SPECIAL REPORT: Top 25 Directors

Creativity's annual guide to the industry's best talent.

By Published on .

ERROL MORRIS @radical.media MALCOLM VENVILLE anonymous

Levi's "French Dictionary"
Any quick calculation of the number of agency creatives and producers who put Ivan Zacharias near the top of their list of top directors, against the number of projects the director actually took on last year — all of three — would reveal that the young Czech is, pound for pound, one of the most sought after directors in the industry.

Zacharias is obviously fastidious about the kinds of projects to which he'll lend his famous eye — his all-killer, no-filler reel is ample evidence of that selectivity. Said reel reveals an accomplished filmmaker whose body of work matches the visual stylists for expanding the mind and riveting the eye with filmic finesse, but never ignores the other bodily regions that must be stirred for a commercial to be truly great (the heart and the gut, for example). The work ranges from the slick caper of Levi's "Atlas Bakery" to the down and dirty Royal Marines "Limits," which perfectly fills its brief of scaring the hell out of pansies who would start to cry an hour into boot camp, while serving as catnip for the born jarhead. The Lion winners span styles too, from the period epic of Stella Artois "Plague," to the on-the-fly field-cam feel of "Born Free," for Land Rover.

The director says three to five jobs a year is the preferred commercials exposure, and although he does admit appreciating leisure time, Zacharias doesn't exactly lie fallow between spot gigs, instead keeping sharp with personal film and design projects, the broad creative undertakings in turn feeding back into his commercials work. Currently, Zacharias is working with longtime friend, director Jan Sverak (director of the Oscar-winning film Kolya), serving as DP on a one-hour documentary about Sverak's father, another famed Czech director, actor and theater founder. Zacharias also recently got to stretch beyond 30-second boundaries with Absolut's 10-minute Bollywood extravaganza Mulit, recently recognized at the One Show Film Awards.

Zacharias, himself a former documentary filmmaker and DP, clearly doesn't limit himself to any one type of commercial but chooses scripts for the strength of the idea, preferring "classical stories, classical ideas and simple jokes." He also admits falling out of the practice of keeping a close eye on the latest in spot technique. "I used to study a lot of commercials to see how they were done, but I don't really do that anymore. I prefer to do it our way." The "our" refers to Jan Velicky, Zacharias' longtime DP/collaborator. The two work together on every project, along with Filip Malasek, Zacharias' editing partner on most of his work. "We're always seeing how we can shoot things and how we can invent our own style. So, hopefully, we'll make something that lasts longer rather than something trendy, something that in a year looks old and embarrassing." (TI)

AOL "Six Million dollar Man"
RSA's Jake Scott is intent on steering his own career rather than residing in the "beautiful visuals" niche carved out by his stellar work on Nike's "Moves." "I'd actually like to do more character driven work, but it's one of those things I'm not considered for," says Scott. "My reel doesn't suggest that's an area I thrive in. 'Move' was challenging and rewarding, but it isolates you as that type of director." All the same, Scott's AOL "Six Million Dollar Man" spot, an updated, motion graphics intensive take on the '70's TV show with the AOL logo taking the place of a cybernetic Steve Austin, made the Super Bowl 2003 scene.

But Scott is fonder of recent work for American Express. "Mr. Lee" and "Penguins" were both shot in Patagonia, Argentina, for McCann-Erickson/New York. The first shows a frustrated businessman shopping by phone from an isolated booth in the desert; his success in securing a mail order gift for his wife is illustrated by a chipper skip from booth to limo. "It's out of character and incongruous," says Scott. "In the U.S., people don't laugh, but in England it worked, so I suppose there are real differences in the area of humor between North America and the U.K.." "Penguins" captures the work of two avian researchers frustrated by their inability to photograph their stay among a flock of the two-tone birds. "It was supposed to be two guys having their photo taken surrounded by penguins, but they're very skittish, " he says. "So it ended up being us dragging ourselves on our bellies like snipers. We made it up as we went along, incorporating the frustration of setting up the spot."

The researchers in the spot were played by Scott's RSA cohorts Philip Fox Mills and Bryan Farhy, talent every bit as unruly as a flock of penguins. Those who've met them will agree that directing this pair most assuredly contributes to Scott's quest for "character-driven work." (SH)

Miller Lite "Pillow Fight"

ERICH JOINER tool of north america
Erich Joiner continues to beat us with a funnybone, and we're enjoying it thoroughly. The man who brought us Panda Claus for Sprint PCS and the Yahoo smartass dolphin has maintained his winning comedic stride on a reconfiguration of beer, babes and brawls for Miller Lite; deadpan moments for Sears; and the "mLife" what-if return to Gilligan's Island.

