Make A Wish

Gabriel Olson

How did you get into directing?
Since I was a kid, I’ve been captivated by the power of film.  While at USC’s film school, I learned about every technical aspect of filmmaking, from cinematography to post, and the value of collaboration. I fell in love with short form storytelling and interned at several production companies, fighting my way onto as many commercial sets as possible.

This led to working for director, Malcolm Venville, who was a game changer in my filmmaking career.  His approach to storytelling and unique visual style had a profound influence on me.  My first commercial project made the AICP Shortlist and this success inspired me to pursue directing full time.

Winning a spec competition in Cannes for Coca-Cola garnered praise from their global marketing team, which led to a writing stint at Ogilvy & Mather Singapore.  As a director, the agency experience proved to be invaluable when I returned to the US.

What is your most recent project?
Does writing treatments and being the recommend on jobs that get killed count?  But seriously, I most recently shot a Petsmart commercial and a comedy sketch on Funny or Die.  I’m also really excited about a short film I’m adapting which is set to shoot this year.  It’s a psychological-thriller with a very wry and darkly comedic narrator.  The protagonist is a housewife in a loveless marriage that’s drifting through her boring routine.  When a serial killer chooses her as a target, she decides, for the first time, that her life is worth fighting for.

What is the best part of being a director?
I love the step between script and storyboarding: visualizing the scene, acting it out, and solving the puzzle.  Somewhere between my right and left-brain, I construct what the message or point of each shot will be and how long it can be.   It’s that time when imagination and inspiration can take over.

I also really enjoy coaxing out those unexpected moments from actors; those are the true gems that a director can only hope for.

What is the worst part of being a director?
Not being able to shoot every day.  I sometimes envy a painter who just needs a canvas and paint.  I stay sharp through taking workshops, acting classes, improv, or even just drawing on the walls with crayons so that my creative muscles are always being exercised in between projects.

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.?
I’m passionate about visual storytelling and comedy equally, and I don’t see them as two mutually exclusive paths or styles.  The best comedy is about setting up a story and leading an audience’s expectations in one direction so you can surprise them.  And I think that’s also true for dramatic stories, long or short form.

Working with actors is one of the most rewarding and fun components in both genres because we get to play around within a scene and explore it together. Their timing or comedic sensibility can bring magic and humanity to the work in beautiful, unexpected ways.

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?
Years spent working with Malcolm Venville on projects around the world gave me a great glimpse into the creative process at a high level.  He has a unique talent for distilling an idea down to the most basic essence. There are so many opportunities to distract from that core idea, and witnessing him identify and defend the crucial elements in a story, while not allowing the form to impede the message, was invaluable.

My other great mentor is Michael Di Girolamo, who has been an incredible support since my time at Anonymous.  His encouragement, insight and open-door have been constant long before signing with Station Film.  I’ve been so grateful to have him in my corner advising me since plotting my first spec.

Who is your favorite director and why?
Many.

I consistently love the Coen bothers for their unique characters, the different worlds they invite us into, and their controlled and deliberate visual style.  They maintain a particular look or feel whether in comedy or drama, yet they consistently invent and update their style.  No matter how serious the material, there is a wink of wit to everything they do.

I admire the way Susanne Bier peaks into worlds I have trouble believing aren’t real. The authenticity that permeates her films is incredible.  She’s a master of bringing out natural, deep powerful performances that lull you into empathizing with every character and appreciating different sides of an issue.

Other heroes: David Fincher, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Many…

Platoon was the first time I saw the disturbing side of war depicted.  The way I played with GI Joes was altered forever.

Munich: I love the examination of the complexities of revenge and the way the visual style communicated the protagonist’s state of mind.

Little Miss Sunshine: Simple, real, grounded characters whose idiosyncrasies make them not only endearing, but wildly funny.

In a Better World–-Real people dealing with subtle life issues in the most dramatic fashion.

If something can produce a strong emotional response in a minute, I’m impressed.

“Playstation Double life” Frank Budgen

“Nike –Fate” David Fincher

“Monster.com Stork” Danny Kleinman

“Fed Ex -Wheee”  Harold Einstein

“Guardian – Three little pigs” Ringan Ledwidge

“Direct TV campaign” Tom Kuntz

“Skittles – Pinata” Tom Kuntz

Tell use about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in a small town north of San Francisco until my mom got a job teaching in Israel when I was eleven.  Living in the Middle East and visiting the West Bank and Egypt gave me an awareness early on that I’ve tried to incorporate in how I approach a script and tell a story.

Film school at USC gave me my education, my experiences with Malcolm gave me confidence, and working with Station has given me opportunity.