Every year, exciting new talents appear on the commercial crafts scene. They’re directors, cinematographers, editors, sound designers, costume designers , etc. who continually reinvent our reality. Thanks to their new approaches and fresh takes on commercial production, the form becomes reinvigorated, and their influence quickly spreads to other media. Where on earth do they come from?
Well, Brooklyn, Wichita, London and (of course) California. And that’s just for starters. The following nine crafts talents have gained a firm foothold in the television commercial industry over the past two years. Overnight successes in some cases; long-sought rewards, in others. In any case, all eight coming-of-age stories offer insight and perspective into the brains behind the beauty of their spots.
A California native, director GoreVerbinski’s work so far is a surreal smorgasbord of styles: live-action, photo cutouts, compositing and animation.
“They’re all a bit of everything,” he says. “But they all share a certain design sensibility. I try not to do the same thing twice. If someone says they’re looking for a fresh approach, count me in.”
Verbinski’s first forays were Super-8 animation imaginings. After graduating from film school at UCLA in 1987, Verbinski got a job reading scripts at Limelight in Los Angeles.
When Limelight opened its commercial division, Verbinski became producer Jonathan Ker’s assistant and started producing commercials.
During this time he also began putting together a directorial reel of his own by directing musicvideos for local bands in Hollywood.
Verbinski was “discovered” when director Julien Temple saw some of his work and asked him to work as a director for his company, Nitrate Films, in Hollywood.
After two years of directing musicvideos at Nitrate, Verbinski accepted Ker’s invitation to rejoin him as a director in his new venture, Palomar Pictures.
Within the last year, Verbinski has carved a niche for himself in the commercial world with spots for Air France and his attention-getting spot for Fila, as well as spots for Saab and Canon and a two-minute theatrical release for Kodak’s Cineon.
Verbinski most recently worked on a spot for Sprite. With idols like Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam, Verbinski is anxious to try his hand at more narrative projects.
A painter at heart, Gail Goodman has neatly melded her talent — fine art, photography, film — into a lucrative career as a makeup artist.
After studying Fine Arts at Cornell U., Goodman (a Wichita, Kan., native) came to New York and got a job as a wardrobe assistant at her sister’s fashion company. This job soon led to a position in the wardrobe department on the TV series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”
While on “Playhouse,” Goodman says, she would watch the makeup artist and realize how much like painting it really was. From there she began to study the artistry of makeup, first training with makeup artists, then working on “freebies” and assisting on features. Eventually she worked her way up to doing her own fashion editorials and print advertising.
Commercial work followed, with spots for Sony, Johnny Walker, the U.S. Open (with John McEnroe), several AIDS public-service announcements and promo campaigns for USA Network and HBO.
Goodman is the makeup artist for talkshow “The Ricki Lake Show” (nominated for three Emmys).
Still an active painter, Goodman recently took part in a group show in New York. “My makeup career is such a social undertaking, whereas painting is such a solitary pursuit. The two really balance each other out.”
Working at Wieden & Kennedy for nearly six years, Geoff McGann patiently watched and waited for his chance to direct.
Although interested in filmmaking from the start, he chose advertising over a film major at Art Center in Pasadena because, as he puts it, “It was the least expensive of the two.”
He chose to work on broadcast accounts at an ad agency, becoming familiar with the production side of things — and ultimately become a director.
“About a year ago,,” says McGann, “I went to work on a spec spot for Nike. They ended up using it on the air.” The spot in question, “Miners,” won several awards, and paved the way for McGann as a commercial director.
In the last year McGann has directed several more Nike spots (titled “Star Trek”), along with spots for the Gap, Clio and PDFA.This past July he signed with O Pictures in Hollywood.
Of his commercial style, McGann says he’s trying not to have a visual style, per se. “Having a definitive style can be a problem for a director,” he muses. “It gives you a shelf life.”
McGann should know. After years as an agency creative, he says he saw thousands of reels — which provided an invaluable lesson in his own directing work.
“So many of the styles were too executional, and the idea got lost,” he says. “The look needs to be secondary in advertising to the idea.”
After making his filmmaking debut at age 15 with an 8mm piece on a hobo in New York City, Brooklyn-born cinematographer Creszenzo Notarile was hooked on film.
Attending New York U. on a photography scholarship, he later switched to the Institute of Technology & Film.
Working his way up through the ranks, Notarile credits cinematographer Tony Mitchell, among others, with teaching him the ropes of filmmaking.
After flexing his muscles shooting musicvideos with directors such as Marcus Nispel, Notarile moved into the commercial world. He shot spots for Elizabeth Arden, Oil of Olay and Michelob beer with director Gil Cope of Harmony Pictures in Burbank. In November he finished a 10-day, multimillion-dollar shoot for L&M Cigarettes in the Mojave Desert, with director Ron Leyser.
Future projects include spots for Coke and Philips, as well as a musical to be shot in Japan, a la Busby Berkeley, with director Julien Temple.
Splitting his time between commercial and musicvideo work, Notarile credits photography with making him a stronger cameraman. He is currently busy working on a book of photographs — a series of black-and-white infrared nudes.
“Photography is a personal release for me,” says Notarile. “No crew, no agency. Just me. It forces me to discover myself.”
A native of London, production designer Dominic Watkins is new to L.A. — but not to the art world. A fine artist first, Watkins came to New York after being rejected from the Chelsea School of Art in London.
A designer of sets for nightclubs in New York for eight years, Watkins only recently entered the commercial world. With the design of clubs such as Danceteria, the Palladium and the Tunnel to his credit, Watkins diversified into designing recording studios as well, even starting a construction company in the process.
Soon becoming disenchanted with the construction business, Watkins got his break when Madonna shot her video “Celebrate” with his sets at Danceteria.