Do you ever get tired of directing comedy spots? "I don't think I'll ever get sick of it. It really makes you feel good when you're able get people laughing. Humor has a way of fixing things that aren't always right in the world."

What are some of the highlights of directing for Miller Lite? "I was in the ring with ex-heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, trying to teach him how to throw a punch that would knock the skinny-ass, trash-talking Dax's head right off his body. The next day, I'm directing a water-soaked, lingerie-clad Pamela Anderson in a pillow fight. She was practically naked. When I have to pop on set to direct her, I know it's going to be somewhat difficult not to look down, especially if she looks away. But I go over and manage to look her in the eyes, and before I can even comment on her performance she suddenly asks, 'How do my breasts look?' All I could think was, You've got to love this business."

What's your philosophy of getting great performances? "I don't have one, although I've found most of the time you can't force it. And you damn well better be paying attention in callbacks, even when it's the 193rd person that day."

What's next? "I just finished a weird spot for Butler, Shine & Stern with a wooden marionette in a 1/3-scale set of a house in a 1/4-scale neighborhood with the puppeteer who did Being John Malkovich. I really enjoy doing new stuff like that. You experiment. You learn new things, like how to go about eating a cold ham and pineapple pizza in one hand while palming a delicate, miniature grand piano in the other hand and planning the next shot." (AD)

Fox Sports "Red Wings"

MJZ's Rocky Morton has been known to go to great lengths to infuse a job with the right vibe. He sprayed his set and cast with powder to give them a chocolate-looking feel, for a "Got chocolate milk?" spot, for example. But he's also demonstrated an ease with effects and an extra-dark sense of humor, seen in recent work for Starburst, Mike's Hard Beverages and his pain-free NHL campaign for Fox Sports, which earned Gold at this year's One Show. Not to mention his short film, M, for the 2003 Sony "Dreams" fest — an Alan Ball script in which a couple discusses marriage in the most ruthless of capitalist business terms.

What was the most challenging aspect of directing the latest round for Fox Sports? "Casting is always the biggest challenge, as we have to find performers who are 'real,' but are interesting to watch without being cartoony."

Was it a pain to direct people not to feel pain? "Some of the performances did involve physical pain, but I think that was easier for the actors to deal with that than with the mental pain I put them through."

What's the most important consideration for a commercials director? "Stamina."

Who are your major influences? "My children."

Do you have a milestone in your directing career? "When I hurled a 5-gallon can of red paint over the entire class at art school in London. At that point, I realized something about performance and the importance of reaction shots."

What's the most rewarding thing about your job? "Being in a position where ADD is an advantage."

What's your philosophy of getting great performances? "Try to let go of obsessive control but communicate a very strong and straightforward direction."

What kind of project haven't you done that you want to do? "Building a Mongolian yurt in my back garden."

What's the weirdest thing that's happened to you on a job? "An agency not wanting me to be involved in the postproduction." (AD)

Nike "Battlefield"
HSI's Paul Hunter recently got back from a two-week respite in Tahiti after a year spent directing his first feature, the Chow Yun-Fat actioner Bulletproof Monk. "It was two weeks too long," says the admitted workaholic. "There was nothing to do and I'm too hyper to just sit around." There's been no shortage of fuel for his addiction. The director who built his rep on visual stunners featuring megastars from MTV and the sports world has returned with more rhythmic Nike fare, like the controversial "Battle," which takes a gritty scenic approach to the basket-and-beats genre introduced in the acclaimed "Freestyle." He's also gone full throttle on videos with the latest from Ashanti, Tyrese and Tamia, and today is on set in Miami directing a clip for Pharrel and Jay-Z.

