact, what's helped to build MJZ's impressive stature in its decade-plus lifetime is not just the talent but the solid, focused business run by Zander and his highly respected crew. "The devil is in the details," the 45-year-old president stresses. "Of course, it starts from the talent, but there are so many parts of a production company that have to be strong. It's the sales force, the executive producers, the research, the accounting, the bill-paying. It's weighing revenue against overhead and staff and sales and directors' deals. It's all these things." In fact, agency producers all over the map praise MJZ's production teams and executive producers Jeff Scruton and Lisa Rich for their professionalism and inexhaustible efforts to maneuver around limited budgets. "You get a secure feeling working with MJZ," notes Merkley Newman Harty senior producer Chris Ott. "Everyone's friendly and smart. You know no one's going to drop the ball on you. They're not going to leave you hanging out there." The directors are happy as well. "It feels like home," former Propaganda orphan Maguire adds. "It's really focused, not run by some guy who's biting off more than he can chew. It's not like people with different agendas all over the place. It's like a bee's nest, really. The company's privately held, not leaning on anybody else, with no real weak links. If you look down the list of directors, a lot of guys are steadily working. It just feels like a safe place and that makes it feel like home."

Even though Zander admits that 2002, it turns out, was difficult compared to the previous year, the company remains well-poised to build on its successes, thanks to its collection of talent on and off the set, Zander's keen business acumen and a discreet dash of ambition. "I think you have to have enough ego to push this thing forward, but you have to be very careful of your ego because it can kill you," he asserts. "It can absolutely take you out and slash your throat. It's not about being No. 1 or No. 2. That's bullshit. If you're spending time doing that, in reality, you're not focusing on the work. And that's all it's about anyway. It's not about us. It's not about anybody individually. It's about doing good work."

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