Back to the 90s
1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
My first professionally directed commercial job was an eight-episode branded Discover Card series — shot in November 2017 over five days in partnership with the Facebook video platform, ATTN. The project was a great way to flex my comedy muscles with an ensemble of gifted improvisors. It was also an exercise in production efficiency, amid an ambitious shooting schedule and a large brand’s creative needs. The project required meticulous preparation and I’m supremely proud of my whole team for knocking it out of the park. And hey, we didn’t burn down the set and no one went to the hospital, so in my book, it’s a win!
2) How did you get into directing?
I began my career as a television actor. As a shorter guy, I found myself playing a lot of height-specific roles like elves, leprechauns, and jockeys. And yes, only one of those parts is even human. This led me to creating my own comedy projects so I could play characters that didn’t require Christmas tights. Through writing and producing my own viral content, I found the best way to articulate the ideas in my brain was to ultimately direct them. From there, I built a production team from the relationships I had formed in my on-camera work. I also turned into a sponge — when I’m hired as an actor, I’m always learning from the director’s choices, shot setups, and communication. Knowing both sides of the camera has ultimately made me a stronger director as I continue my journey into the commercial world. Bonus: now I can throw out those tights.
3) What is your most recent project?
My recent comedic music video, “Back to the 90s” — a celebration of 90s pop culture and music — really helped open the floodgates for directing opportunities. I’d been producing and directing viral music videos with indie hip-hop artist Jensen Reed for a few years, with each of our “Lonely Island-esque” projects getting millions of views. Then “Back to the 90s” took our global reach to the next level. We amassed over 90 million views, organically reached 115 million people, charted at #11 on Billboard, and joined The Backstreet Boys in Las Vegas. Now, we’re pitching a television series, we’ve got a slate of music videos in the works, and we’re eager to partner with brands for original comedy and music.
4) What is the best part of being a director?
There’s an old photo of my dad holding me up to the TV screen — in it, I’m only one week old. We’re watching The Three Stooges, as Moe slams an anvil over Curly’s head. Comedy is in my blood. Directing is the purest way to craft jokes, mock minutia, develop quirky characters — and most importantly, elicit laughter. My favorite part of directing is all the little unexpected, magical moments that happen between the scripted lines or at the end of a take before you stop rolling. A ridiculous improvised button, an accidentally broken prop — and looking around the set to see the entire crew stifling laughter to save the take. I embrace the unexpected because it’s often pure gold.
5) What is the worst part of being a director?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: too much too shoot… not enough time to shoot it in. As a comedy guy, I love having flexibility in the production schedule to run multiple takes for my actors — it’s a thrill experimenting with different acting choices and improvisation within scenes. Maybe it’s the actor in me. But sometimes you don’t have the luxury of such a relaxed production schedule, and good direction becomes all about executing the plan and making your day.
6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
After soaring to over 100 million collective views on my comedic music videos, I’d love to develop and direct viral comedy music videos for brands. I think I’m in a unique position to help brands reach a broad digital audience through my unique blend of nostalgia, comedy, music, and my bad-ass production team. I’m equally focused on directing television and digital series. I recently directed the ten-episode 2nd season of “We Need to Talk” on Facebook Watch (starring MTV’s Nev Schulman), and I’m currently pitching a slate of 30-minute single camera comedies I’ve developed with my writing partner — all of which I plan to direct.
7) 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?
It’s hard to single out one person because I think my entire network of colleagues, friends, family, and collaborators have helped me become the creative person I am. Every project I create, I learn something new. It’s the beauty of filmmaking. That said, the best advice I’ve ever received on set is this: “Do good work. Be a good dude.” That’s it. That’s the magic recipe. Show up on time, be prepared, be professional, and handle your communication with empathy and class. It’s my guiding philosophy. That, and “try not to pig out on crafty”.
8) Who is your favorite director and why?
This is another tough question because I have favorite qualities in many directors, but I’m going to say Christopher Guest — whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I’ve found that great direction is trusting your actors and being willing to adapt to another creative’s interpretation of your idea. Chris perfectly embodies this. He’s an extreme example — literally exclusively relying on improvisation to shape the narrative of his films. But that level of trust in his actors is empowering. The old quote “good directing is 80% casting” really applies here. And it’s one I’ve found to be quite true.
9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Although I’m primarily a comedy director, I greatly admire other genres — at the end of the day, it all boils down to storytelling that connects with a viewer. My favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. Maybe it’s because of the incredible performances. And maybe it’s just because I want Morgan Freeman to tell me bedtime stories. My favorite shows mix genres — I’m a huge fan of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and Fargo. Thrilling, dark, edgy series… but equally hilarious. And one of my favorite commercials of all time is the “Let Your Game Speak” Air Jordan spot. They took footage of kids from various countries recreating Michael Jordan’s greatest moves. Jordan makes a satisfying cameo. It’s the best kind of branding: simple and powerful.
10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and moved to Los Angeles for college, where I graduated from USC in Theatre and Film. I’ve recurred and guest-starred on a variety of television shows including Bones (FOX), House (FOX), Psych (USA), NCIS (CBS), Anger Management (FX), and more. I played Little Zach on two seasons of the CW’s Hart of Dixie and I’m The Toddler on Nickelodeon’s Henry Danger. I’ve also worked in voiceover for over a decade — starring in Butch Hartman’s Nickelodeon animated series Bunsen is a Beast, as well as voicing multiple characters in Nickelodeon’s Kid Danger and Amazon’s Rocky & Bullwinkle. Finally, I’ve appeared in more Lifetime movies than I care to admit. For free time, I compete in Spartan Race obstacle course races all over the country. I like long walks on the beach, film noir, brunch — oh wait, that’s my Tinder profile.
Vicki Williams, Superlounge
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