A Director's Director: Making Scorsese a commercial hit

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Perhaps the only thing more intimidating for a director than being asked to shoot Martin Scorsese in a commercial is to have Mr. Scorsese's people demand your resume and show reel in advance "for approval."

That's what happened to Jim Jenkins before he could direct the movie legend in an Ogilvy & Mather spot supporting American Express' sponsorship of this week's second annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

So what did Mr. Jenkins offer up to the guy who directed "Raging Bull," "Taxi Driver," "The Age of Innocence," "Mean Streets," "Goodfellas," the "King of Comedy" (Mr. Jenkins' favorite) and "Gangs of New York"?

"It's like Kobe Bryant asking for your basketball credentials. What are you gonna say? I once directed Tonya Harding in a Fox Sports commercial?" Mr. Jenkins laughs. "But a lot of people wanted to direct this-for obvious reasons."

a good fella

He's being modest. Hungry Man's Mr. Jenkins is one of the leading comedy directors in commercials, with a reel that includes Animal Planet, the Food Network, Diet Dr Pepper, Alltel, Fox and the Cannes Lion-winning Turner Classic Movies campaign.

"I was actually more intimidated walking into his room at the [Santa Monica hotel] Casa del Mar to discuss the spot. You could have fit my room at the Shutters in his bathroom," Mr. Jenkins says. "But he really is the self-deprecating character that he plays in the commercial."

Mr. Scorsese, famously a longtime friend of the festival's co-founder Robert DeNiro, was a perfect choice for the role. He is quintessentially about New York and film. He has also made several acting appearances, both in his own movies (from playing a passenger in "Taxi Driver" to acting the part of a wealthy homeowner in "Gangs of New York") and other directors' movies such as "Quiz Show" and "Search and Destroy."

The shoot took place over one day in a small drugstore in Los Angeles, and Mr. Jenkins says his confidence grew as the shoot wore on. At first he was a little tentative, wondering how far Mr. Scorsese would be prepared to go.

"He knew totally that we would be looking for different things over 30 seconds," Mr. Jenkins says. "I took it gently at first, but he was up for anything. By the end it was business as usual."

The main challenge was to get Mr. Scorsese to speak as quickly as we all think he does. He actually had to be coaxed into that machine-gun delivery we have all come to expect of him. While it is entirely credible that this perfectionist would have his nephew stage a party all over again for a better shot, Mr. Scorsese admitted that he hadn't actually collected a roll of film from a drugstore for 15 years.

picture perfect

At the end of a day in which Mr. Scorsese kept to himself, he stunned Mr. Jenkins' director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki ("Sleepy Hollow," "Ali," "Like Water for Chocolate") with a parting, "I'm a huge fan of your work."

As for Mr. Jenkins' ouevre? Ad Age is reliably informed that Mr. Scorsese thinks the finished ad captured him perfectly.

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