Sports and the City

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At press time, Pam Thomas of Moxie Pictures was consigned to bed rest, nine months pregnant with her first child, about to go into labor at any moment. Oddly enough, her husband is also a commercials director, Lloyd Stein of Headquarters - there may be some bickering in the delivery room about who gets to yell "Cut!" And speaking of labor, Thomas has been on something of a roll in this down market, and she wants to keep it that way. "I worked right up to the time the doctor told me I couldn't, and I hope to have a healthy baby and get right back to work," she says. As Moxie exec producer Gary Rose puts it, "This woman is driven." And her reel, surprisingly enough, is somewhat sports driven. Not only is Thomas one of only a handful of women to make the Creativity Top 100 Directors but she's got a body of jock-intensive and guy-targeted work to her credit that would be the dream of countless male directors. Consider the recent Gatorade "Party Call," a Doug E. Fresh-backed hip-hop sports montage from FCB/Chicago. Though there are female athletes on hand, something about the kickin' :60 drips testosterone even as it drips Gatorade-tinted sweat. Add several spots for Nike; Odyssey Golf's "Evil Greenskeeper" campaign; a comedy spot for the Oakland A's; videogame zanies for Sega; and assorted beer fests for MGD and Coors Light, and Thomas seems to be breaking whatever gender mold still exists in commercials directing. Even when she gets slightly sentimental, as in the affecting Cingular Special Olympics spots from BBDO/South, it's about sports and it's handled brilliantly.

On the other hand, Thomas has a girls' dialogue spot for Citizens Bank, a "Portrait of a Mother" for Buick (Mom's a serious swimmer, though) and she not only shot the open of the ultimate chick show, Sex and the City, she went on to direct several episodes. "I'm actively trying to pursue different things," Thomas says, and she's clearly succeeding. But what's her sports secret? "I don't know. I do love sports, but I try to pursue anything that I think is a great idea. I'm not super coordinated; maybe that's why sports appeal to me so much. I like athletes, particularly their single-mindedness and their focus. In the case of Odyssey, it was a character study. I admit I don't know much about golf. Basketball is probably my favorite sport. But most of my sports spots are more about the people."

On the subject of being a female director, Thomas, who mentions Paula Greif as an early inspiration, has found little but "smooth sailing. I don't know what a rep would say, but to my knowledge it's never seemed to be a problem," she insists. "In the same way that I can do sports spots, there are plenty of men who can do poignant spots that might traditionally be considered feminine. It shouldn't be about gender, and in my experience it's not. It's about filmmaking and getting the best performance." Her East Coast rep, incidentally, is Sarah Holbrook, who's been working with Thomas for most of the director's career and was instrumental in getting her into the spots business, initially at (now defunct) O. Pictures

Thomas is a New Jersey native who studied still photography at the University of Delaware. "I always imagined I'd shoot fashion and album covers," she says, but she joined MTV as a PA in 1985, which "became my film school," as she puts it, back in the freewheeling days of cable, where talents like Mark Pellington and the late Ted Demme were also nurtured. In fact, Thomas points to Pellington as a mentor. "He was key in getting me involved in directing," she recalls. "He was a director at MTV when I was a PA, and I worked with him often; he was very encouraging and he gave me lots of opportunities." Moreover, their careers seem to be on a similar track: music videos (Thomas has done about a dozen, most notably Melissa Etheridge's "I Want to Come Over," featuring Gwyneth Paltrow) to commercials to features. "I wish," laughs Thomas. "Mark has a couple of features already." She's surely heading in that direction, which is partly why she moved to Moxie, in 2000, from Satellite Pictures, not long before it dissolved in the Propaganda collapse. Her momentum in commercials "coincides with me joining Moxie," she believes. "It's a small company with a lot of feature directors, and I was hoping it would have something of a similar atmosphere to MTV, where people aren't just doing commercials and videos but unusual projects. And that's the case. I can do a big commercial or a very weird small commercial and they'll support it.

"What I want above all is career longevity," she adds. "One of the reasons I haven't done a feature yet is I don't see this as a career stepping-stone. But if I do direct a movie, which I hope to do in the near future, I'd never abandon commercials. It's just too much fun."

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