Patagonia’s “No Time To Lose” (spec PSA)
What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
A pair of really fun episodes for Netflix’s Music Lab digital series earlier this year. We cross-promoted their shows by running music-themed experiments on unsuspecting “subjects.” For Squid Game we had folks listen to the show’s tense score while hooked up to an EKG machine. For Vikings: Valhalla, I pitched that we strap them into a rowing machine to find out how listening to epic Viking music would affect their performance. With the whole crew wearing lab coats on a Bill Nye-inspired set, we had a blast trying to make the production as strange and immersive as we could.
How did you get into directing?
Growing up, I went to a Quaker summer camp——which meant we had tons of unstructured time. Armed with a MiniDV camera and an immature sense of humor, we filmed everything from short films to Jackass videos. There was such a satisfaction that came from working with other kids to tell big, weird stories——plus learning to wear every hat in the process——that a love for directing organically grew. Budgets have increased and productions are more complex, but to this day I always try to channel that pure, sandbox spirit from which it all began.
What is your most recent project?
Commercially, I just directed a very silly spec campaign for Poo-Pourri. Beyond that I’m currently in pre-production on my first feature, an absurdist romcom noir called “The Dirty Oyster”, as well as the pilot for an unscripted show I created about competitive eating and friendship, called “Food Day”.
What is the best part of being a director?
Embracing the inevitable curveball. No matter how prepared you are, there’s usually going to be a moment where something doesn’t go as planned. Younger Me would be surprised by this answer, but over time I’ve really come to relish these moments… because with an open mind they always serve as opportunities to improve the project. Thus, I not only enjoy the problem-solving, but also how directing pushes me to grow as a human being in the process. Which all goes hand-in-hand with my other favorite part: the camaraderie. There are few feelings more rewarding than overcoming a creative challenge with a brilliant team.
What is the worst part of being a director?
There is always room to improve a project, no matter how good it is. Perfectionism in art is futile. So, with each project I just try to leave it all on the field, continually raising the bar for myself. A close collaborator once told me “art is not finished, only abandoned”, which has always struck a chord.
What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
All of the above! In commercials and branded content, I gravitate toward sports, nature, things with twists, and clever comedy. I also enjoy shoot promos for TV.
With narrative, I describe my taste as “grounded genre”–everything from sci-fi to magical realism, moody atmosphere to playful whimsy, and any permutation in between–but always building a world rooted in our own.
Ultimately I pride myself on my versatility and have many irons in the fire across all of these categories. I feel they all work different parts of the same directorial muscle, which in turn cross-trains for the others.
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 been blessed to learn from so many talented people at the companies I’ve worked with over the years——the BBC, Blue Man Group, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and especially during my time at HBO. I’ve also sought out many “mentor conversations” across disciplines along the way. So it’s impossible to boil it down to just one, or even a small group.
But something a producer once told me that sticks out——”Whenever you’re confronted by ego, just remember that at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of kids who want their drawings up on the refrigerator.” In a competitive industry, I’ve long found this mentality to help put everything into perspective.
Who is your favorite director and why?
Spike Jonze. I love a lot of other directors too (Kubrick, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Spielberg and the Coen brothers among others). But what I love about Jonze is the sheer variety of work he’s touched that has become iconic. Her, Being John Malkovich, Jackass, Vice Media, countless music videos, commercials and other branded content… the list is immense and super diverse. And yet there is a distinct, unique, and playful spirit across it all, adding up to a body of work that I truly admire.
What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Favorite commercial/branded content is Spike Jonze’s absolutely wacky short film for Kenzo World perfume. Favorite movie changes a lot, but some of the mainstays are 2001: A Space Odyssey, Delicatessen, The Social Network, Ratatouille and Jurassic Park. For shows: The Sopranos, Mad Men, South Park and The Wire.
Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Lexington, MA and attended film school at NYU. After college I landed a dream first job at HBO, where I spent nearly a decade writing, producing and editing promos, trailers, and behind-the-scene featurettes for shows like Westworld, Silicon Valley, Ballers and Game of Thrones. That job gave me firsthand exposure into the processes of some of the greatest filmmakers of our time. It also taught me how to consistently produce premium content, under budget and on schedule.
But I always identified as a director, so I moonlit by shooting specs and music videos for free——whatever it took to build my portfolio. When that balance became too much, I left to pursue a freelance path——beginning with my award-winning sci-fi short, “Watch Room”, starring Mamoudou Athie & Jacob Batalon. Then I moved to LA where I’ve been fortunate to team up with some really talented folks.
How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?
On a professional level, the pandemic forced me to slow down and re-examine the strategies I was employing to achieve my dreams. It made me confront certain blocks I had built for myself over the years. And it pushed me to articulate my artistic voice with greater specificity than ever before. Overall, I found it to be a time of great discipline and an opportunity to build better, more sustainable habits—both creatively and in life. And in doing so, it’s reinvigorated my creative spirit, allowing me to operate with a greater freedom and levity. Ironically, as the world has opened back up, I still find myself consciously seeking to “creatively quarantine” as a way to stay attuned to this new foundation I forged for myself.
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