Dodge’s “Baby Tricks” (spec spot)

Robert E. Wagner

Unaffiliated

 

What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 
Does it count if nobody got paid?! I shot four music videos in four days for a rapper in Gainesville, FL right after graduating from film school in 2008. It was just the cinematographer, a gaffer, and me in the swamps of Northern Florida. I didn’t direct anything after that until this spec 13 years later...let’s just say I learned some things.

How did you get into directing? 
Growing up in Miami Beach, our neighbor was a sound mixer. One day he taught me and my brother the process of filming a scene. We broke down and recreated the opening from Dumb and Dumber (our favorite movie at the time) while my dad filmed the whole thing on Hi8. “That’s a lovely accent you have, New Jersey?” When I discovered you could do this for a living, I WAS HOOKED!

What is your most recent project? 
You know that feeling when you’re really, really hungry and even the smallest thing can push you over the edge into an irrational fit of rage? Well, I wrote and directed a spec about that. “HANGRY”, inspired (loosely) by the true story of deciding where to order takeout from with my wife that escalated from, “What about sushi?” to “You’re too indecisive, you’re never going to become a doctor!." (my wife is currently finishing medical school and I’m 100% certain she’s going to be a fantastic doctor)

What is the best part of being a director? 
I thrive in the company of others, so getting to meet and work with incredibly talented people for a living is a dream. Building relationships never gets old. I’m still friends with people I worked with decades ago. I also love all the hats I get to wear as a director (it most definitely feeds into my adult ADHD)… the fact that I get to discuss color palettes AND camera angles AND actor motivation AND editing AND lighting AND wardrobe AND…you get the idea.

What is the worst part of being a director? 
With collaboration comes a lot of opinions and you have to navigate them with care. I feel an immense amount of responsibility as the director. I want to make sure that everyone on the team feels heard and considered which is challenging at times. Equally challenging is knowing when to change course and when to stick with your vision despite the noise. But when it all works out and you get the right performance and the right take, it’s the best feeling in the world.

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.? 
I want to work on anything that lightens the mood, it doesn’t matter the medium. As of now, I’m focusing on comedy commercials. I find myself writing about moments of ridiculousness in our everyday lives because let’s face it, life’s weird.

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 2 year old son, Wolf. He doesn’t know he’s my mentor, but his constant sense of wonder and optimism is a lesson to always look at the world with a fresh set of eyes.

Jay Stern, a feature film producer I assisted on Horrible Bosses. He’s always reminding me to trust my instincts and be myself.

Harold Einstein, a commercial director I worked for when I lived in LA. He taught me the importance of discipline, organization, and having a process. He showed me how to take someone else’s idea and tell it in your own voice. Also, how a simple walk around the block can do wonders for the mind.

Who is your favorite director and why?
This continually changes with the seasons of my life, but right now, I’d have to say, Adam McKay. From Step Brothers to Don’t Look Up, he’s able to capture the current zeitgeist and tell a story that exposes the absurd hilarity of the world we live in.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
I’m not good at playing favorites but right now I have to say that I’m addicted to How-To Videos on YouTube. I swear you can learn about anything… like, “how to use hypnosis to get your newborn to stop crying and start sleeping” or “five easy steps to turn your ficus tineke from drab to fab”. The internet is awesome.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 
I’m a first-generation American Cuban Jew from Miami. Sitting around the table at Shabbat dinners with my gigantic family taught me the power of storytelling. I brought that energy to creating films with my best friend in middle school. In high school I led our weekly news program, reworking it from basic and boring to a must-see comedic event.

I studied directing at NYU and have worked in production ever since (minus the time I owned an organic beachfront restaurant in NYC, but that’s another story). From Vogue covers to $100 million studio films to Super Bowl spots, I’ve seen it all.

A year ago I decided to get back to storytelling and made “BABY TRICKS” for $0 (and lots of favors). It’s based on a bit my father would do with me as a baby. It’s invigorating to be directing again and I’m excited to keep going.

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?
The pandemic has taught me how essential sharing a good belly laugh is. We are social creatures, living here together, and we need to remember that.