Unlike many directors, Evan Bernard is not vague about his film trajectory. He's already heavy into music videos, he's making serious inroads into commercials and "I see commercials as a natural progression to features, which is what I ultimately want to do," he says. Now 33, Bernard, who grew up in Brookline, Mass., studied filmmaking at Syracuse University after switching his major. "I lied to my father and told him I was going to study advertising/design," he confesses. "He wanted me to have a trade." Well, Dad, he's got a trade. In fact, he's got a trade he can fall back on, too: juice pimping. No, a juice pimp is not one who procures for O.J. After college, Bernard moved to New York and started working as a PA. He had the good fortune to meet the Beastie Boys through a director he was working for, and he eventually wangled the job as "juice pimp," as the Beasties call it, when they headlined the 1994 Lollapalooza tour. "I basically made vegetable juice; I took care of a big juicer," Bernard explains.
He also cleverly shot a lot of Super 8 footage on the tour, cut it into a spec video, showed it to the Boys and they gave him the money to make the video for "Root Down." This breakdancin' homage to the New York Wild Style scene launched a busy video career that includes clips for Green Day, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Ben Folds Five, Rancid and many other, mostly lesser-known bands. Though he's also done a video for the Dixie Chicks, "Goodbye Earl," which stars Dennis Franz, the bulk of Bernard's work is firmly in a very imaginative indie/underground mode, though he moves freely between the punk, electronica and hip-hop realms - though he hasn't done any hardcore black hip-hop yet, and he'd like to. He's a former skateboarder who's "definitely into youth subculture," as he puts it. And while most of his clips are hardly the stuff of MTV in the afternoon, "all the offbeat videos help," Bernard believes. "That world is so far removed from the structured world of commercials, but a lot of young creatives know these videos and like them."
The world of commercials doesn't seem all that structured in Bernard's recent, very accomplished "No Shirt, No Shoes, No X Games" campaign for ESPN and Wieden & Kennedy - the one with the kid who cheekily gets the men's room key with the hubcap on it at the convenience store when he buys something with coins from the "leave a penny" tray. Bernard broke into commercials in 1998 and he's been with bicoastal Production League of America for the past year, but this X Games work marks something of a U.S. breakthrough. (He's repped by Partizan in Europe, where he's shot some weird comedy work for Virgin Radio and Kiss TV, among others.) "Those are some of the top athletes in extreme sports," he says of his X Games talent. "Some viewers will recognize them. There was a writeup somewhere that said the casting could have been better; yeah right, those are the Michael Jordans of their disciplines."
He followed this with the new, still unfolding "You Make the Ads" campaign for Miller's Icehouse beer, from Square One in Dallas. It features a pair of blundering Icehouse employees soliciting video ad ideas from viewers, and the contest is for real, with videos coming in steadily now that the campaign has gotten some exposure. But an early spot had to be finessed: "I'm the guy in the robot costume," Bernard laughs, referring to a spot in which someone dons a suit of six-pack packaging to be the Icehouse mascot. "This campaign came around at just the right time," Bernard says. "People would always ask if I had stuff with more dialogue, and this is just the kind of thing I was looking for." Not a bad gig to land at any time, never mind in the middle of a downturn, which Bernard says hasn't affected him so far. He's in the process of getting solidly positioned in "off-center comedy, sports comedy and youth-oriented stuff," he feels. "I just want to do what everybody wants to do: good, funny creative work.
"I was always a fan of commercials," he adds. "My brother and I were always on the lookout for new spots we liked. We were really into the Nike Air Jordan stuff. But I don't seek inspiration from commercials directors, it comes more from films. And it's mostly the stuff that originally got me excited about film. Like all the early Godzilla movies. There was a show from Boston when I was growing up called Creature Double Feature, which is what really first sparked my interest in filmmaking. I was very young, but I was obsessed with the technical side. I asked my mother, 'Did they really destroy a whole city to make this movie?' She explained to me about miniatures - it blew me away."
His chief video inspiration is Adam Bernstein, who's shot for the Beasties, too, and even did Sir Mix A Lot's classic "Baby Got Back." Bernstein's Jewish, Bernard's Jewish, the Beasties are Jewish. Is this a Hebrew hip-hop underground? "Yeah, we're old shule."