As for the movie, box office receipts and reviews have been rather disappointing. Hunter says the experience changed him; he's developed a greater appreciation for film and he's now a bit more disciplined. He also got to explore and showcase a side of himself we're not so familiar with — comedy, although when asked what he believes are his strengths, he quickly responds, "Storytelling and humor." Indeed, those skills have started to emerge in commercials like Nike's "Frisbee." The European spot, starring the Stickman character, has all the adrenalized sportsmaneuvers you'd expect, but flavored with the goofy antics of the show-stealing animated figure, whom Hunter actually directed, via an actor in a greensuit. Funny business or not, Hunter is dead serious about getting what he wants on film, whether it be features, spots or clips. "You have to be firm to get your vision through, because if you come in wavering, it just becomes a mediocre mess." He gives props to his crew for keeping the control freak in check. "I'm creatively demanding about the appropriate things, and sometimes I don't have a perspective on how other people are reacting to what I'm asking for. But now I tell my producer, 'Tell me if I'm asking for too much. Tell me and stop me, or I'll just keep going.' " (AD)

Mountain Dew "Code Red"

KINK A USHER house of usher films
Although we're still reeling from the one where a guy outbutts a ram for Mountain Dew, the House of Usher continues to build out. Usher's recent work includes dudes mesmerized by Mountain Dew Livewire; Sierra Mist baboons; curiously, a Wrigley's singing gumball; and Chinese-tongued talent in a pucker-faced Sour Starburst spot. His range also extends beyond gutbusters, as seen most recently in low-key portraiture for Apple.
What's the most important consideration for a commercials director? "You have to know what you're doing. Know your shots. There's a million ways to shoot a scene but only one way is right."

What's the most rewarding aspect of your job? "The camaraderie generated among the craftspeople that I work with and the people that helped me create my vision. Because, ultimately, it's relationships that have value. Praise is hollow."

What kind of projects haven't you done that you would like to do? "I've pretty much done every kind of filmmaking, although I'd like to do more action-oriented scripts. I loved doing VW for Arnold."

What's the weirdest thing that's happened to you on a job? "I was a camera assistant for Joe Pytka, doing a Bartles & Jaymes spot in Napa. It was around Halloween. Joe was a little cranky that day and he was kind of getting after everybody. So Tommy Doherty, the animal grip, comes out of the bushes with a pumpkin on his head and his willy hanging out and starts attacking Joe. And I thought to myself, This is one crazy fucking business."

Name a milestone in your career. "At the beginning, some very key people helped get my career off the ground and believed in me when nobody else did; people like Linda Carlson, Beth Hagen and Steven Monkarsh. They really created my milestone. (AD)

Playstation "Signs"

MJZ's Dante Ariola has a flair for transporting us into atmospheric, darkly comedic worlds. The two-time DGA nominee's landmark work includes Volkswagen's "Big Day," and the Gold Lion-winning Budget Rent-a-Car campaign. His subtle sensibilities continue to inflect recent projects like the apocalyptic Sony Playstation campaign, Hotjobs' "Daydreamers," as well the deliciously disturbing yet humorous spot for Virgin Mobile, wherein residents of a sanitarium find devilish ways to occupy their idle thumbs.

Anything interesting about your experience on Virgin Mobile? "We filmed the spot in a vast mental institution in the Czech Republic. It was an intense insight to what it must be like to live in an Eastern bloc country and, more importantly, what it must be like to lose your mind."

What do you do with your idle thumbs? "Play Grand Theft Auto:Vice City."

What's the most important consideration for a commercials director? "Have an opinion, and be right."

Name some of your influences. "I'm spurred on by my contemporaries in this business. I have a deep love for film and I'm influenced my many directors, but I don't look at them as reference material. Influence is a big amorphous shape in the back of your mind, made up of little pieces of everything there is in this world."

What do you consider a milestone or turning point in your directing career? "The day I stopped thinking for anyone else and just did the things that were right for the job, that made it better creatively."

What's your philosophy of getting great performances? "A carrot and a stick. It's also good to try to get different shades of gray with in the tone of a performance. For instance, in a comedy commercial, a very small take, then a broad take, etc. You might stumble across a unique moment that somehow makes the spot." (AD)

Visa "Luggage"
MJZ directing team Kuntz & Maguire want to take this opportunity to let us all know that they're "very serious," in reference to their current undertaking: shooting their first feature, born of the fertile-minded satirists of online/weekly piss take The Onion. In the movie version of The Onion, "Funnily enough, there are a lot of mini-short films going on," says Mike Maguire. "For people who do what we do, there couldn't be more of a custom-made movie. It feels like doing 30 commercials projects at once,"

The team finished the rewrite of The Onion draft in April, and start shooting in Los Angeles this summer. They took scripting breaks to direct Visa's "Lost Luggage," for Leo Burnett/Toronto (see p. 64), and two videos for bizarre Detroit rockers Electric Six. "Danger! High Voltage" stars the band's frontman as a jaded aristocrat with a penchant for pyromania who shares glowing erogenous zones with his leather-clad septuagenarian mama. The new "Gay Bar" (see p.64) recasts the lead singer as the gay Abraham Lincoln we've all suspected once romped through the Oval Office. But the loneliness inherent in being a gay Republican is assuaged by the fact that Abe orgies out with an eager throng of thong-clad Lincoln clones.

