Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What's a director's vision and how can I get one? (Part 1.b)

You know what I said about how the material you shoot makes up a big part of your "vision?" There are actually two parts to the material part. There's a) "What's the movie about?" which is what I went on about last time, and b) "What kind of a movie is it?" which probably should have come first because it's both broader and more categorizing.

Oh well.

Comedy directors do comedy. Action directors do action. Horror directors do horror.

Put the two parts together and you have a pretty good idea what kind of film you're going to see (or make). A comedy about how mankind confronts the end of the world ('The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy') is going to be different from a horror film about how mankind confronts the end of the world ('I am Legend') is different from an action film about how mankind confronts the end of the world ('Mad Max').

This is particularly poignant for me because I work mostly in commercials, where there's really only one part to the material part. The part about what kind of a movie (commercial) it is.

It makes sense if you think about it. Commercials are mostly about one of two things: saving money or getting laid (I'll get into that in a later post), and it really doesn't make sense to go, "Oh, Brian? Yeah, he's drawn to spots about getting 10% off."

In commercials, if you're considered a comedy guy –– as I am –– you're not really sub-categorized any further than that. Comedy guys do comedy. And have a really hard time getting invited to do special effects, action, food, cars, or any of the other categories. (Those are commercial categories,by the way. You might have noticed that there aren't a lot of horror, caper, thriller, disaster, spiritual, tragedy, heartfelt drama, coming-of-age, slasher, western, rom-com, or woman-in-peril commercials.)

Where was I? Oh yeah. The material.

The material you shoot goes a long way to determining your vision –– as it's ascribed to you. Not just by audiences, but also by agents, managers, financiers, and studio execs. So be careful. It makes sense to do comedy if you're working in commercials because so many commercials are supposed to be funny. But only if you don't mind being a comedy director.

Once you're categorized, it's hard to break out.


  1. thanks for the insight funny guy but you not only do comedy but you do beautiful comedy when allowed, unfortunately too many spots with men in cheesy suits don't call for pretty lighting. Can someone educate the advertising industry first? Maybe if they had an idea of the possibilities and the reality of shooting we all would have more interesting spots for our reels.

  2. @Anonymous...

    I once pitched an idea to the owner of a major florist conglomerate in St. Louis for a series of commercials that told great stories all involving how these flowers "saved the day," or something like that.

    He told me that while he loved the idea, the simple fact is that people want to see the owner of the business talking in front of a green screen with pictures of their business in the background.

    I don't think it's the advertising industry at all. I think it's clients that just want to play it safe. I think most clients do understand how cool and interesting something could be, but they are inherently drawn to "what works" instead. Sad for our reels indeed, but I doubt that will be changing anytime soon (at least on the local level).

  3. I agree with much of what you're saying about directors visions and being labeled in categories of "vision."

    I'm curious as to what you think the types or genres of commercials are?

    I've seen the more, I don't know - academic? - list of commercial categories from Donald Gunn (http://www.slate.com/id/2170872/nav/tap1/).

    You mentioned a few being comedy, special effects, action, food, and cars. What others do you believe are out there that a director could get categorized as?

  4. Donald Gunn's categories really belong more to the conception of the advertising messages themselves than to their execution, which is where the categorization of directors becomes relevant. Think of it this way: If you came up with a spot about a mascot that steals the football at a high school game and gets chased through the town by both teams before finally giving up the ball in exchange for a Pepsi, what kind of director would you hire to shoot it? A comedy guy? An action guy? Someone who's worked with horses?

    (Trick question. You'd hire Pytka.)

    The simple way to answer your question is to look at the way production companies categorize the directors they represent. In general, they'll "sell" directors for:

    Beautiful imagery
    Documentary (including mocumentary)
    Tabletop (food and products)
    Special effects

    Not all production companies represent all categories, and some subdivide their categories if they have, say, three comedy guys. But this is more or less how the commercial industry breaks directors down.