Here's the latest commercial I directed, starring Pierce Brosnan. This is the 3rd commercial Pierce and I have done together.
STARTING OUT IN COMMERCIALS
Getting to make commercials is an entire career path in itself. This may sound obvious, but I've had to learn it over time. Just because you direct a movie doesn't automatically guarantee the ad agencies will come a-knockin.
After my first movie came out, I signed with a commercial production house and waited for the offers to pour in.
It didn't exactly happen that way.
However, there was one company, SPAR, willing to take a chance on me, and we've had a very successful run together. This past year I directed my fifth spot for them. Here's how it happened.
SPAR, FROM AUSTRIA
Back when it was released, one critic described "The Chumscrubber" as a cross between "Donnie Darko" and "Desperate Housewives". Okay, I wouldn't have put it in exactly those words, but I'll take it. Especially as it happened to lead directly to my first opportunity to make a commercial.
There's a huge corporation in Austria named Spar. For most of us who don't know Spar here in the U.S., they're kind of the Nabisco of Central and Eastern Europe, owning their own product lines as well as an enormous chain of supermarkets.
Spar was introducing a new product line to their customers and the campaign was going to star their new celebrity spokesperson, Marcia Cross. "Desperate Housewives" was the number one show in central Europe and had been for years. The ad they were planning would air during commercial breaks on the "Housewives" broadcast each week. Spar wanted a spot that would have a "Desperate Housewives" look and feel to it.
That's how they found me.
The spot we made together was a big success for them. The audience dug it. The ad made an impression.
So the following year Spar called again. This time they hired me to shoot the sequel to the Marcia Cross spot.
Once again, sales rose and the campaign was a hit for them. I was an little known director with a single feature credit and no commercial experience at all. And yet, Andrea, Jimmy, and Kristoph took a chance on me. I am deeply grateful to them.
A year later, there was a new product line, this time with spokesperson Pierce Brosnan. Once again, my new Austrian friends took a chance with me, entrusting me to give the spot a "James Bond" feel, even though I had nothing on my commercial reel to suggest I could do it. And fortunately, once again, the spot generated massive sales. The following year, they hired me to shoot the sequel with Pierce. And just recently we shot the third in the series!! I'm told this is Spar's MOST SUCCESSFUL campaign to date.
A couple of years ago, a new product line, and a new spokesperson: Gwyneth Paltrow. Spar hired me to shoot the ad, and when Gwyneth couldn't make the Los Angeles dates work, they flew me out to Paris to shoot the spot there, We made it in a tiny village outside of Versailles. How cool is that?
And that is how, from a single job with a client willing to take a chance on me, I've made eight commercials (and counting!) for Spar. And I hope to make many more.
This year I signed with a new commercial production house. I hope to do much more commercial work in the coming years. If you're interested, followed the link at the top of the page and you can see a sample of my commercial work.
WHY MAKE COMMERCIALS?
I love directing commercials. Here's why.
1. I hire, whenever possible, my best crew people from the movies I make. Larry Sher, who shot Chumscruber as well as the Hangover movies, was in Paris with me shooting the Gwyneth Spot. I've made several spots now with my Chumscrubber Production Designer Patti Podesta, who also designed "Memento" and the Kubrick exhibit at LACMA.
2. I work with the latest equipment and gear, the tech "indie filmmakers" usually can't afford. This is how I first came to try one of the early Arri Alexa cameras a few years ago. I later used the Alexa to shoot "The Face of Love", and now pretty much everybody in Hollywood uses the Alexa except maybe Spielberg and Lucas (look out for a blog post about this soon). I've gotten plenty of face time with the remarkable Canon 5D. And there's a whole lot more cool new tech I've been lucky to get my hands on. Sometimes it seems like the commercial industry is the only entertainment arena that can keep pace with the mind-bogglingly rapid rate of innovation these days.
3. I get introduced to new talent, both in front and behind the camera. One of the truly fantastic people I've met this way has been Andrew Southam, a photographer of extraordinary depth and sensitivity and a fine human being. Andrew has been there for all the Spar spots, and I hope he's there for every commercial I do. We share our own private mutual admiration society. Just this past year, I worked with a fantastic editor named Jennifer Reilly. If you're in the business of hiring good people, you can't do any better than these fine and talented folks. Follow the links (their names link to their respective websites) and hire them - or better yet, hire us all!
For all their similarities, the advertising form is also fascinatingly different from movies. Where a movie is like a marathon, a commercial is a sprint.
As with a short story, with commercials you have to pack much more wallop into each moment, soak each shot through and through with both story and character in order to clearly get the point across.
It's stimulating and fun. Good work if you can get it. And it pays well.
I'm proud of my commercial work. Take a look at my most recent spot (the Pierce Brosnan commercial on the yacht -follow this link) and let me know what you think. As Pierce said to me, it ought to be the opening scene of a movie we do together.... (I'm working on it, Pierce!)
I bring what I learn from commercials into my movie work, and I bring lessons from my movie work into the commercials.
That's a win-win.