The Next Wave: Frank Samuel, Harvest Films

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Although he's been directing since 1998, Frank Samuel has managed to go from zero-to-sixty in just the last few years. He made an out-of-nowhere appearance at the Super Bowl, with "Hotel," for BBDO/N.Y., an audience favorite featuring an exhausted businessman who checks into a chi-chi hotel, dying to rest his weary bones, only to be kept awake by the "chocolate on his pillow," the neurotically chatty M&M who lies in bed next to him. Prior to that, he turned out the agency's hilarious parodies of Antiques Roadshow for Celebrations candies that, like the M&M spot, was shortlisted at Cannes. With both clients, Samuel managed to surprise the agency, considering that they were shot for nothing and weren't even expected to make the waves that they did.

A former production designer for film directors like Steven Soderbergh, the 39-year-old director embraces the skills from his features past while trying to develop a multi-dimensional approach to his craft. "Instead of trying to be a visual director, what I'm enjoying most now is that the art direction is just another layer, just one of the components in my arsenal, not my primary focus." In order to tell his story, he's also a stickler for bringing feature techniques onto the commercials set - he prefers to bring in feature cinematographers for his commercials, and always shoots with two cameras, especially useful in capturing "unspoken" comedic moments from his talent and ensuring seamless transitions in editing.

As with all the directors who expect to get anywhere in this business, there's a conceptual brawn and daring to Samuel's portrayals. A spot for JWT and Kellogg's defies the good-for-you traditions of breakfast cereal with a more grunge-inspired approach, when a dude plunges his hand into the slimy depths of his sink to fish out a bowl for his Raisin Bran Crunch. Ironically he manages to bring an odd beauty to the filth through his shot composition, palette and set design, but "to associate grime with a food product is highly unusual," he admits. Those kinds of spots are hard to come by, especially considering this skittish age of advertising, but Samuel insists on seeing a good idea through when it's in his power. "I don't just want to throw a bunch of shit on the wall and see what sticks," he insists. "That's what I feel is going on a lot now because there's such a fear factor in the business. That's actually the hardest part of my job right now. I always push toward the edge. But it's not my objective to alienate anyone. I'm not trying to make an independent film here. I work in a business of commerce and I try to apply my art to it. I really believe that strongly. At the end of the day I want the spot to be successful not only for myself but for the client and the agency."

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