Making the move to L.A., Watkins began to art direct musicvideos and commercials. His first national spot was for H.I.S. Jeans for director Jeffrey Barrish; recently he worked on a Dallas Cowboys spot for Apex with director Simon West of Satellite Films; and a Chrysler Neon campaign with director David Hogan, now of Zzykxz Prods.
With a background in economics and political science and a successful career on Wall Street behind him, Amir Hamed may have gone to the best film school there is, he says — life experience.
Born in Iran and transplanted to Paris at age 15, Hamed studied economics at the Sorbonne, moving to New York at 25. After working on Wall Street for awhile, Hamed says he became bored and eager to change careers. “I just knew I wanted to be a film director,” he says.
His first “glamorous” job in film began when he was asked, “Do you know how to drive a truck?”
Starting as a production assistant on commercials, he then worked
as an assistant cameraman with directors such as Fred Petermann and Andre Bartkoviac.
Within five years he was working as Leslie Dektor’s exclusive director of photography, shooting well-known campaigns such as Levi’s 501 Jeans, the Cotton Board, Coca-Cola, Dean Witter and Mercedes-Benz. He also began a working relationship with Johns & Gorman Films.
With these credentials in hand, and L.A. as his home base now, Hamed decided to become more involved in film. “I felt I’d paid my dues,” he says. “I wanted to direct. But it’s a painful process — you have to keep proving yourself.”
Since signing with Johns & Gorman last year, Hamed has directed spots for Prince Edward Island and Canadian agency Franklin, Dalls (winner of the Advertising & Design Club of Canada’s award for best campaign), as well as BCTel , Chrysler, Lexus, Crystal Springs, Earthshare and Butcher’s Choice.
Ron Rosenthal, senior producer at Foote, Cone & Belding in Chicago, worked with him on a pro bono spot, Earthshare, and an S.C. Johnson pledge shoot. Rosenthal had this to say of Hamed’s working style: “He’s so laid-back, but he just reeks of creativity. The man’s simply an artist.”
After six years as a fashion stylist in New York for magazines such as Interview and Italian Vogue, Dana Allyson became bored with the fashion industry , expressing interest in the music business.
The result was a move to styling for roughly 70 musicvideos, as well as commercials with directors such as Rebecca Blake and Steve Horn.
A native of St. Louis, Allyson moved to L.A. and began an association with Propaganda Films where she worked with directors such as David Fincher, David Kellogg, Domenic Sena, Michael Bay, Nigel Dick and David Hoga.
But it wasn’t until Nike’s “Barkley on Broadway” spot with Fincher two years ago that Allyson gained national attention. “It was an incredible costume opportunity,” says Allyson. “Fincher has such a strong vision and it was the first time Nike ever did a spot without Nike clothing.”
Other Allyson-costumed spots include Nike’s “Temple of Flight” spot; a Navy PSA with director Matthew Harris; a Coca-Cola spot with New Kids on the Block; BMW for director Steve Horn; GTE with Graham Henman; Reebok with Rupert Wainwright; Oil of Olay with Stephen Frears; Cover Girl; and the Tears for Fears tour.
She also has moved into film and TV work recently with work on “Zalman King’s Red Shoe Diaries” for Showtime; the TV show “Big Break” with Natalie Cole; and the feature “God’s Army.”
When Michael Cook moved to L.A. from Manchester in England, he was penniless. Today, he works on million-dollar advertising campaigns. Who says the streets of America aren’t paved with gold?
He began as a club deejay in L.A. before an English friend of his told him about a job as a production assistant. Having been a singer in England for five years before moving to L.A., Cook gravitated to the sound of commercials — so he jumped at the chance to work on a video for the world-class skateboarder Stacy Peralta.
Cook had never done sound before. “They lent me a sampler and I took it home and went to work,” he says.
Through this connection, Cook began working as an assistant in director Lol Creme’s home studio. From there he continued as a deejay, while working with musicvid director Tarsem, then a student, on “Boxer Shorts” and, later, MTV. Two years ago, on Tarsem’s recommendation, agency Wieden & Kennedy hired Cook to work on the Andre Agassi spot for Nike.
This was the first spot he worked on with Rico (Richard) Conning, a fellow Englishman who has since become his partner and producer at M62 (named after the highway that connects their hometown counties in England).
At M62, Cook and Conning worked on spots for Lee Jeans (again with Tarsem); more Nike work; and a spot for Guess Parfum. Recent work includes spots for Fila , Lexus, Audi, Honda and Central Beheer Insurance.
Born in New York, Eric Carlson is back in the city after 22 years. Having moved to Germany at 2, and then to London at 7, Carlson was initiated into the business early on by his parents.
But it wasn’t until he got a job as a messenger at 18 for the production company Jennie & Co., in London, that he became seriously interested in film.
Veering off from a future involving sports (tennis and soccer), Carlson began hanging around the inhouse editing suite at Jennie & Co.
“I learned the business by practically sitting on the editor’s shoulder and constantly asking questions,” he says.
With ad directors like Adrian Lyne, Bruce Dowad and Terry Bedford drifting in and out of the edit room, Carlson says he learned from the best. “I never studied film in school,” he admits. “And to tell you the truth, I think it helped.”
Since signing with Hayes & Associates last August, Carlson has cut spots for Bell Atlantic, Diet Coke, the perfumes Asja and Herrera and six episodes of the pilot show “Street Match.” His London work includes his reputation-building spot for Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, Elizabeth Arden, NatWest, Sprint and 10 episodes of MTV’s “Dogboy.”
Carlson’s specialty? “I thrive on the unscripted,” he says. “the less restriction, the better the end product. Just give me 100,000 feet of film and I’ll go to it.”