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Marty Canellakis and Brian Aldrich, now a directing team at Coppos Films, have a lot in common. They're both 35, and they "grew up about 10 miles from each other and lived about 10 miles from each other for much of our lives," Marty marvels. This was in Massachusetts, where Marty went to Boston University as an English major and Brian went to the Boston Art Institute to study graphic design.

Despite this geographical kinship, they didn't actually meet till they were both at Clarke Goward Fitts in Boston in 1986, where Brian was an art director, Marty a copywriter, and they eventually became a creative team. Marty broke up the party a year later when he left for New York stints at Deutsch, Chiat/Day and McCann-Erickson. Brian stayed in Boston five years, then went west to Della Femina in L.A., but the two always kept in touch.

Last year, Brian joined Marty in New York, working freelance at McCann, and the directing idea began to germinate. Neither had directed anything before, but "whenever we finished a production, we said to ourselves, 'We could do this better. Why don't we just try to cut out the middle man here,'" they recall, speaking, as they often do, in a sort of telepathic tandem, finishing each other's sentences. "We had the opportunity to work with some really good directors. We saw how they worked. We knew that this is a great lifestyle and a great job, and we said, 'Let's do it.' It was a very easy transition. Going to the agencies is like going to a second home. We're very comfortable around creatives."

They didn't just blunder into it. After months of testing concepts with the advice of people in the production community, they made two spec spots. First, a Jacques Cousteau undersea parody for Heineken, in which whales drink beer; then a very low-key but stylish Airwalk spot in which a live band sits atop an elevator and plays mood music for a pretty girl. It's so accomplished, it's still on their reel. "We were planning on making a third, but we had enough people interested with just these two -- OK, we ran out of money," they say, laughing.

They ran their first few jobs through Coppos on a sort of trial basis, then signed on in March. They've already cranked out about 40 spots, mostly for small markets and agencies, but there are some quite remarkable pieces of work nonetheless. Their Totes folding umbrella campaign, for Sive Y&R/Cincinnati, features no dialogue or VO, as we see the product saving people from splashes with split-second timing -- once when a soaked dog goes to shake itself off, and again when a repulsively hirsute fat guy dives into a pool. "The client wanted a Chris Farley type," Brian recalls. "We pushed for a hairy back." On a more serious note, "We found that there were some tremendously creative boards out there in smaller markets, and some tremendously creative people as well," says Marty. "We've been able to capitalize on that and come up with some pretty good work."

No kidding. Their killer Alltel communications services campaign may be the best piece of work ever to come out of Arkansas, compliments of Little Rock agency Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods. It features Mercury, God of Communications, who seems to have gotten lost during the Greenwich Village Halloween parade, accosting 'real people' in the street to complain about how he can't keep up with Alltel. These very accomplished performances have so far been seen only in Jacksonville and Las Vegas.

Boyd Blackwood, CD at Cranford Johnson, was as favorably impressed with Marty & Brian as they were with his agency. "They had a lot of good ideas and they weren't egotistical about it," despite their hot shop backgrounds and their "Hollywood" status, says Blackwood. "They stood up for what they believed in, but they did it in a fun way. I'd never worked with a team before, and they seem to have it down to a fine art. They both direct at the same time, always talking to each other, but they don't clash. Sort of like the Coen Brothers, I guess."

Do they take turns saying "cut"? "Yes," the duo declares in unison. "We divide the shots up each day," Marty explains. "We'll both sit behind the monitor, but only one voice will talk to the talent per shot."

Marty & Brian are moving into national work now, and they're looking to do "cerebral comedy," they say, in the style of Monty Python, one of their major inspirations. "This is a collaborative kind of filmmaking," Brian notes of Python as well as today's commercials scene. "It's not the French auteur school anymore. We don't kid ourselves that we're making French art films here. This is the only way we know how to do it."

"A lot of people look at our work and say, 'That's very funny, but it's a little off,' " Marty adds. "We like that. If it sounds too familiar, that's usually where we don't want to be."

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