Having exorcised their own homoerotic demons, Kuntz & Maguire are primed to begin shooting The Onion movie. "It feels like the most fun project we have done," says Tom Kuntz. "It's free of all the things that get in the way with commercials, like time frames, and that you can't curse. We can make the scenes as long we want, we can curse and we can kill people." (SH)

Coors "Wingman"

Baker Smith's roll has continued non-stop since he launched Harvest in 2001, from taking Gold at Cannes for the "Beware of Things Made in October" Fox Sports campaign to earning this year's nod from the DGA. Recent additions to his darkly-inflected comedic oeuvre include filmic moments for Mini, a revisit to Fox Sports via the "God is a Celtics Fan" campaign, and Coors Light's "Wingman," in which a loyal buddy hangs with a motormouth chick so his pal can do the dance floor nasty with her girlfriend.

What's the most important consideration for a commercials director? "To keep focused on the concept and speak up if something isn't working. Making a commercial is like staging a ballet in a phone booth. It's chaos. If you remain calm and focused, you won't deliver a turd."

Do you have a wingman? "I have two wingmen. My wife, Kristin, and Bonnie Goldfarb, my EP/partner. They're completely crazy and I sleep with the both of them — not at the same time though. I was just kidding about the 'nuts' part."

Name some of your influences. "I'm constantly moved by what I see on any given day. I think directors are really anthropologists, observers of moments that pass between people."

What's your philosophy of getting a good performance? "Pay attention in the casting process. Don't call back 100 people. Rather, call back three so you can use that time to rehearse the script. Use your time wisely, grasshopper."

If you were a Cannes juror, what gets your vote for the Grand Prix? "I would selfishly vote for my Fox Sports "Celtics" campaign. All kidding aside, Saturn's 'Sheet Metal' is perfect. Brilliant concept, flawlessly executed. That really makes me angry. Noam Murro sucks."

What's the strangest thing that's happened to you on set? "I stripped naked because the set was tense. Everybody laughed at my little willy and then we commenced filmmaking." (AD)

Guiness "Volcano"
RUPERT SANDERS omaha pictures
"I live a life of looking," explains Rupert Sanders of Omaha Pictures. Keeping his eyes open paid off during production for Guinness' "Lava," in which an erupting volcano ravages a tiny village and, in the process, endangers its supply of brew. "It was a really difficult thing to pull off," he recalls. "We were in the middle of nowhere in Poland and we were trying to destroy the town without special effects. It was all getting quite out of hand." That is, until Sanders stumbled on a massive coal slag heap, which eventually provided the practical makings of the volcano and its molten spew. "There's a certain magic that happens when things are right there before you. It's very hard to have ideas in postproduction. You can say, 'I want to put this car on a rooftop,' and if that car is really up there, you're going to have so many opportunities to be imaginative with it."

He recounts a lesson he learned from former mentor Tony Kaye, whom he met in L.A. after graduating from art school in London: "Don't try to do what you can do in front of camera elsewhere. Try to make the images live and then capture them rather than doing everything afterward." As Sanders has quietly emerged on his own as one of the industry's most admired directors for his visually inspired storytelling, that philosophy has served him well on recent jobs for HP, Lloyds and Nissan — during the latter, he actually got dolphins to swim alongside cars on a pontoon. There was also the mesmerizing "Great Return" for Nike, for which he constructed an elaborate camera rig in order to create videogame-inspired camera perspectives. Sanders easily switches gears from big production to quietly impactful, performance-driven spots like Nike's "Pull-up," in which actors' mere exchange of glances powerfully communicates the heat of competition. His flair with all sorts of tale-telling is something he hopes agencies will soon pick up on. "I'd love to do some completely different things, but, unfortunately, unless you've already done it, you don't get it. I'm waiting patiently for some enlightened soul to think that I can make humans talk and make things funny." (AD)

Washington "Paul"

MJZ's Gillespie, a former creative who put in a decade as an art director at New York agencies, was a 2001 DGA Best Director nominee on the strength of very funny work for Holiday Inn Express and Citibank. He continues his comedy streak with recent spots for those very clients: Citibank's "Treadmill" and Holiday Inn Express' "Snakebite" and "Jeopardy."

