Ray Smiling, who spent years as a creative director at agencies including Droga5, Johannes Leonardo and Translation, has made the transition to director look easy over the past few years—developing a remarkable reel of branded and personal work that reveals a unique and fresh blend of vision and technique.
Division7’s Ray Smiling brings humor, soul and visual flair to his directing projects
Smiling, Creativity Awards Director to Watch, gained attention a few years ago for “Khaki Is Not Leather,” a six-part series, set in quarantine, that explored intimacy and desire via cam girls and boys. A more recent project, “Play This at My Funeral,” presented idiosyncratic stories rooted in how songs trigger emotions.
The Division7 director’s branded work has been similarly noteworthy. In 2022, he directed a series of ads for Champs Sports via the agency Orchard that felt very fresh for the category—visually compelling and light on their feet as they presented somewhat offbeat vignettes about strength and agility.
Drawn to the stories of outsiders, often in pursuit of the emotional truth in absurd moments, Smiling is adept at getting truthful performances from his actors. One of his most notable projects of 2022 was “Juneteenth Thoughts,” a short film made with Noir, the Black affinity group at Wieden+Kennedy New York, featuring a Black man and woman debating how the holiday should be celebrated and by whom.
Projects released in 2023 for Nike and Foot Locker have only enhanced Smiling’s reputation as a director with a unique worldview and impressive technical chops. The Creativity Awards judges all remarked on how accomplished his directing work has been thus far—particularly given that he’s only a few years in.
“I did a deep dive on Ray,” said one juror. “I was looking around and wanting to know more. I was very impressed with performance in particular because that’s so hard for a newer director, I think, to really nail. I was super impressed. The lighting, the framing—I felt it was just beautiful work.”
“I was crazy about his work,” said another. “I was like, wow, such a new, fresh take. It was all done so, so well.”