Directors to Watch 2008: Benzo Theodore

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Benzo Theodore
Benzo Theodore
There's nothing like an internship with Spike Jonze to kick start your career in film. Ever since Benzo Theodore's high school photography teacher hooked him up with the venerable director, the 32-year-old talent has been on his way up. After doing everything from on-set photography to PA-ing, "Benzo," as he's known (born Ben Kaller) has come into his own with a mischievous, gritty style evident in buzz-drawing projects for Levis and Ray-Ban.

Benzo landed his first spots work after he shot the making of video for the Jonze-directed "Hello Tomorrow" for Adidas, during which he met then-TBWA/San Francisco CD Chuck McBride and EP Jennifer Golub, who tossed him the assignment to do some Ray-Ban virals after they launched Cutwater. His ambitious debut, the how'd-they-do-that viral "Sunglass Catch," led to similar fun-loving, playful projects for Levi's and Arnette. "Shark Surfing," for the latter, features a brah getting towed into a wave by a shark, and "Hollywood Jungle," for Levi's, has an orangutan take the bus to a casting call.

Benzo says the voyeuristic, in-on-the-joke feeling of a lot of his work stems from his time on Jackass, shooting video for the TV series and stills on the films. "You have this cameraman that you experience as part of the group," he says. "That's what I brought in, to incorporate the cameraman as one of the guys." An additional element of the Benzo aesthetic—the music—comes from a longtime collaborator, Sam "Squeak E. Clean" Spiegel—Spike Jonze's brother. Spiegel's done the music for every one of Benzo's spots so far, including recent efforts for Lexus and Honda.

Benzo doesn't seem concerned about being pigeonholed as the guy who makes virals that leave you guessing. "Even in the last viral I did there was a change in approach, a real narrative, with a good opportunity to structure a story with a character," he says. It's likely there's plenty more to come now that he's at Park Pictures—surfing buddy Lance Acord signed him after seeing "Shark Surfer." Next up? An Axe spot out of Vegaolmosponce, which involves stunt rigging, effects and an aircraft carrier in Texas. It's not due until 2009, but odds are you won't miss it.

Read about Jonathan van Tulleken, another of our 2008 Directors to Watch.

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