McDonald’s “Fatherhood” (spec spot)
What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
I’d say haven’t had one that was strictly as a director yet. My two previous spec spots that I wrote/directed for U-Haul and Pendleton Whisky were both picked up by them for their social media channels, but I’d say I’m still striving for my first pro gig.
How did you get into directing?
I came into filmmaking like a lot of people from my generation; through skate and snowboard films, around the height of the CKY/Jackass era. I have a vivid memory of what I felt the first time I put an edit to music, I was hooked.
My first production job out of college was working for the action sports and culture network Fuel TV. At the same time my now wife was working for a commercial production company (Harvest!), so I was able to PA and get on set through some of her connections, and I discovered a whole other world. Later Renny Maslow, when he was at SMUGGLER, was generous enough to let me be a part of his process for a couple commercials and a short film he directed. I went the film school route after that and have been trying to will this into existence since.
What is your most recent project?
This McDonald’s spot is my most recent personal project. I’d written it in early 2020, the pandemic hit, and so it took a couple years to finally shoot it. It was one of those jobs where everything worked out and you’re a little sad to wrap.
I’d never worked with Samantha Drews and Nick Garabedian (actors) or the cinematographer Andres Garzas. Our first time meeting in person was day one of shooting. My family/friends Natalie Newquist (wife/wardrobe), Brian Newquist (in-law/truck owner), and Tyler Brown (AD) were generous with their time. My USC buddies Kelby Wood and Jeff Glaser (44th and 9th) handled the edit. At Apache, Stefanie Schaldenbrand and Taylor Black (colorist) were awesome to work with. It was a great team.
What is the best part of being a director?
Trying to solve the puzzle, how to arrange all the disparate pieces into a cohesive whole that will best illicit the intended emotion. And chasing the ever-elusive feeling you get when you know you’ve nailed it.
What is the worst part of being a director?
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 it. My original career plan has been to build a commercial directing career, use that to earn the opportunity to shoot some passion projects that could hopefully lead to a Film/TV career. I’ve tried to gear my branded work toward more emotional, cinematic narratives with that in mind.
I am polishing my first feature script Night Beat which recently made it to the semi-final round of the Outstanding Screenplays Feature Competition and is ranked in the top 17% on Coverfly, I’m writing a second feature and I started a pilot that I’m hoping to finish before the year is up.
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 don’t have one specific mentor, but definitely folks that have been a boon to this dream of mine. Garret Price, Renny Maslow, Giorgio Scali ASC, Mark Jonathan Harris, Jonathan “Schoenie” Schoenberg. They’ve all been generous with their time, patience and virtuosity.
Who is your favorite director and why?
Depends on the day, but I’ll go with Melville. He lived and breathed it. A true master, a visionary, and a maverick. He broke away from the system to create his own studio. His style resonates with me; It’s minimalistic but oozes cool, black & white or color, it didn’t matter. A formidable oeuvre: Silence de la Mer, Bob le Flambeur, Leon Morin, Le Doulos, Le Samourai, Army of Shadows, Le Cercle Rouge. Not surprising that two of his films are on Roger Deakins’s all-time top ten list. I see a lot of parallels with Michael Mann, another director I look up to.
What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Random brain dump?
Dead Man. Heat. Goodfellas. Bottle Rocket. Le Samourai. My Brilliant Friend. The Wire. GOT. Gomorra. Quarry. The Knick. The Dodge Brothers. Jeep Anthem. Valvoline Never Idle. Wrangler Long Live Cowboys. Fellow CU Buffalo Derek Cianfrance’s Dick’s Sporting Goods spots.
Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I was born into the Sicilian community on the east side of Milwaukee. I’m third generation on my father’s side, first on my mother’s, she came over in 1966.
I moved to Phoenix when I was 10. I did my undergrad at CU Boulder, moved to LA shortly after graduating, worked a bit, then went through the MFA program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
I worked at Fuel TV wearing a bunch of hats, and have been doing the same thing on the freelance rollercoaster ever since.
Now I live in Costa Mesa, CA with my wife, our four year-old daughter and our six month-old son. I spend my free time writing, image making, playing guitar, surfing, trying to get my Sunday sauce in the same galaxy as my grandma’s…
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?
It was heavy in the thick of it. But I realized that it could also be an opportunity to work on myself: to identify habits that were no longer serving me, work on passion projects, practice things I’d typically never have time for—a lot of self-improvement. I spent a lot of time with my wife and our young daughter that I wouldn’t have been able to do normally. I was able to establish an iron clad writing routine.
Work-wise it obviously affected/changed/delayed things logistically, but I think the main takeaway was being reminded of how necessary deep-rooted connections are to our survival. There is so much comfort in knowing you’re not alone. And that is what I think we’re all trying to do in our work; to connect, to find comfort in universality, communicated through the specificity of a unique individual.