High Desert Cactus Vodka’s “The Spirit of the Desert” (branded content)
What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
After COVID came for my job, I had some old coworkers, from that job, hit me up for a social campaign they were doing for Capital One promoting March Madness. I mustered up some local production company help, some post support, put together a treatment, then crossed my fingers. Thankfully I won that job and was finally able to say I was getting paid to direct, instead of putting my own money into stuff over and over. Felt amazing.
How did you get into directing?
I used to work as a creative in advertising and was lucky enough to get on sets with some of the world’s most accomplished filmmakers. I would sit and soak up as much as I could from them because I found their jobs so interesting.
As a side gig, I designed a bands album art. Once I finished all the design work, they asked me if I knew how to direct music videos. I did the only logical thing, I lied, and said of course. I’ve been chasing it ever since.
What is your most recent project?
I just directed about 40 pieces of content for Fender–helping to revamp their online learning platform. It was a dream job because I’ve played Fender guitars my whole life. It was a crazy week of shooting a bunch of different talent, and a bunch of different guitars, but thankfully we finished every day early. I’m only directing with a guitar in my hand from now on.
What is the best part of being a director?
Collaboration. Getting a bunch of super smart people together to make a good idea even better, is the best feeling to me. Filmmaking is a team sport, and being the head coach of a production is so much fun to me. Someone once told me that being a director is the best entry level job there is. You come in and start working with grips, and gaffers and production designers and etc. who have been doing this job for years. And they’ve all seen something you haven’t, and know something you don’t. So working together with these people on films broadens my perspective and always makes for a better end product.
What is the worst part of being a director?
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.?
Commercials and branded content are main gig right now. Coming from advertising it’s been the most logical jump for me. The dream is to get into more long form narrative content. Drama is what I’ve always wanted to do, but I tend to have an edge of comedy in whatever it is I’m doing. It’s a long game for me and I’m not trying to force myself into anything that isn’t a good fit. I have 2 features about written and ready to go as well as a fist full of shorts. I’m here to make as much as I humanly can, and see where the work takes me.
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?
I have a group of old colleagues that have a text thread that we talk on all the time. They’re all way more talented than me, have immaculate taste, and know to navigate the industry. I was the youngest person on the team and I’ve been able to glean so much from their experiences, bounce ideas off them, and get advice. I’m lucky to have them in my life. I’ve gotten a lot of good morsels from them over the years, but the tidbit that I use the most on set is “wait 7 seconds before answering anything”. It helps clear my mind and make more thoughtful considered decisions.
Who is your favorite director and why?
I love all the greats like everybody else. I could watch Kubrick and Godard and Huston films for the rest of my life and be totally happy. But when I look to directors to learn from, I look to people like Werner Herzog and Sean Baker. Filmmakers who go after their craft with a vigor and intensity that you don’t see very often. They go to extreme lengths to tell their stories and don’t let “the man” stand in between them and the films that they want to make. They don’t look at conventions and try to fall in line. They look at what it’s going to take from them to make their film, and they do that.
What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
True Detective, season 1, to me, is the most complete, perfect narrative storytelling there is. To me, everything about it is perfect. The writing, cinematography, music, editing, casting, acting, production design. I could go on and on about it. Cary Fukunaga just nailed every bit of that. It’s one of those things that I look at and am awestruck by how masterfully all of it was done. Makes me jealous in the best way.
Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in suburban Atlanta. Not a whole lot going on there, so when I got older, I knew I had to get out and explore. After going to New Zealand, India, then touring the Southeast being a band’s photographer/merch guy, I joined an ad school called the Creative Circus. After graduating I worked in web design before making my way to LA and working at 72andSunny as an art director. It was there that I learned how much I loved filmmaking. I then went freelance to give myself some time to explore. Ended up moving to NYC to chase down my now wife. We moved to Austin for a few years, where I really began to work professionally as a director. Now we’re back in Manhattan chasing down our dreams.
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?
The pandemic has shaped my entire career. I don’t know if I would be a “professional” director if I didn’t get laid off from my full time job. Once I was laid off, I was able to dedicate more time to making weird things, writing a ton, and be open to opportunities that I wouldn’t have had the chance at if I was still working a 9-5. From getting to go to Mexico to shoot the piece that won me this honor, to getting to go to the Canary Islands to learn under the mentorship of Werner Herzog for two weeks, it’s really shaped who I am as a director.
Drew Vaughan, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.drewvaughan.com