America 101

Richard Speight, Jr.

1) How did you get into directing?
There was never a time when I wasn’t fascinated by the idea of making movies. I have been acting professionally for years, so I’ve had the benefit of being on a lot of sets with a lot of different directors.

Luckily, even early on, I was never the type to go back to the trailer between shots. Instead, I hung around to watch the directors in action and study their process. The more I learned about how the sausage was made, the more I wanted to be the butcher. Eventually, I pulled the trigger and started telling my own stories with a camera.

2) What is your most recent project?
I most recently directed a piece for Mountain Dew. I say ‘piece’ because it was definitely not your traditional commercial. It’s over two minutes long and feels more like a trailer for a heist film than a television ad. The schedule was crazy tight, but the looseness of the format freed me up to be more creative with my shot set ups and enabled me to inject my own sense of humor and story into the content.

The whole process felt more akin to making a short film, and I think the end result reflects that in a positive, creatively refreshing way.

3) What is the best part of being a director?
As a director, I get to create a complete vision that is wholly unique to my perspective. From casting to editing to the sound mix, etc., no part of the process is left unattended. That is what I find so invigorating. Plus, I enjoy bringing a positive energy to a production and to a set. The director’s attitude and approach sets a tone that affects every facet of the process and everyone involved. I learned early on that on a set, I respond to the positive, not the negative, so I try to bring that positive attitude to my own projects and hopefully help create an atmosphere that allows everyone do their best, most creative work.

4) What is the worst part of being a director?
The pressure. So many plates spinning, so many decisions to make, all while keeping in mind time and money. Top that off with seventy crew members all looking at you, awaiting instruction. It can be overwhelming. And yet, in a weird way, it’s the sheer volume of work crammed into never-enough-time that fuels the machine and keeps it all exciting. I mean, if it were easy, everyone would do it, right?

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 focused on telling engaging stories. I strive to do that when directing commercials for the production company Quietman, and I look forward to doing it when I begin directing episodic television and film. But regardless of the format, comedy is my strong suit. Character driven comedy is what I enjoy watching and where my strength lies as a director.

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 most with you?
Two people helped put me on the path I’m on now. First is writer/producer Shaun Cassidy, the first person to ever love my writing enough to pass it along to others. Rare is the man high on the ladder who is willing to lean down to help another up. Shaun is that man. Then there is Joe Pytka, the Godfather of commercial directing. He can tell a more complete, compelling story in 22 seconds than most directors can in two hours. I’ve never seen anything like it. Watching him work is like attending a clinic in efficient story telling. I am fortunate to have had his ear and counsel since I began making the transition from “actor only” to “actor/director.” It’s an invaluable friendship.

7) Who is your favorite director and why?
It’s a three-way tie: Jason Reitman, Alexander Payne, and Wes Anderson. These men each have such unique, strong styles and voices, and they each utilize comic moments beautifully without pigeonholing themselves into being viewed as strictly comedy guys. The fact is, they can each deftly handle very grounded and even serious, heartfelt moments, and do so often to strengthen and solidify their stories. I admire filmmakers who can bridge the humorous and the serious. I strive to do that myself.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Let’s start with Thank You For Smoking. Hilarious, edgy, topical, and sharp - a stunning feature debut by Jason Reitman. Then there’s Wes Anderson’s debut Bottle Rocket. That film mixed super quirky with subtle comedy like I’d never seen before. Commercial wise, that Volkswagon commercial with the little boy dressed as Darth Vader trying to use the Force to start the car was fantastic. I also love the new Cadillac ad staring Neal McDonough. That’s the first commercial I remember in a while that is consistently discussed in my social circles. It’s crisp and clean and unapologetic. Really well done.

9) Tell use about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
Originally from Nashville, I am a cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California. As an actor, I’ve starred and guest starred in numerous shows including Band of Brothers, Justified, Supernatural, and Jericho, and have worked in over 60 national commercials including fronting campaigns for IBM, Zippo, and Pepsi.