The UN Refugee Agency's "1.5 Million" (PSA)

Marius Crowne

Community Films

1) How did you get into directing? 
My younger brother and I started making little videos the moment my parents bought a camcorder and (foolishly) let us play with it when I was about 6-years-old. When I got into high school things started getting a little more serious with my friends and I making short films that were absurd, but usually relatively well-made, but I still never considered it as a career. I ended up going to college for Russian literature and then to film school, specializing in screenwriting and cinema studies. Despite the fact that I’d been directing throughout film school I’d always seen myself as more of a writer, but I think I just finally realized that directing was the perfect combination of all of my abilities and interests and that it had been resting just under the surface for my entire life.

2) What is your most recent project? 
I’m currently working on a series of documentary branded content pieces for 3M (makers of Post-It Notes) about extraordinary, goal-oriented teenagers. It’s actually been a lot of fun. There are some amazing kids out there that put most adult human beings to shame.

3) What is the best part of being a director? 
Finishing a project.

4) What is the worst part of being a director? 
Telling someone exactly how you like your tea because it’s inexcusable to go and make it yourself. Barry’s Irish Breakfast, steep for five minutes, two sugars, and a whisper of milk, by the way.

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 seem to keep landing in the PSA and doc-style branded content world, which is fine by me. I have a great time with both of those things, but I’d love to move into more narrative driven projects. Turns out that I’m a solid comedy director (it was a huge surprise to me), but I think my personal taste is a little dark and slightly off-kilter. I’ve got a crime-thriller feature film in development right now and I’m bouncing back and forth between writing a newspaper noir and a rom-com. I’m a bit all over the place.

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?
My screenwriting professor, Michael Nolan, was a big, important guy in my life. He really held my hand and gave me a lot of support through film school. The man single-handedly taught me how to tell stories and he said the most important thing that anyone has ever said to me: “If you want to write and direct, write and direct. Nothing else.” This led to years of starvation while my friends from college went on to cash in being editors, production managers, camera operators, and so forth. Now I make a living working as a director and I don’t think that would have happened had I done something with more security straight out of school.

7) Who is your favorite director and why? 
If I have to pick someone, it’s going to be Lars von Trier. I know he gets a lot of flack and sometimes he asks for it, but I think the man is absolutely brilliant. He’s always on the bleeding edge of cinema, always pushing boundaries, and constantly reinventing his style while keeping his films distinctly his own. Even if you don’t like his films, you can still appreciate how original and masterful they are. I saw this round table of these great directors recently and some of them just seemed so out of touch and were unbelievably casual about the fact that they have so much experience that they just “show up.” That’s insane to me. I think if you have that much wisdom and you’re making the same film you made 20 years ago, it’s time to retire.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
Favorite Movie: I’m going to say “The Silence of the Lambs,” not because it’s the best movie I’ve seen, but just because it’s a perfect film. It’s a master class. I can watch it over and over again and if someone hasn’t seen it, I will sit them down and watch it with them. But if it’s not my favorite movie. I don’t know what is.

Favorite TV Show: I will shamelessly proclaim that “Game of Thrones” is the best thing on television right now, but “Deadwood” is one of the best things that’s ever happened.

Favorite Commercial/ Content: Any commercial that Roy Andersson has directed. There are so many — hundreds of them — that are so unbelievably good that it’s impossible to pick. His films are superb, but I imagine that in a hundred years there will be a hall in the Louvre dedicated to his commercials.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I was raised in the Appalachian steel town of Ashland, KY (more “Winter’s Bone” than “Elizabethtown”), studied Russian Literature at the University of Kentucky, attended film school at SCAD and moved to New York. It now seems to me that nothing important happened until then. After a year of having my soul ground to a nub in an ad agency, I fled to Paris where I began collaborating with English photographer Katerina Jebb on an art installation consisting of a series of satirical commercials starring the likes of Tilda Swinton, Kylie Minogue, and Kristin Scott Thomas.  Upon returning to New York, I’ve directed content for ACNE, BLK DNM, L.L. Bean, Glade, and Harper Collins. Outside of the commercial world, I’ve directed PSAs for The United Nations High Council for Refugees, The Union of Concerned Scientists, and The Syria Campaign.