Betterhelp’s “Wanted” (commercial)

Rebecca Applebaum

Community Films (U.S.); Untitled Films (Canada)

 

What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 
My first professionally directed work was a pandemic-specific mental health spot called “Distant Friends.” I actually made it as a spec, then licensed it to betterhelp. It then went on to get over 20 millions views online. That’s what started my relationship with the client and launched my whole commercial directing career.

How did you get into directing?
I’m an actor and a few years ago I started to get the directing itch. So I directed a no-budget mockumentary short with some friends that ended up doing well, and that encouraged me to keep going.

Then the pandemic hit and a wonderful organization called BIPOC TV and Film started hosting online panels and workshops about making commercials. After attending the first one, I started reaching out to people in the industry asking for advice. Among many generous and supportive people, Aleysa Young has been an especially important mentor. She founded another fantastic organization, Hire Higher, which helped me find more opportunities to learn and connect with EPs.
Early on, one piece of advice I got was to make a spec that someone could use. So in fall 2020 I shot “Distant Friends” in a public park with a cast and crew of friends who believed in the message.

3) What is your most recent project? 
I recently directed an eight-spot campaign for Moosehead Brewery, all featuring pneumatic beer-delivery tubes. It was such a fun shoot! It was an absolute a joy to collaborate with the agency, Conflict Creates, and key creatives, cinematographer Josh MacDonald and production designer Andrew Morton. And the performer, Jonathan Langdon, is so massively talented--he had us in stitches the entire time. We shot in a freezing cold industrial warehouse, and yet everyone was all smiles. I feel very lucky I got to work on that one.

What is the best part of being a director?
Collaborating with people who are incredibly good at what they do, including the folks who work in post. I’m supremely grateful for Mel Hider and Chris Chang at Saints Editorial, who cut my first spots, and Brian Bernard at Grayson Matthews who did sound. They really elevated what I brought to the table, and I learned a ton working with them.

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.? 
Currently, I’m focusing on comedic commercials. I’m interested in comedic television as well.

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? 
Aleysa Young once said to me that as a director you’re hired for your taste — the unique way you see the world, and the things that you, in particular, like. I call it to mind often. It helps take the pressure off and reminds me that my point of view has value.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
This is, of course, hard to choose. But recently, for television, I keep coming back to PEN15. It’s so brilliant on so many levels.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 
I grew up in Toronto. Used to be a competitive varsity swimmer. Started out double majoring in Math and English, and then eventually got a Master’s in English. Left academics, joined a band and became an actor. Got involved in the Women’s Committee at the union, and eventually became a VP at ACTRA Toronto. I started directing. And that’s where I am now. Directing and I continue to work as an actor as well.

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?
I became a commercial director during the pandemic. My first spot is a pandemic-specific mental health spot and was filmed with the actors socially distanced. And I don’t know what I would have done without the great programming and initiatives that BIPOC TV & Film and Hire Higher provided over these past few years. So the pandemic, in a way, has been the impetus for my career.

One strange thing is that for a while I had hardly met anyone in person. All these new professional relationships were fostered through DMs, zooms and phone calls. All my pitches have been online. But I hadn’t known any other way. I’ve wondered if it’s been less intimidating this way, as someone starting out. But now that I’m beginning to meet more people in person, it’s been really nice to see their faces in 3D and get to know everyone more informally.

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