ried with two children and his taste in music runs to George Harrison, Robert Plant and Eric Clapton. Nor should he be confused with the very late Georgie Jessel-this George pronounces it Je-SELL, it's actually of French derivation-which has been a running joke with almost every American he's met who's old enough to remember the Toastmaster General. If Jecel took his cues from Jessel, the only roast he'd be hosting would be of the wiener variety, anyway.
Yes, Jecel is Viennese; in fact, he studied theater and art at the University of Vienna, though he's from a family where virtually everyone is an M.D.-it seems on the day he drove to school to register for the pre-med program, he simply couldn't get a parking space, so, with the encouragement of an artistic friend, he found a spot near the drama department-and he always felt he was headed for a stage career, even
when he moved to Los Angeles in 1983, "basically to check it out, though I'll have to admit I had an eye on the film angle," he says. That angle emerged not long after when Universal bought the rights to a show he produced and di
rected on L.A.'s equivalent of off-off Broadway, with the idea of turning it into an early HBO cable series. It was a post-apocalyptic comedy about people trapped in a bomb shelter, but after about a year and a half of development the project fizzled. Jecel went back to Austria for the late '80s, found he was disconnected from the local theater scene and decided to move in a new direction, commercials. He freelanced his
way through about 75 directing jobs for the German-speaking market, working with agencies like the Vienna offices of GGK and FCB (he had taken some filmmaking courses along the way, and was not a complete novice, he explains).
By the time the '90s rolled around, Jecel was ready to try his hand again in Los Angeles, the city of his dreams. "When I was around 10 years old and we were learning the names of foreign cities in school, Los Angeles was always the city that captivated me the most. I pictured it with angels and palm trees, heavenly." He's since learned otherwise-the most recent earthquake so terrified his then very pregnant wife that she fled to Europe for the delivery-but he joined an L.A. production company, Tate & Partners (he moved on to BFCS in Hollywood this April), and started to assemble a post-Teutonic reel. His first American spot, for British Knights and Deutsch Inc., is refreshingly light on the b-ball behemoths playing dunk-y Kong. Instead we're treated to supergrainy footage of fashion models, standing before movie screens, lecturing us on the benefits of BK Dymacels with a steady stream of technobabble.
He's done a more conventional athletes-in-action montage for the unfortunately named Everlast sports drink, from Ketchum/New York, as well as an interesting narrative for Mazda and FCB/Los Angeles (a guy standing curbside in a suit, mistaken for a valet, is handed a set of car keys; he obligingly drives away in the proffered Mazda, which is, of course, an epiphany on wheels).
Jecel also has a very hip PSA on his reel for something called Aktion Mensch, an "equality" campaign that runs in the German market, from GGK/Vienna (this is the English-language version), though it was shot in California. Ostensibly about redefining notions of "normality"-the spot ends with images of a Down's syndrome teen playing the trumpet-most of its :60 seconds are devoted to artfully hip shots of a beautiful mother and child, psy
chedelic cosmic eruptions, and the manly posturings of a nude black bodybuilder. The black-market Coke spots, from Burrell Advertising in Chicago, pile the homeboy shtick on thick. In one, three funky DJs do turntable gymnastics while simultaneously pouring glasses of icy cola. In the other, a black teen stands on an urban rooftop, while he addresses the viewer directly with the exciting news of Coke's new plastic bottle. He actually says things like, "Check my phat gear!" and he even ends his spiel with a gritty, de rigueur "Ya know what I'm sayin'?" Just how did Jecel land such a "fly" shoot? "Maybe there was so much competition in this country, they wanted to give it to a more neutral person," he guesses. "I can see where they might turn to a European director for an unbiased look."
A Euro-market Sony tapes spot Jecel directed, also from GGK/Vienna, features a band of Continental rappers hyping up the product, but it's redeemed by a wonderfully ridiculous closing as a goldfish swims in front of the frozen action, to say, "It's a Sony! It's a Sony!" This was the spot that clinched it for art director Chad Farmer, then of Lord, Dentsu/Los Angeles, now CD at San Diego's Lambesis Communications, who collaborated with Jecel on a flashy, frenetic Suzuki motorcycles racing spot, which, while it may be reminiscent of Jim Edwards' avant-car work, is better than Edwards, says Farmer, because it's "rougher and edgier, which is where you can discern that Germanic influence."
On the Cole of California swimwear shoot-the Pump-style product is called Top Secret-Jecel, working with the freelancing Farmer and writer Michael Scher, put a bevy of bikinied beauties in an airplane hangar, surrounded by propellers and missile nose cones, where they gyrated to the pounding mantra, "I must, I must, I must increase my bust," by a Belgian techno group called Lords of Acid. "I was looking for a certain kind of communication through pictures, to get the point across and create visual parallels," says Farmer. "George seemed just right for it." Farmer expresses no surprise that an Austrian would thrive on California cool. Recently returned from a shoot in Vienna, he notes that "Austria, and Vienna in particular, is very up and coming in the art world. A lot of great people are coming out of there, everyone from photographers to makeup artists. Since the wall came down, it's becoming quite the little artistic boomtown-again."
How does Jecel characterize his style? He doesn't, except to say, "That's what I keep asking myself every month or so." He will point out what he believes it's not, which is derivative. "I try not to copy anyone else," he says. "I rarely watch TV or other people's reels, and I don't have cable, so I rarely see music videos. Individuality is the biggest strength that a director can bring to a project. If you watch too much work, you become a copycat. I see this left and right."
Though he may not catch much MTV, he'd love to make music videos and is ready for one "immediately," he stresses (though some of his commercials look like music videos, he's never made an actual clip). Who would he like to work with? Rap, techno and grunge are not high on the list. "I'm a fan of the classics," he explains, meaning the classics of the '70s. "If George Harrison or Robert Plant would make a new album ... the music of the '70s influenced me enormously when I was cooking my creative juices, so to speak. I have lots of pictures in my mind linked to that style of music." He also names David Fincher as an inspiration: "The wide range, the ability to develop independent styles for commercials and videos ... he's a terrific storyteller in the short form."
In the meantime, Jecel has developed an American niche of the Gen-X quick-cut variety, which is doubly ironic since back in Vienna he shot across the board: everything from comedy to what he calls pretty picture bank spots. "That's one of the nice things about the European market," he adds. "They don't reduce you down to a certain style. I understand in this market you have to develop a niche you prefer, but the boards that are coming in for me are persistently in that 'cool' style, which is rather sad." Jecel hopes to "expand into a more 'humane' area, where you stay on people with a shot for more than just two seconds, where you can craft humanity in a situation."
Well, he may not have had the chance to craft any humanity yet, but Jecel is certainly not put off by American production styles vis a vis Europe. "I prefer the American way," he says. "I have less control but more discipline, and I communicate better with the agency. Usually they know exactly what they want and they're very professional about how to achieve it. There's not the gray zone there is in Europe. Many European directors, boasting of their flexibility, say 'we can do this and we can do that.' They can do all these things because there's a void in professionalism, which is filled by the power of the director. Here, not everything you want will go up on the screen. You have to think twice and see if it really serves the purpose of the commercial."
Fine, but exactly how does a nearly fortysomething Austrian get a twentynothing reel? It's quite simple, says Jecel: "I still feel like I'm 19, because that was