Valentine's Day Massacre

Steve Petersen

How did you get into directing?
As a kid I was always very interested in film and television. So much so that I started going on castings in my home town of Miami, Florida. One of the first things I got cast in was an episode of Miami Vice in the 1980’s. While on the set I immediately found myself far more interested in what was going on behind the camera than my role in front of it. That was the day the bug bit me. I kept sneaking away from the actors holding area and over to where the production trucks were to see the crew prepping for the upcoming scenes. That led to taking TV production in high school, studying film in college, working in film and TV afterwards, and now being honored to be a part of the 2012 New Director Showcase!

What is your most recent project?
I recently directed a spot with Henry Rollins to help him promote his new television show on National Geographic Channel. It was a treat meeting him as he’s music royalty in my book. Plus he’s an amazing guy. With the limited budget we had, I shot the spot on DSLRs and using some crafty in-camera techniques and post augmentation, we ended up with a very slick and expensive looking spot.

What is the best part of being a director?
My one word answer: Collaborating. A director can’t direct without the support and participation of a cast and crew. And that inherently means collaboration. Everyone involved in each project brings a unique sensibility and personality to the project making each and every project different from the last. It is a very organic thing I get to do. My job often times is wrangling everyone’s various creative energies and focusing them towards one vision. And that’s what makes it so magical. It is a job unlike any other.

What is the worst part of being a director?
I would be remiss if I didn’t say as a director I don’t like having to compromise my initial vision, work within a limited budget and not having enough time to complete the project. But those things seem to happen on every job and finding creative solutions often leads to amazing results. Finding ways over those obstacles and coming up with work-a-rounds are often what adds that special ingredient to the work. So the “worst parts” of being a director are actually also the best parts.

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.?
Having just finished up a year directing 11 hours of long-form television shows I’m now continuing my live-action/VFX style of work in commercials. I am passionate about those two genres independently and am also passionate about the types of projects where long-form content and advertising intersect–like branded content. Commercials are an immensely fun place to create short, powerful work. And long-form storytelling (feature film) is where my true passion lies. But I’ve been watching the child of those two genres, “branded content,” becoming a bigger canvas each year. And I feel my unique style that blends live-action and visual effects is the perfect tool for that world. So for me it’s commercials, branded content and feature film–in no particular order. I personally enjoy action, drama, crime, sci-fi and visual effect genres.

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?
The first job I had was as an intern at the Miami Herald newspaper. I worked under a great reporter and editor, Jon O’Neill. Instead of having his team of interns making copies and fetching him coffee, he would give us the responsibility of going out in the field and covering big stories. Watching him was my first lesson in managing a team and how to treat people. The other lesson I learned from him and have taken with me and continue to work on…is how best to tell a story. A newspaper article has a very limited amount of time to tell a story, develop characters and convey a message. And that’s very much what my job entails working in film and television. Jon remains a close friend and the lessons I learned while working for him many years ago remain with me every day.

Who is your favorite director and why?
I particularly enjoy the work of feature film directors that come from the advertising industry. Guys like Tony and Ridley Scott, Michael Bay, Zack Snyder and Joseph Kosinski. There is something about cutting your teeth making commercials in an industry where visual design and attention to detail are incredibly important and then transplanting that sensibility to a world of traditional filmmaking where story and character are number one. In my opinion, the work from those hybrid directors usually make for a unique treat.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
For years one of my favorite bits of branded content has been the Tony Scott short film Beat the Devil he helmed for BMW films. It was nothing short of a pure indulgence in visual style. He threw nearly every film and editing technique at you in its nine-minute run time. But what a fun nine minutes it was! He blended an all-star cast, great cinematography, daft editing, incredible music and sound design and a cutting edge visual style to leave you thinking… BMW is bad ass. And that’s what a brand film is all about. It may not have been a “traditional” brand film in terms of it being all about the car or the car company…but its result was a success for the brand. And Tony’s unique vision and approach, to me, personified a great director who delivered exactly what the client hoped he would.

Tell us about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. Miami in the 1980s was a very colorful place and time. It was the home of the real Cocaine Cowboys and the epicenter of Cuban/American politics. I attended Syracuse University for Film and after that worked in the industry in NYC at Comedy Central. I then spent a few years back in Miami as a promo producer and editor at various South Florida television stations. Then I moved to Los Angeles in 2000 where I worked as a promo editor. In 2003 I started Big Machine with my partner Ken Carlson where we both serve as Creative Directors. Big Machine started as a branding and design studio specializing in visual effects and animation and has since grown to be a full-service production company.