What do you consider a milestone in your directing career? "My H&R Block 'Worried About Bill' commercial, then Citibank for Fallon."

What's the most important consideration for a commercials director? "To understand the idea and how to best deliver that."

What's the most rewarding aspect of your job? "Making people laugh. I just shot a guy being trampled by an elephant, for instance — hopefully, this will be funny."

What's your philosophy of getting great performances? "Let the actor feel like he's part of the process. Explain the character's motivation, the tone of the spot, where the humor lies — and if they're good, let them improvise."

What kind of project haven't you done that you want to do? "Longer-format stuff, where you get a sense of a culture or place. For example Jonathan Glazer's "Swimmer" and BMW Films".

If you were a Cannes juror, what gets your vote for the Grand Prix this year? "Anything that Fredrik Bond did. (He offered to pay me.)"

What's next in your career? "A feature, I hope." (TK)

Cisco "Olive"

ERROL MORRIS @radical.media
An exhausted Errol Morris has just returned from Cannes, where he debuted his latest feature, the critically acclaimed The Fog of War — an unnerving portrait of former secretary of defense Robert McNamara, who comes clean about his involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam and World War II. Yet the indefatigable Morris is already back at @radical.media and on to new projects for Nike and Infone. Incredible stamina for someone who once told Creativity, "I've always compared directing a commercial to trying to run a race with cinderblocks tied to your legs." Such weighty notions aside, Morris has built on his reputation for campaigns like Miller High Life and PBS' "Stay Curious," with recent jobs for Cisco, Amex and the memorable "Switch" testimonial campaign for Apple.

What's the most important consideration for a commercials director? "A good accountant."

What's the most important consideration for a film director? "A good lawyer."

Who inspires you in the commercials world? "Mrs. Butterworth."

What's your philosophy of getting great performances? "Yelling at people."

What's your philosophy of getting good performances from "real people"? "Yelling even louder."

What kind of project haven't you done that you want to do? "Porno." (AD)

Sony "The Trip"
Leaving aside the 30 years of groundbreaking work for a moment, one can take a quick glance through a sampling of recent Pytka spots and still be struck by the enormous range of the work while detecting some unmistakable notes played sweetly throughout. Following on the first round of the standout Fed Ex banter campaign, a tailor-made Pytka job, the director delivered the goods on the sharp, solid IBM b-to-b campaigns, the most recent featuring the angst-ridden business types confessing their IT nightmares. He pulled out the full-on production number with a human touch for Sony's "The Trip"; reasserted his effects finesse with partners Digital Domain with the Jordan vs. Jordan spot for Gatorade; directed the recent large-scale GE campaign; and delivered on the dead simple and funny Christmas campaign for Amazon.

Regardless of the scale of the job or the visual trickery involved, Pytka still employs some of the production cues from his background as a documentary filmmaker; always leveraging the power of a face and an expression, always looking to avoid force-feeding an idea. "I apply classic film techniques," he says. "I try and tell a story as simply as possible, with good casting and manipulation of the script."

And while he's cagey about some things relating to his spot work, one thing does come through loud and clear: he is, as ever, a passionate filmmaker. Peppering his conversation with film references, he decries bad filmmaking and says that the art of filmmaking as a whole has never really reached the artistic heights of literature or painting (though he will give credit where it's due — he calls Ben Kingsley's turn as the vituperative Don Logan in Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast "absolutely brilliant"). Discussing the changes that have transformed the industry since he's been crafting spots, Pytka readily admits the deleterious effect consolidation has had on creative and the shift in priorities from the work to the bottom line. "You're dealing with large corporations that have to be kind of benign and kind of mediocre in a way, by definition. There are a lot of things that are legislating against really good work." So how does he manage to do so much of it? "You do what you do as well as you can do it and hope for the best. Luckily, a lot of my clients want really good work."

His long-simmering passion for food and wine was also recently realized with the opening of Bastide in L.A. And if critical response to date is any indication, the restaurant Pytka has been lovingly laboring over for years looks to have as promising a future as the young Pytka did back in the day. (TI)

Volkswagen "BubbleBoy"
MIKE MILLS the directors bureau
For someone with such a small commercials output — if he does four jobs a year, it's a lot — Mike Mills of The Directors Bureau has quite the ad rep. He's near the top of just about every creative's hit list, but he turns most often to Arnold and VW, where recent jobs include the acclaimed "Bubble" and "Chain Reaction" spots. His latest commercials campaign is, oddly enough, a Time Warner package from little known agency Shepardson, Stern & Kaminsky (see Guest Review, p. 26).

