Doug Pray, The Oil Factory

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Doug Pray's original muse was a rotten chicken-a fetid leftover fowl that had stunk up his kitchen while he was a college student taking a summer film course in Chicago. "It smelled so bad we had to put crushed-up mints up our noses," he chuckles. He turned the bird into the subject of a punked out black and white short and his camera hasn't stopped running since. And although the 44-year-old director could surely draw character out of roadkill, he's most compelling when his lens moves onto subjects with a pulse. He shot the critically-acclaimed Sundance music documentaries Hype! and Scratch, as well as clips for bands like The Young Fresh Fellows and Presidents of the U.S.A. A Colorado College sociology grad, he developed his film chops during a post-grad stint with a San Francisco documentarian and then while earning his M.F.A. in film at UCLA. Less than three years ago, Pray, repped out of The Oil Factory, made his commercials debut with the stylishly soulful athletic montage of adidas' "One," and just this year he brought his documentary expertise to bear on the ingenious Lion-winning campaign for the Gill Foundation, which captures the nervous, pregnant moments before real-life closeted homosexuals come out in the workplace. "It was a really huge challenge," Pray recalls of weeding out the campaign's courageous stars. "It took weeks and weeks, a process of advertising on the internet, in print ads and in weekly newspapers. The most time-consuming thing was talking to hundreds of people by phone. To know that someone was right I felt I needed to have had a relationship with them, really gotten a sense that they did want to work with us, not necessarily that they were outgoing or extroverted or good on camera." Pray went through a similar process on his latest commercials projects for Valvoline and Dr. Martens, the latter a series of intimate black and white shorts shot in 16mm verite style that tell the "fearlessly passionate" stories of unexpected British risk-takers. "Most commercials I think are so much about production, but for me, it's the opposite," he says. "Directing is 90 percent research, 10 percent production, and another 90 percent editing." Also an admitted shooting addict who can't stand being more than a couple feet away from a live camera, Pray has a knack for teasing genuine, often fragile self-revelations from his real-life subjects, a skill he ironically developed dealing with actors. "Either you're working with actors and telling them what to do or you're working with real people and getting things out of them. There's not a lot in between. The process is really, really similar. It's the same process of making them feel comfortable, making them sure of what they're doing." It doesn't hurt that Pray's radar is fine-tuned to pick up flashes of brilliance from even the deadest wood. "It's the process of making an ordinary person into an extraordinary person," he says. "That's a really fun thing because we all are extraordinary. I ultimately believe you can make a feature-length film about any human being on the planet. I know you could."
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