Apple's "Commander" (spec)

Joel Dunn

Unaffiliated

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 
I have been cutting my teeth on shorts, viral videos, and specs, ever perfecting my craft and the execution of my creative vision. I am humbled by receiving awards and accolades along the way, and look forward to applying my directorial sensibilities towards crafting engaging, creative content for brands.

2) How did you get into directing? 
Embracing the idea of pursuing a career as a director came to me in several stages throughout my life. 

The first was when I was seven years old and started commandeering my family’s video camera. I became fascinated with capturing the world around me. To a kid it was invigorating, and felt like I had discovered a superpower. The second was in high school during a summer program at NYFA. The films I created in that program gave me the confidence to declare that I wanted to do this forever. 

The third stage occurred on a cloudy August day in Lubin, Poland, in the darkness of a blue-stained, concrete gas chamber in the Majdanek death camp. For me it took a comprehension of evil and death to truly appreciate life. Life led to purpose, and purpose led to a mission to share stories of humanity with humanity. 

3) What is your most recent project?
My Apple spec “Commander” will be released online shortly, followed by a PSA for an incredible Breast Cancer/Alzheimer’s nonprofit organization. I also have an ongoing branded project for De Beers, and a short film that is in post-production.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 
Watching an audience as they watch your work. Seeing their visceral reactions to the material and witnessing how they step outside of reality to embrace the story of this cinematic world you just created is a feeling that can only be described as euphoric.

5) What is the worst part of being a director? 
Having so many ideas and knowing that I will never have enough time to explore all of them.

6) 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 have one singular career focus when it comes to commercials and branded content, and that is to tell great stories. No matter the medium, no matter the distribution platform, as long as I can convey a captivating narrative with strong characters that touches the audience’s emotions then I’m there.

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? 
I am the product of gracious mentors. My advisor at NYU, Gay Abel Bey, was my sounding board and friend. She taught me how to keep my feet on the ground whenever I wanted to blast off into outer-space without a parachute. 

The late Steve Garfinkel, who worked at Kodak for many years, became like a father figure to me. He taught me how to be confident and courageous when expressing my voice as a filmmaker. He had a tremendous heart and taught me not just about filmmaking, but about life as well. 

There were also several EPs at production companies I interned for while in school who were incredibly charitable with their time in giving me guidance and direction as I grew as a filmmaker.

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 
I grew up on a steady diet of Spielberg and Disney movies. So that might say something about my current directorial sensibilities. I find inspiration from a variety of directors including Steven Spielberg, Robert Wise, Chris Columbus, Ron Howard, and Mira Nair. I am drawn to the way they masterfully weave powerful, universal themes into their narratives, and their ability to elicit spellbinding performances from their actors.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
My top five favorite films are The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Schindler’s List, Dead Poets Society, and ET. In television, it’s The West Wing. Aaron Sorkin’s writing has this lyrical quality about it that captivates you, pulling you in further and further. He is the Mozart of dialogue. 

My favorite spots/branded content are the John Lewis holiday commercials. Each one has a spark of magic that as a storyteller ignites your soul with happiness. 

10) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 
I grew up in a sleepy suburban town in New Jersey. Being no good at sports, my nerdy video club friends and I had to rely on our imaginations for fun. So we started making movies in our backyards. We were fortunate because our high school had a robust mass media program where I learned the language of cinema and began experimenting with technique. 

While at NYU I worked as a PA, casting assistant, and office runner for production companies and film studios. I was also fortunate to collaborate with incredibly talented people and began exploring the types of storytelling themes that would inform my filmmaking sensibilities today.