Ebay’s “Dear Vanessa” (spec spot)
What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
You guys are getting paid to do this?
How did you get into directing?
Growing up, my family moved every two or three years. This was a lot of fun until 2013, when I moved halfway through high school, landing in Vienna, Austria. I was the quintessential ugly American with no real friends; luckily, that meant I had plenty of time to watch movies. I fell in love with film. I had no idea what being a director meant, but I knew I wanted to be one. Ironically, I found my career path and my future wife at the same time. She was a studio art major living with three advertising students; they heard I was interested in directing, and suggested I consider advertising. I had always thought commercials were just made by a computer or something. Then I watched some of the most beautiful stories I’d ever seen told in 30, 60, and 90 seconds. I was hooked.
What is your most recent project?
This summer, I was able to work with Saatchi & Saatchi on a piece for Toyota through the Commercial Director Diversity Program. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story with a modern twist; a boy whose mom drives a Prius falls in love with a girl whose dad owns a gas station. We had a magical day of shooting at an old gas station in LA with two amazing young actors. It was my first time doing car work, and I really hope there’s more to come!
What is the best part of being a director?
Unfortunately, there are a million cliches about being a director, and what’s even worse, they’re all true. It really is the best job in the world, and you really do work with the best people. Sitting in front of the monitor, watching a world come to life, knowing how hard the team worked to make it real, it’s the most amazing feeling. I knew from the first time I was on set I’d do anything to be a part of that feeling. Unfortunately, I’m terribly bossy and always have to be in charge, so being a director was really the only job that suited me.
What is the worst part of being a director?
Never having time to go to crafty.
What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
Right now, I’m really interested in commercials and branded content. I love anything with interesting characters and strong stories. Long-term, I’d love to develop some of my own work into shorts and features. In particular, the kind that make people cry.
Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
Absolutely. Jason Wolk of Spears & Arrows has been an immeasurable resource in helping me get my career of the ground. I’m also extremely lucky to work with Shayne Millington and Pierre Lipton at McCann, two amazing examples in being relentlessly creative and leading others. And I’m extremely grateful to the MAIP program for introducing me to Andrew Kong and Melanie Matlock, both amazing writers who’ve helped me so much. But it all started with one of my advertising professors, Jeff Sheets, who was my biggest supporter from the beginning. None of this would have been possible without him. All of these people helped me find my voice and pushed me to make work that’s authentic to my identity and experiences. I’m extremely grateful for that.
Who is your favorite director and why?
This is like asking me to pick my favorite child, except they’re children that don’t know I exist and don’t care if they’re my favorite. But I do love Mr. Paul Schrader and all his lonely protagonists.
What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Favorite Movie: The Talented Mr. Ripley. This is my litmus test for someone’s taste in film. The only person who gets away with disliking it is my wife (probably because I watch it several times a year).
Favorite Television Show: The Americans accomplishes the amazing cinematic feat of making suburban Virginia seem exciting. It’s also one of my favorite story arcs, all time, any medium, ever. Amazingly crafted in every sense of the word.
Favorite Commercial: So many. Too many. Probably Niclas Larsson’s “The Parents” for Volvo. That one keeps me up at night.
Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I was born in Virginia, but raised as a third-culture kid. Growing up, we lived all over the United States, Europe, and Asia, and I hit thirty countries before I turned eighteen. I’d love to say that it engendered a deep love for other cultures from a young age, but it mostly just made me obsessed with trying McDonald’s in every country. As I got older, I began to realize what a privilege it was to know people from so many cultures and countries, and knew I wanted to share the stories I heard with people who might find it as compelling and inspiring as I did.
How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?
I directed my first spot in late 2019; a couple months later, the pandemic started. I’d like to think they weren’t related incidents. I’ve spent essentially my entire career in a pandemic, so it’s hard to know what life was like before! Everyone tells me there was a lot more money getting thrown around! What I do know is that the pandemic forced me to focus on what’s essential in my life. It helped me realize the fact that I don’t have the time or energy to make work that doesn’t matter.