Sleep with Neil Patrick Harris
1) How did you get into directing?
Through a circuitous path paired with a love of storytelling and art, I was given a camera at a young age by my father. I created small visuals inspired by films, skate videos, ESPN highlight shows. With pressure to do something safe I fell out of love with it, with creating, so I grew up, went to regular college and got a real job. During the Dark Ages, I lost my sense of self and finally took a stand against being safe. So I started to create, it felt good and I was making headway back home, but I needed more. So I went back to school to augment my creative and mental skillset. At school I shot a bunch of shorts and music videos. At some point I met a blonde haired rapper named Ben, made a video about second hand clothes and have been directing ever since.
2) What is your most recent project?
I finally wrapped a short film (How to Disappear Completely) I shot not too long ago. It’s more or less about how we as people fail to act when strangers need us, and how that can sometimes have dire ramifications. The film is a bit surreal and exists in a dramatic fantastic space.
I shot it on a tight budget so it’s taken quite some time (over a year...) to wrap the project as the post is coming out of my pocket.
At the same time I have done a few commercials and music videos. The most recent being an amazing little video that is completely narrative for DJ Fresh, “Believer.” It follows a young girl who uses running to escape trouble at home and school.
3) What is the best part of being a director?
Creating, actually having people believe in me enough to pay me to create something for them. I never in my wildest dreams believed I could professionally direct, I never even knew how. But having people willing to trust me to create what’s inside my head is far and away the best part of this. I love crafting a story and seeing something go from the page, from the boards, from the script and becoming a visual. Seeing the finished product is quite rewarding and knowing someone trusted me to do this, is very gratifying.
4) What is the worst part of being a director?
Always being on. I find it nearly impossible to turn off. Directing is always running around in my head and it sometimes make it hard to enjoy the small still moments in life. To slow down and just be. It is a demanding profession that I wouldn’t trade for anything else, but the itch to create, to make things can be maddening, unsettling and frustrating.
5) 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.?
Of course I’ve recently found an interest in commercials that wasn’t originally there and it has shown to be dynamic and challenging. However, my focus is split. I want to make it in commercials and tell great stories in 30 seconds, but I love longform and feature films are of the utmost importance to me as well. In both arenas (commercials and features) I want to tell dramatic, human stories—things that feel real and heartfelt.
And of course I will always have love for music videos, I’ll never fully leave them.
6) 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’ve never had a true “mentor,” exactly. However I would say my father was the closest thing in my life. His advice has always been paramount to where I go, what decisions I make whether I agree or not. His words carry weight. So even when I think he may be wrong, what he says at least broadens my thought process and helps inform my decisions. Without him, I wouldn’t be going for my dreams.
7) Who is your favorite director and why?
Spike Jonze, hands down. The obvious connection is he crossed over from music videos to commercials and feature films, but what I appreciate about him as an artist is the way he tells stories. The small moments he chooses to focus on, how he can do such surreal, fun and comical work then turn around and make something truly heartfelt and complex. He exudes a youthful spirit I appreciate, and to me shows you don’t have to be this super serious unapproachable person to direct. What Spike Jonze gives me is hope that I can make a movie one day.
8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
My favorite film is Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting. There is no other film, no other work that has held up over time with me like this film. I loved plenty of films over the last few decades but this is the only one that has affected me in a different way as I have aged. There are different nuances about the story that applied when I was a teen that I no longer connect with, but there are other parts that mean that much more now that I’ve experienced real friendship, loss, heartbreak, success, life.
9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
Seattle is where I’m from, and I hope to get back there one day. I owe a lot to Seattle and the community who helped make me into who I am today. Prior to crossing over into commercials I more or less entered the industry with the music video, something that really started for fun back in Seattle. Doing small no budget jobs eventually led to meeting Macklemore. We made three videos together that were my most successful to this day with over a billion views online. Not that views matter, but it just gives scope to how important and special that collaboration was in the early stages of my career. Before this, I also worked in TV news as a writer/producer trying to get a regular check, other odd jobs—golf caddy, busser, landscaping, coaching, college student, referee and more.