Creative-turned-director Jim Jenkins may not yet be a household name, but some of his work is getting him close to pop stardom. His Turner Classic Movies cinema/TV campaign of fractured film-remakes was the subject of a Good Morning America segment last month, though Jenkins, who wrote and directed the spots, went unmentioned, in typical TV news style. A few days earlier, the TCM work got a TV column in The New York Post, complete with Jenkins' quotes, in which he was ID'd as president of a creative boutique called nicebigbrain, but not credited as the director.
The nicebigbrain part is true enough - it's the shop Jenkins lists for his self-written spots - but even as he's accumulating high-velocity commercials momentum at Hungry Man, he remains committed to nicesmallcomedy. Based on his current reel, you wouldn't know he's shot for clients like AT&T Wireless, Powerade, Toyota, SBC and eBay. Right now, in fact, he's gearing up for a Diet Dr Pepper campaign. But the biggest spots on his reel, prior to TCM, are the pair for Alltel and The Martin Agency about a guy who slams his giant foam finger in a car door as he's going to the game, precipitating a major medical crisis. This could well be the best one-two punch in the history of the sports-fanaticism genre, but still, you'd think Jenkins hadn't really arrived, when in fact he's so here he could be right behind P. Diddy for a crib-based reality TV series. "A reel is a very subjective thing," Jenkins offers by way of explanation. "I have spots that others think should be on my reel, but I don't feel they fit. I don't choose what I shoot based on the size of the client or the job - just whether or not the board is good. What's on the reel are the spots that feel right to me."
One campaign that clearly feels right to everybody is TCM. It started with the Cannes Bronze-winning Rocky remake in a retirement home and has gone on to give us The Dirty Dozen on ice and Ben-Hur as performed by the Parkway Elementary School. In the great tradition of reticent funnymen, the latethirtysomething Jenkins has little to say about his comedy beyond "casting is the key" and "I like storytelling." His casting is surely ace, thanks in part to New York's Beth Melsky (see Creativity's July/August 2002 Focus). While we're on the subject, Daniel Morrison, the kid who delivers the line, "Your eyes are full of hate, Ben-Hur. That's good - hate keeps a man alive! [tiny cough]," should be making Haley Joel Osment nervous.
Nothing is making Tanya Conventry, VP-consumer marketing at TCM, nervous right now. She's on a roll with Jenkins' work, and you can bet more spots are coming. TCM hooked up with Jenkins "because his Animal Planet campaign was a favorite of ours," says Coventry. "We decided this was the campaign that we wanted to emulate, tonewise. It's funny and it speaks directly to the brand." A pair of Animal Planet spots (still on his reel), written and directed by Jenkins in 2000 as a sidelight during his 12-year CD/writer stint at Ogilvy/New York, is what put him on the map as a director. They feature animals doing funny things like babysitting and saving a guy from choking on a hot dog (he has a pet ram, who performs a sort of front Heimlich maneuver).
Jenkins, who grew up in Florida and studied advertising at UF/Gainesville before settling into New York, says he worked a lot on American Express and Miller Lite at Ogilvy, and had an eye for comedy from the beginning - and an eye for directing not long after. But he didn't make an effort to direct anything at Ogilvy, and he scoffs at spec. "I wanted to do smaller, more offbeat things and I never wanted spec on my reel. The only limitation to spec is the lack of money, and that's not a real limitation. I don't think it can be taken seriously when you're not charged with selling a real product." So Jenkins got himself charged with just that, via his nicebigbrain side gig, and things just started to happen. "I never bugged any clients to direct," he says. Nor did he consider jumping to a production company as a sort of work in progress. "I didn't want to be beholden to a company that had financed my reel." So he paid attention on shoots and bided his time. "Ogilvy was a great training ground," he recalls. "I could learn about production there and still lay low and do other things." Among his extracurricular activities, he had a TV show optioned, he wrote screenplays and he tried syndicating a comic strip. Can he draw? "Sort of." To top it off, he took six months off to teach American history at a high school in Ohio. "I was tired of advertising, I just needed a break. Somebody called, I knew something about the subject, I went and did it. I'm not saying I was good at it, I'm just saying I did it."
By the time 2000 rolled along, "I was working freelance for the Discovery Channel and I was asked to direct something I'd written," says Jenkins. "They weren't asking me in order to save money, the budget wasn't exactly small. I like to think they asked me because they thought I could do a good job." That led to Animal Planet, and the rest is history - much better than the kind he taught. He left Ogilvy that same year, joined Hungry Man in 2001 and has been racking up a wide range of comedy spots with little shops like New Orleans' Trumpet Advertising, where he shot a wryly funny campaign for an insurance company called The Oath. He's also got viciously black comedy for Companion Animal Placement and a micro shop called Suburban, in which a dog waits lovingly for his master, who's a hitman in the process of burying a corpse.
So now that he's at Hungry Man, an entertainment hothouse, are features looming? "I don't know. Who can predict what will happen in Hollywood? I do have some offbeat script ideas. I'm not exactly interested in shooting Patch Adams 2 - unless Pauly Shore's attached to it, of course."
Is he looking for work outside the comedy realm? "If a great board came in, yeah. But, you know . . . " Well, if you have to be in a pigeonhole, this is surely the best one, right? "I don't even consider it to be a pigeonhole, it's too big. It's a much bigger hole than that."