Tanzania Tourism Board's "The Soul of Africa" (commercial)

Justin Shipley

Traveling Picture Show Company

1) How did you get into directing? 
The combination of being a director of photography and an editor really set me on the path to directing.  It always looked like me and cut like me, but it wasn’t completely me until I directed it.  I’ve been shooting and cutting since I was a kid but for some reason avoided directing. I thought that it brought with it some pre-destined attitude and persona that I wasn’t interested in.  As I grew in my shooting and editorial style, and my work took me further out in the field, I found that I was drawn to all parts of the process. A few key people pushed me toward directing and that, combined with shooting for increasingly talented directors, finally made me see that directing was the junction of all the parts of filmmaking that I love.

2) What is your most recent project? 
I love shooting out of the country and have always enjoyed filming architecture and lifestyle.  My last project for a luxury hotel resort in southern Mexico gave me the chance to play with both.  I was able to capture beautiful aerials and sweeping views of the property and region combined with intimate talent driven scenes in the stunning space they have there.  The project is in post now and I’m very happy with how the footage came out.

3) What is the best part of being a director? 
Being a director/DP is like being a major league pitcher.  I get to touch the ball on every play, and ultimately the fruits of the entire team’s efforts fall on that pitcher.  I like being a fulcrum, or lightning rod, where small and large suggestions and problems come to me and I’m able to knock them down and push forward as a group.  Nothing beats the sound of pushing playback on my Phantom, connected to video village 50 yards off, and hearing the tent erupt with oohs and ahhs.  My job is to deliver stunning images, stories, and human moments.  Being able to make the agency and client happy while still fighting for what I feel is right is a very satisfying thing.

4) What is the worst part of being a director? 
That major league pitcher thing. Ultimately the failure of the project or team effort falls completely on my head as well.  Honestly, there is no worst part.  It’s an amazing job filled with lots of challenges and I’m lucky to have it. It’s far more political than I would have thought as a young filmmaker judging from a distance, but fortunately conflict resolution and people skills are a natural gear for me to run in.  Managing the inevitable drama of working with creative, driven people may seem taxing in the heat of the moment but always makes for the best stories by the campfire.

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.? 
I am singularly driven to work with top agency creatives to make high end commercials that elevate content to the character of brands that have lived for decades and centuries.  When I was growing up, I would sit with my father and watch the Shots Reels every month.  Each new shoe, car, or soda spot transported me to a world of visual fantasy.  These :60 commercials were orgasmic and accomplished a raised hair effect for me that I didn’t find in feature films.  I want to make epic and beautiful commercials that inspire and amaze. No matter what happens to the digital landscape moving forward, I’m in, and will do what I can to make it better.

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 paid close attention to many who have led me through production and post and I’ll always be indebted to them.  Guys like director/editor Steve Purcell whose kind and funny words have kept me going.  A special client who has continually put faith in me, giving me access to insane locations and equipment, silently watching me grow.  Director/DP Chris Woods showed me how to “be” on set and was the first to call me years ago and say, “you’re a director, not a DP.” Lastly, my father. Always a creative at heart, he pushed me from birth to work outside the norm and make amazing things. He taught me how to move through the world.

7) Who is your favorite director and why? 
I’m no good with favorites, each time one of the greats reveals a new device to me I’m like a kid again. It’s easy to get hung up on technical perfection, then I watch something like Hitchcock’s opening shot of “Rear Window,” with its little bobbles and stutters in the wheels, and I’m reminded that story and tone drive harder sometimes than a perfect move. Kubrick opened my eyes. Wes and PT found me at a ripe age and had a great influence. The Coens defined my world with “Raising Arizona.”  Seeing a trick happen for the first time is magic, like Orson Welles. In short, I like the ones that worship the camera, make beautiful films all from an entirely new perspective.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
There isn’t really an answer here though I do have a stock response, so maybe it’s true. When pushed I always say “Strangelove.” Amazing.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I’m from just outside Philadelphia, raised by a crazy pilot/filmmaker father, and a kind, loving mother. I was a caddy as a kid, which taught me how to handle people with money crashing and burning in a fit of rage, then having to walk with them for 4 hours. I drove to L.A after graduating from high school and became a design assistant at a prominent design/motion graphics studio. Someone tapped me to film a documentary in the Southern Highlands of Ethiopia when I was 20 (because I would do it for free).  While riding a motorcycle along a dried out river basin with a  camera in a bag on my back, I suddenly realized,,,I want to be this person. Most importantly, I am a father and husband.  All of my passion and creativity are a drive to feed my love for them.