Danny Ducovny founded Venice, Calif.-based Cucoloris Films 13 years ago, with executive producer Linda Stewart, and the company is still going strong. Quite an achievement in the volatile commercials production business, even without the roomful of awards his spots have won over the years (not to mention his 1994 DGA Best Director nomination). But there's no getting around it - the most salient fact about Danny Ducovny is the minor revelation that David Duchovny, formerly Fox Mulder of X Files fame, is his kid brother (there's a friendly family dispute about the spelling of the surname).
"It's very weird," Ducovny says of having a celebrity sibling. "Imagine flipping through the channels and seeing a relative on TV. But at the same time it's great, you want him to do well. It's a big kick." The two have even worked together, with David doing the voiceover on Danny's "Point of Contact" Sprint campaign, for Grey Advertising. "I wasn't sure it would work, since he's a little dry and dour," Ducovny says of Duchovny, "but it worked perfectly." Why only the VO for David? Like many celebs, he appears in spots only for foreign markets, for artistic reasons, according to Danny. "But I'd love to work with him," he adds. "And David might direct commercials one day, and if he goes with another production company I'll be very upset," Ducovny laughs.
David did write and direct two X Files episodes, and his big bro made a guest appearance in one. "The show was about an alien who comes to Earth because he likes to play baseball, and I played a bench-warming kibbitzer on one of the teams," Ducovny recalls. "The pitcher was wild, and I had this line, `Take him out, coach, Moose couldn't find the plate if you nailed it to his ass,' which was a tongue-twister for me. I wanted to rewrite it and David wouldn't let me. Typical younger brother. It was terrifying. I'll never do it again. Everybody's staring at you. It's not cool."
What is cool is Ducovny's bag of film tricks; he's one director/cameraman whose reel looks like a seminar in visual technique. Whether he's doing sight gags for Lycos or warm-and-fuzzy real-people projects for Harvard Health, his film dazzles. "Commercials are very visual-based," he shrugs, "and I'm a cinematographer-turned-director. I operate my own stuff, I light my own stuff, I own my cameras, I'm very much hands-on in that regard. To be a director/DP/operator is a lot of jobs and it's very intense, and you'd think you could just drop one and you'd be happier - but in fact it's uncomfortable because you're not used to telling the operator or the lighting cameraman what you want, or sitting in the director's chair listening to everyone while someone is doing the shooting for you. If you're trained as a director from the start, it would be natural. But if you're a cameraman who taught himself to be a director and learned as he went along, I'd have to finally admit that I really don't know how to do it the other way. It's an interesting dilemma as I go into dialogue commercials, where it's nice to be able to sit back and look at the monitor and make sure everything's on time. It's more like a little movie than a series of images. So I tend to do spots that are a little more eclectic; they're cut together in such a way that each image represents a thought and they're put together to make sentences."
Ducovny, 44, is a New York native and an NYU Film School cinematography student who apprenticed with the late tabletop master Elbert Budin. "His assistants always became tabletop directors, and I was slated for that, but Elbert kept saying, `Go outside, kid, you're not meant for this. Go learn how to shoot tape, tape is the future.' And I'd say, `Don't give me that crap, man.' "
Ducovny, however, later shot the effects-groundbreaking "You Might Think" video, for the Cars, directed by Charlex's Alex Weil. "Yeah, I shot it on tape," he laughs. "Now that video has unbelievable historical significance. But at the time, who knew?" Nor did he know the turn his career would take when "one day I was talking to a camera agent. She convinced me not to be a `lettuce breaker,' as she called it, but to be a DP. I think I was 25. So I got a really good taste of directing, not even knowing at that time that I wanted to direct. I thought I'd be a cameraman forever. Then I met Linda, and she finally convinced me. So we started Cucoloris with $10,000 and my background in cheese pulls - I used to do a lot of tabletop for Chiat/Day, they had Domino's Pizza back then."
And years later, Ducovny has no regrets, nor does he have much of a hankering to direct Hollywood features or episodic TV. "With commercials, each job should teach you something for the next job," he reflects. "You have to rise to the occasion like 40 times a year, and the more I_do it, the more I_wonder if I'd be willing to devote the time to a project I had less control over. There's a learning curve here that's never-ending. If you're applying yourself, your eye and your technique are always getting polished. It's a self-driving mechanism. It's pretty cool."
He will admit, though, that there's something distinctly intriguing about "the idea of directing and shooting a small movie through Cucoloris. That would be a dream," he says. "I might even give my brother a walk-on."