Mills, who's also an accomplished graphic designer as well as a director of rarely seen and often brilliant music videos for obscure bands, is content to keep his commercials career on a slow simmer, especially now that he's preparing to shoot his first feature, Thumbsucker, which has been in the planning stages for years. As Arnold senior copywriter Joe Fallon, who's worked with Mills on several spots, notes, "Mike's the kind of director who's as much an artist as anything else. He's just got this incredible design sense that filters through everything he touches. If he devoted himself to commercials work, his future would be limitless. But I really think Mike's talents are destined for a bigger forum. If he gets to make the movies he wants, people out there who may be unfamiliar with his work will certainly know his name in the future." (TK)

Ikea "Bored To Death"

BRYAN BUCKLEY hungry man
Voted by the industry in last year's report as the No. 1 commercials director, Hungry Man's Bryan Buckley remains at the top of his game, zeroing in on all forms of funny. Recent ventures include celeb-driven spots for Pepsi and H&R Block featuring, respectively, the Osbournes and Willie Nelson; Ikea's surreal escape from six feet under; and an oddly debauched Las Vegas campaign that brings out the sin in Sin City. He's infected Europe as well, via the twisted "Brilliant Industries" for Egg Bank and Orange's self-mocking cinema campaign, featuring the likes of Spike Lee, Alan Cumming and Carrie Fisher.

Who is the toughest celebrity you've worked with? "Mike Myers was the most intense. We had to have a pre-pre-pro meeting with him and he screened my whole crew, had ideas for actors, had questions on the boards. Comedy to him is a very exact science."

What's the most important consideration for a director? "Endurance, because it's easy for you to stop caring at some point. There are so many details. It can be relentless, but the minute you stop and let your guard down, shit happens."

What kind of project do you want to do but haven't done yet? "We all know the one I haven't done yet (a movie). In commercials, I haven't done a Carrot Top spot."

What's your strangest on-the-job experience? "When we were shooting for Vindaloo Noodles. It was a pretty good indication of trouble when my PA went to pick up the actor and the guy said, 'Are you with the sheriff?' Anyway, we finally got him over to the shoot, and he ran away. He didn't just walk away, he ran. He even jumped over hedges. " (AD)

Nike "Streaker"
Sadly for us, Nike "Streaker," the spot that gave us "I do hope he's not headed for the Royal Box" is the last North American effort we've seen from the director most would, if pressed, dub the best commercials guy working. Budgen's latest U.K. ad, Audi's "Thirsty Fish," out of BBH/London, adds to the moody and slick yet witty vein (see Levi's "Twist" and "Worn") running through the director's work. Next up is a new spot for the BBC out of AMV BBDO and, we hope, a return to the bosom of the American commercials industry? (TI)

Levi's "Mouseheads"

For the level of influence he's had on directors, film lovers and the craft of modern filmmaking and sheer effortless cool generated, Michel Gondry can be considered the Clash of commercials and video artists. After Levi's "Swap," Gondry has been devoting his time of late to his second feature, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a Charlie Kaufman-penned film, starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, which travels directly up Gondry's alley, toying, as it does, with time, memory and the inner workings of the mind.

You're obviously known as a visual innovator, but your work always manages to have a humanity to it. How do you balance technique and storytelling? "I try to find creativity in every step of the work — from the story, the elaboration of the character to the technical problems to be solved. To me, there's no job too big or too little. I think the way I solve problems at any level is how I mainly express myself. Furthermore, I always try to find a position of equality between the actor or the singer I'm shooting and myself. I always imagine they're my friends or a family member when I'm behind the camera."

What are the most important elements in the 30 second story? "I try to keep some elements of magic, which are not there only to tell the story."

What is the unifying element to your work? "That's for you to decide. On my end, I always try to go each time in the most opposite direction. Maybe the invisible connections between the different projects are defining me the most. I really don't know."

