1) How did you get into directing?
I’ve always been a film lover. In college, I got the opportunity to direct a short documentary in Israel about a co-existence program using sports to bring Palestinian and Israeli youth together. There I met a producer from HBO, who needed help on an upcoming documentary. This led to a job at HBO, where I worked on four consecutive documentaries, working my way up the ranks from a production assistant to an editor, cinematographer, and field producer. While at HBO, I began filming a feature documentary about two Japanese artist living and working in Brooklyn, which ultimately became Cutie and the Boxer, my directorial debut.
2) What is your most recent project?
My most recent project was a short, satirical art film entitled Hugh the Hunter. The film re-contextualizes themes present in the work of the artist Hugh Hayden through the form of a storybook narrative fable.
We shot the film in Scotland, where Hugh was doing a residency program. It sees Hugh as a fictitious hunter of the Scottish Highlands, set out on a day-long quest to hunt the red grouse. Hugh is an African-American artist from Texas, whose work utilizes skin, bark, clothing, and other natural signifiers to explore the shared histories of cultures despite desperate appearances. The film premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival.
3) What is the best part of being a director?
I’m a character-driven storyteller at heart. I love the process of researching a specific character, putting myself in their shoes, trying to see the world from their point of view, and figuring out the most effective way to tell their story visually. It is all a part of the shapeshifting aspect of directing that is very attractive to me. It extends to working on set as well. As a director, it’s important to almost embody each person’s role on set in an effort to effectively communicate your vision, but also to best utilize each contributors strengths by involving them in the process. I’m attracted to the communal aspect of the film set and feel my best work is always done in collaboration with others.
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.?
My current career focus is both in commercials and in feature-length films. Beginning last year, I began focusing on developing a commercial career, hoping to get to a point where I can consistently direct commercial projects that can continue to challenge me. At the same time I’ve begun working on my second feature film, which will be my first narrative/scripted film and will shoot next year. I tend to take my time developing film projects—my last film took about four years to make. But during that development time, directing commercials pushes me in new directions, sharpens my skill set, and allows me to collaborate with other creatives.
7) Who is your favorite director and why?
I have a few favorite directors, but I’ll talk about one of them: Mike Mills. There is a discernible approach and deftness of hand in everything he does, whether it be a commercial or film. He has the rare ability to tell deeply emotional and human stories that make us laugh and cry, and that somehow feel both natural and stylized, without feeling forced or manipulative. I prefer commercials that convey an unexpected emotion. With a public that has become well-educated in visual terms, consuming more and more diverse video content daily, it is very easy to detect patterns and styles meant to show certain emotions. A film or commercial that can subvert those expectations is all the more powerful as a result.
8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
My favorite film of the last year was Force Majeure, a film by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund. It is a deeply honest, occasionally unsettling, but also hilarious story of a couple and their two children on a week long ski vacation in France. The film is about marriage, and how many couples have certain engrained expectations of their partners. On occasion when those norms are subverted, or a partner acts in an unexpected way, true colors are shown and cracks in the relationship that might be hidden due to the routine nature of married life, can be exposed. It’s a beautifully shot film as well. Commercial wise I would say my favorite was Volvo’s “The Epic Split” for the simplicity in its concept and execution.
9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Houston, Texas. I auditioned for the part of Dirk in the film Rushmore, which was filmed at my high school, where Wes Anderson was an alum. Needless to say I did not get the part, and perhaps I’ve been trying to make up for that ever since! I went to college at the University of Texas in Austin where I started making short films and documentaries with friends. That lead me to five years working on films and a few TV shows at HBO. That led me to direct my first feature film, Cutie and the Boxer, which was released in 2013 in the U.S. and in 2014 internationally. In 2014, I made two short narrative/scripted films, one of which premiered at Sundance in January of this year.