From Silver To Small

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When you're successful, it might be tempting to see if you can uberachieve elsewhere. Like rapper-actors ... or Shaq Diesel. Recently some high-profile Tinseltown actor/directors have turned their creative energies to directing spots as well—Zach Braff shoots spots out of Space Program and Ben Affleck joined Independent Media. We checked in with another Hollywood talent, Liev Schreiber, who shot his first film, Everything is Illuminated in 2005 and in July signed with Washington Square films for commercial representation. Calling from Lithuania, where he was on the actor's side of the camera on the set of Defiance, directed by Edward Zwick and co-starring Daniel Craig, the thespian-turned director gave us the lowdown on his commercials aspirations.

What makes you want to direct commercials?

I guess the biggest reason for me was I had a small window of available time before I started Talk Radio (on Broadway) and I thought it might be a great way to get in some time to work with a crew and get to direct. That was really what it was about—working in the short format and being able to play with cameras and lights and crews and get to direct. I've really only directed one film and I'm eager to get some more experience under my belt, particularly with the technical elements and I think commercials are a great way to get that.

Obviously that available time came and went.

Yeah, it went by pretty quick. I had a couple opportunities to do some job but it's been too hard to fit it around the acting schedule. I'm really excited about the prospect of doing more commercial work. The guys at Washington Square (Films) are really cool, not to mention right around the corner from my house. It's something I hope to eventually get off the ground but with my schedule now, I'm not sure when that opportunity will be, in terms of the near future.

Can you tell us about the spots you've directed so far?

I did a PSA for (AIDS action organization) Cable Positive but I haven't had the chance to work with a concept and agency, which I actually love doing. When I first got out of school I worked as a copywriter, I briefly interned at Ogilvy, and I do a lot of voiceover contracts now so I spend time working with creative people at agencies and I enjoy it. The best thing about all of it is the short format. You have a limited amount of time and there's a very clear concept of what can be done and you are responsible for that. I like having those parameters, you know? I like taking direction, part of that is just being an actor. But I think part of the fear and anxiety for me doing a feature was being totally responsible for it. Part of the beauty of doing a commercial is, yeah, you're responsible for it but there are parameters defined by the client. Someone sets a goal and you show them the way to get there. But when you're writing your own material and directing long format, it's really a much more dangerous and organic event and you sometimes go down roads you don't want to go down and have to find ways of destroying and reinventing different aspects everyday. I think the short format of commercials doesn't allow that because if you get too far outside the box, you're gone. I'd also like to be in the editing room for these things because, for me, that's one of the more creative elements of directing.

Commercials seem to provide the best of both worlds – the parameters of being an actor and the freedom of being a director.

Yeah. It's also the specificity of the job. When you're trying to write something or make a movie, you don't really know what it is until it happens. In features, you generally know where you're going but I find I don't know if it's right until I've seen the acting or I've seen the location. That's when the thing starts to take on a life, or it's own life, or at least you hope it does. Because it sucks if it doesn't. But with a commercial, it's defined already. You know what it is, you know what it has to be and it's just about the process of getting there and I like process. It's like rehearsing in the theater.

Film advertising isn't stuck on the TV anymore; How does that inform your goals for this work?

It makes it a more interesting area, that there's so many different formats to advertising now. That said, I think that the challenge of the 30-second spot is an exciting one. It's still there. The :30 and the :60. The :60 is hard as hell and you don't think it can get any harder. Then you have to cut a :30.

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