What did you learn from your first feature, Human Nature, that you're applying to your current film? "I actually filled up an entire notebook with things I discovered while working on my first film. I wrote down all the stuff I didn't like in the movie and solutions to improve them. I read the notebook every morning while shooting Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's a bit of advice I would give to everyone: Write down all your thoughts and problems in a notebook, then when you're rested and not too depressed anymore, think of solutions, answers, and write them down in the same book. It works." (TI)

Volkswagen "Think Ahead"
His career now stabilized along a London-Los Angeles axis, Fredrik Bond's leanings toward shaping palpable characters within grand-scale productions has similarly taken bountiful root. Since signing with MJZ for global representation a year ago, the Swedish-born former editor's proclivity for immaculate cinematic executions conveying themes via character-driven comedy and eerily surreal parables has born substantial fruit. "Gator," a worldwide Landrover spot through Rainey Kelly/Y&R, London, builds on the myth that New York's sewers are home to the titular reptile. "An unassuming man taking his morning coffee rescues the city," says Bond. "He's not a hero in any sense, but he has this car that takes him to exotic places easily, so he learned his skills from being out in the wild." Bond cast a Los Angeles Starbucks manager as the spot's hero. "We were looking for people with more of an ordinary twist to them. Maybe it's easier to find unusual, quirky characters outside of casting since the pros have already been used too much."

"Gator" made use of a combination of animatronic and real reptiles and was shot in a Los Angeles studio; so too was HP's "Digital Crime Fighter," which depicts a lowlife Parisian criminal being dragged at mouse-point into the gendarme's waiting van. "I enjoy a lot of studio work," says Bond. "You have full control over the sets, backdrops, lighting and total creative control of framing; you feel every screw in the set is there for a purpose. " (SH)

Johnnie Walker "Fish"
Daniel Kleinman is known for directing vivid visualizations of impossible ideas. "I love a project where I'm entering new ground, not copying something existent," he says. "I'm happy doing comedy, dialogue, inventing and using special effects, shooting cars, condoms, beer, drama, virals or any bloody thing — as long as I find it interesting." Through London's Spectre, Kleinman's work for Xbox and John West, alternately neo-mythic and slapstick, impressed punters and festival judges alike. His Johnnie Walker "Fish" spot, with its schools of submarine humanity navigating their way toward enlightenment, again combines flawlessly wrought fantasy with jaw-dropping artifice (see Creativity, May 2003, p. 49). Kleinman calls the spot "one of the most stretching shoots and concepts I have done. We had to invent rigs to achieve the type of movement I wanted from the actors, in and out of the water. There is a fair amount of CG work but most of the figures you see swimming and all of the leaps from the water are real. We invented special fins for them to wear, with the same refractive index as water so they became invisible when submerged."

Of late, Kleinman has successfully melded the Jimi Hendrix Experience, James Bond title sequences (he directed the titles for The World Is Not Enough) and Audi design elements in "Influence." "I think the idea of the ad is really about how music, art and other disparate influences can come together to inspire something new, even if the connection seems tenuous," he reflects. (SH)

Fast Web "Life"

JOE PUBLIC headquarters
Adam Cameron and Simon Cole, a pair of Brits with artsy backgrounds in classics and theater, moved to the States three years ago with the express intention of conquering the commercials world and, via Headquarters, they've been doing just that, with two DGA Best Director nominations and a bunch of great spots, led by the Italian FastWeb box-headed boy story that doubles as a brilliant music video.

Name some of your influences. Cameron: "The Marx Brothers." Cole: "Mrs. Bletchley (my English teacher) and Orson Welles."

What do you consider a milestone in your directing career? Cameron: "Success in the U.S." Cole: "Letting craft services come to me."

What was an outstanding moment of a recent campaign? Cole: "Holding up 750,000 cars on one day for a Toyota commercial. Sorry, L.A."

What's the most important consideration for a commercials director? Cameron: "A sense of humor." Cole: "To keep breathing."

What's the most rewarding thing about your job? Cameron: "Keeping your sense of humor." Cole: "The alchemy of art and commerce."

What's your philosophy of getting great performances? Cole: "Try saying, 'Make me look good, you talentless pratt.' "

What kind of project haven't you done that you want to do? Cameron: "Performance-based tabletop." Cole: "Anything that Frank Budgen gets."

What's next in your career? Cameron: "God knows." Cole: "I intend to run a small petting zoo." (TK)

Milk "The Cake"

NOAM MURRO biscuit filmworks
Biscuit Filmworks' Noam Murro made quite a dent in car advertising with Saturn's "Sheet Metal," Creativity's 2002 Spot of the Year, but it was just another great job for a guy who seems to be blessed with an endless succession of killer boards, and, not coincidentally, an inside track on gigs with Goodby, Silverstein. His recent jobs include dance spectaculars for eBay, docu-comedy for Sony PS2 and, our personal favorite, the Omen-inspired "Birthday," a blood-curdling tale for "Got Milk?"

