Petal to the metal
Brian Beletic is a man of many talents. For instance, he can read bar codes. "They're actually easy to read once you learn how, because they're nothing but line weights and spaces in between," he says. "It's like an alphabet." He also claims to know the imprint of every sneaker made since the '50s right up till '97. "After that, there's just too much stuff. Basically, every shoemaker has an independent signature; once you can recognize that signature, then you can branch off to other signatures that tell you what year it's made, which line of shoe it is. Again, once you learn, then the learning curve is pretty high."
That's not his only high learning curve. Only 27, Beletic, who used to work out of Satellite and is now at Smuggler, has garnered much acclaim for his music videos and commercials and he seems clearly destined for Big Film Things. He's a Dallas native who knew he wanted to be a director from early on -"Instead of handing in school reports, I'd submit a video" - and he knew how he wanted to achieve his goal: MTV. Yes, he's another successful grad of the MTV promotions department, but he managed to work college in, too: Loyola Marymount University in L.A. Why there? "It's the only school I applied to. I went to a Jesuit high school in Dallas, and Loyola Marymount sent a priest to my high school to recruit. It had a good film program - he convinced me to go." If this makes Beletic sound more like a follower than a leader, far from it. In fact, he's a politically aware Gen Z'er, as is demonstrated in his ironic setup for the above photo, shot on the deck of the USS Intrepid in New York. "I'm Green Party, I voted for Ralph Nader and I wear my political belief system on my sleeve," Beletic avers. "I'm very aware of what's going on in the world and I feel obligated to be involved. Ignorance is bliss and I don't like that type of bliss." He's also a vegetarian, "and I used to make fun of vegetarians - I'm from Texas."
His big project in college was a "pro-environment" doc called Within Reach "It was about how little changes on the consumer level can have a huge global impact. It wasn't entertainment." He interned at MTV in L.A. while in college and went right to New York and the promotions department when he graduated in '97. Which was entertainment, of course, but Beletic has found a comfortable balance between art and commerce. "I don't think MTV has many moral agendas, but I don't think they're expected to. Sure, you can use MTV as an example of a corporation whose interest is to make money by delivering a product, but they're not the only ones doing that, so I don't hold it against them. I think advertising is good and capitalism is good, but the ways we go about them can be seriously challenged." Though he wasn't familiar with the careers of others who had preceded him on that route, like Mark Pellington, "I did know that MTV hires from within and the promotions department is about high creativity; you have almost complete control right through into post, then it's on TV the next week, then you go do it again. A year and a half of this translated into a whole lot of professional experience."
It also allowed him to segue neatly into video direction; Beletic's music videos are mostly in the hip-hop realm, for the likes of Dead Prez, the Black Eyed Peas (whose "Joints & Jams," an MTV Buzz Clip, brought him to the attention of Satellite), Cee Lo and El-P, but, by hip-hop standards, they're unusually creative and sometimes politically charged in an intriguingly low-budget, underground manner. El-P's "Deep Space 9mm" features a pointed commentary on violence, with everyone pointing ridiculous orange guns at each other, while Basement Jaxx's "Red Alert," features the Giuliani-era NYPD busting musical instrument owners. Is he looking to move up to the big-budget special-effects videos? "Not really. I'm just in quest of creativity." Which is why he's "moving away from hip-hip videos, because the majority of hip-hop artists don't want their videos to be as creative as I'd like them to be." He aspires to work with artists on the level of Radiohead, Bjork and the White Stripes.
Commercials-wise, he's already at that level, with a range of category-spanning work that makes him almost pigeonhole-proof. Beletic's Gold Lion-winning French Ikea campaign includes the notorious yet oddly sophisticated and restrained spot in which a little boy plays with a vibrator. He's shot for Nike, Reebok and Levi's, among others, and he considers his recent self-consciously lo-fi and off-the-wall Virgin Mobile campaign, from Leagas Delaney/S.F., a creative breakthrough. "I was able to add so much of my creativity to these and get so busy with them," he enthuses. "It's a combination of the right people coming together and boards that were written very loose and open for interpretation." Consider the spot called "Art Class," he suggests. "In a nutshell, that's Cold War cinema meets Saved by the Bell. It's like a Polish movie, then out of nowhere comes a video greenscreen with a really bad key and cheesy sound effects, which create combinations of genres that generally you'd never see together. The whole concept is pop culture in a blender."
For someone who seems to be following a carefully laid career track, it's no surprise that Beletic's feature film plans are already formulated, though he's not prepared to talk about them beyond noting he wrote his own script and "my final outlet is my movie." What about commercials clients he'd like to work with? "Diesel and adidas," he replies without a hesitation. We bet he can even read the Diesel bar code and the adidas imprint on the merchandise he'll be shooting.