Puppies Are Not Toys

Chuck Blumberg

How did you get into directing?
When I was a kid, I would spend hours in my room making “books”—just pages torn from the notepads my mom brought home from work, folded in half and stapled along the spine. They were rudimentary stories, done in words and pictures-–a spoof on the latest blockbuster, police fighting crime or whatever. Eventually, I guess I moved away from pens and markers to my dad’s video camera. Before long I was shooting short movies with my friends, editing with daisychained VCRs.

What is your most recent project?
I’m looking for the next thing at the moment and working on a personal project in the interim. My grandfather was an avid storyteller. He’d tell us about his youth in South Africa. His stories gave a great sense of the man and a view on the country at that time. When his mind started slipping before he died, we set up a camera and interviewed him in his apartment for posterity. I’m finally taking a crack at putting that together. My mum’s been bugging me, to be honest.

What is the best part of being a director?
Editing—watching everything come together. In a sick way, I actually enjoy that feeling of when you’re working on a cut and you haven’t stopped for meals or anything and it’s 4AM and you know you should stop working for the evening but you can’t pull yourself away. Then you reluctantly turn in for the night only to spring out of bed the next morning to try new ideas that might have come to you while you slept. Being so engaged, that inability to turn off – I’ve never felt it as strongly doing any other type of work.

What is the worst part of being a director?
In my case, it’s not being able to earn a living at it. Projects are still out of pocket for me a lot of the time. It’s expensive and a huge time investment. The technical aspect may be simpler and more affordable than it’s ever been but the endeavor on the whole, however personally rewarding, is still quite arduous. And as you get older, that old cliché starts to actualize: your responsibilities grow, making money becomes more important. The sacrifices you have to make to keep pursuing it become more palpable as you get on.

What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
The focus is on short form for now. The nice thing about a smaller scope is that it’s easier to tightly control your timing and costs – the ASPCA spot, for instance, took a few days to finish and cost around $100. A feature film or series TV would be the ultimate, though. A big part of me continues to believe that film and TV, when it’s great, can achieve a timelessness that an online clip can’t. That said, I can call up a “Where’s the Beef” ad from 1984 on YouTube right now – that “Where’s the Beef” ad has been given a whole new life online. Things change.

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 most with you?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a mentor, really. A few people have been kind enough to give me advice and loan me gear here and there, my family’s been quite supportive and I’ve kept a few friends with a common interest in filmmaking. At the end of the day, though, I’m kind of a loner. I’m still making books in my bedroom.

Who is your favorite director and why?
I’ll have to represent the homeland and go with David Cronenberg. His stuff is always interesting. I’m also a big fan of a lot of the filmmaking that’s come out of Quebec. There’s something in the water over there. Jean-Claude Lauzon’s “Léolo” is extraordinary. Right now, Denis Villeneuve, Philippe Falardeau and Xavier Dolan are doing really exciting things.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
“Weird Science”. It just makes me happy. It’s not an intellectual thing. In terms of commercials, it’s funny—even though I work in advertising, I’m hard-pressed to name a favorite spot, even though some of the most innovative storytelling happens in that medium. Did I mention the “Where’s the Beef” ad from 1984? That’s a good one.

Tell us about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Toronto, where I still live. I’m an ad agency guy by day—and often by night, too, as the hours in that industry go. So I shoot when I can make the time, although the task of making the time, in and of itself, can be extremely challenging. Still, in the back of my mind I hang onto the idea of somehow transitioning to directing full-time, whether it amounts to naïve hope or not. There was a guy on this list just last year that had made the transition after years working at an ad agency, which is encouraging. The truth is, at the end of the day, nothing gives me the sense of satisfaction I get from shooting something. They say whatever work gives you that feeling, is the work you really should be doing.