What's your favorite project of the last year? "Thank you very much for putting me in a mine field. I fall in love pretty easily and have quite an intense love affair with each project. Having said that, Saturn holds a special place in my heart. I love 'Milk' too. And I also fell in love with Megan and Ashley and Tanya."

What's the most important consideration for a commercials director? "You have to know where you're going. You must have a point of view."

Name some of your influences? "How can I list that mosaic and at the same time not sound pretentious? My father, Mahler and the Jerusalem Cinematheque."

What makes you laugh? "A glimpse at myself in the mirror at 8 a.m. It would make you laugh, too."

What's your philosophy of getting great performances? "Isolating what you specifically want from an actor. Don't confuse them. Say what you want from them in the simplest possible terms. Go left. Go right. Motivation, shmotivation."

What's the most rewarding thing about your job? "Creating something new every few weeks."

What kind of project haven't you done that you want to do? "Nike's 'Tag.' " Do you drive a Saturn? "I actually don't, but I think they're cool cars. Really." (AD)

Virgin "Cheese"

Smuggler's Brian Beletic, a Texan who came out of the MTV School of Production and hip-hop videos, is a leading member of the under-30 breed of semi-subversive spots shooters who started out on a roll and whose momentum just keeps building. He's pigeonhole-proof, seemingly everyone wants to work with him, and his insane Virgin Mobile campaign, from Leagas Delaney/S.F., is a director's dream job. Moreover, his first feature is apparently already well past the planning stages.

What do you consider a milestone in your directing career? "Meeting Dan Quayle at a Christmas Party."

What's the most important consideration for a commercials director? "The director's cut."

What's the most rewarding thing about your job: "Girls."

What's your philosophy of getting great performances? "Casting is my favorite stage before the shoot, and it's also the most important stage. I think Happy's idea of hypnotizing your actors is really clever."

What kind of project haven't you done that you want to do? "I haven't done badass in-camera car crash collision stuff, which I want to do so bad. James Brown's Sony Playstation spot for The Getaway is my favorite spot in the last year."

If you were a Cannes juror, what gets your vote for the Grand Prix this year? "Gonna have to go with Tony Rickardsson, he's going for his sixth world championship." What's next in your career? "Feature film, May 2004." (TK)

Mountain Dew "Animated"

Thanks to his spectaculars for Nissan, Mountain Dew and others, Sam Bayer has a well-earned spot in the action hero hall of fame. But there's much to be anticipated with his switch from longtime shop HSI to RSA, where the director/DP hopes to revisit his visual roots and explore terrain in comedy and features. His recent exploits include "Animated," the latest in his seven years of hair-raising for the iconic green soda, where Xtreme sportsters Dew it up in an updated Roger Rabbit style; rockin' spots for Pepsi Blue and one for the NYC 2012 Olympics campaign.

What's crucial to keep in mind when doin' the Dew (or any other effects-laden spectacular)? "I always try to find new ways to photograph the stunt work, and I try to use athletes in ways you're not accustomed to seeing. I never want the viewer to feel cheated. The stunts should be of a high enough quality that the viewer believes some of the really spectacular stunts were done live."

What's the most important consideration for a commercials director: "You've got to love something about the job other than the paycheck. If it's only about the money, the work will never be great."

What kind of project haven't you done that you want to do? "A movie." What's the last thing that made you laugh or cry? "My feature film career." (AD)

Volkswagen "Squares"
London-based photographer-turned-director Malcolm Venville's wide-ranging body of minimalist work shares visual simplicity as a common thread. Working through Anonymous Content in the States and his own Therapy Films in the U.K., Venville says being raised amid the silence of his deaf parents contributed immensely to his focus on "simplicity of communication. My work is clear, graphic, with easy to comprehend elements," says Venville, offering VW's "Squares" as a recent example. "It's about simple comprehension, looking at life and the world as square but not bringing anything more than that to it. It's not polished; it's unfiltered and very tonal." Venville's several spots for MasterCard, with their combination of neatly photographed, telling scenes and empathic visual narrative imbue his spots with warmth, humanity and a wry, understated perspective. "What's important for me is stripping away all the elements to a bare minimum — like, forget camera movements unless it has to move; keep the props and production design to a minimum to create a clean, graphic, well-lit palette; keep physical action down, unless actor's movements contribute to the idea. We're in a particular moment in media history, talking to a savvy, literate, impatient, freewheeling world. The audience is desperate for clarity of communication. I think it's important to forget about technique and tools and focus on the idea." (SH)
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