So COVID, Omnicom, the pandemic, whatever you want to call it, has completely changed the way we do … well … everything … but this is how I survived, and dare I say thrived, as a commercial director in advertising during that time.
First, I got my hands dirty. That sounds more romantic then it actually was. If you were like me coming up in the business, you pretty much did everything at one time; you shot, you edited, you wrote your own content. At some point I was able to just focus on directing, which is the skill you have when you know what needs to happen by who to make a successful production. When crews dried up with the work, it was time to go back to the old ways and do it yourself.
So what are the two things I did?
I rebranded. If we’re talking career path I wanted to continue to focus on directing, however, I had all these other skills that allowed me to produce content without needing a crew or producers and that is what brands needed. So I rebranded. Instead of putting only my director hat on I put on my protean hat, and showed off my full scale 360 turnkey production skills. I built a simple little website, threw some self produced work on there and got down to business.
I reached out. I started with brands and products I had a personal desire to work with. Everyone was cooking so I reached out to Ooni because I really wanted to make pizza’s on my balcony. I reached out to Allen Brothers because I really love their meat. I said hey to MAX ID cause their glassware is stunning. The first jobs I traded product for concept and had the best time of my life creating unique, authentic content for these truly remarkable brands. Then, once they were out in the world, and the name one man one camera was with them others came knocking like Dosist, Indian Motorcycles and Aegis.
The end result is that perhaps I’m not making my director day rate, but I’m working more then I ever had, and whats more, on projects I am in love with working closely with brands to deliver content that would never get past the first round of an agency. The shoots are fast and fun, a fraction of the budget of an industry shoot, and perform well beyond and above what brands are expecting.
I’m not saying I don’t miss big budget commercial production, with big crews and working with advertising elites, after all that’s exactly what taught me everything I know to to pour into these hand crafted projects. What I am saying is that like anything if you want to not just succeed but be fulfilled, you have to adapt constantly. Sometimes like now with something like a pandemic you’re forced to transform yourself a bit faster then normal, but for me, a kid that grew up in a basement in Long Island with dreams of travelling the world, the best thing to happen is sometimes the worse thing. That might just be a Long Islandism but I’m telling you, it’s true.
The bloodhounds over at Daily Ad Brief caught wind of my goings-ons and we did a little skype interview where I break it down a bit more… check it out … if I can do it you can too.
Motorcycles are and have been inherently cool since their conception, even elevated to works of art. They kind of have to be. They are horrible machines. Extremely uncomfortable, requiring constant maintenance, and not so much a question of if you are going to die on one, but when. They are extremely dangerous, and considering the fact that this is the only vehicle where you become the fuselage and ride the engine, they have earned the title “death trap”.
That all said they are extremely cool. What is cool exactly? It can be hard to define but to me cool is something that exists for the pure pleasure of existing. A little Greek philosopher having a wee too much to drink perhaps, but it is an illusive term and that I suppose is what makes cool, cool. It’s hard to put your finger on it. Well, when I heard about Keith Hale and his 1974 Ducati 750ss only one word came to mind. Cool.
Let’s wind it back. Ducati wins 1st and 2nd place at Imola in 1972. This is the Grand Prix or the Daytona 500 of moto racing you see, and it’s a huge deal. The bike they won on, a 750ss, has amazing engineering and is clearly technologically superior to it’s competitors. What it is also, is the most strikingly beautiful bike ever built. A sunset green frame supporting a warm, silver tank in the shape of a bullet you can ride. It is sublime and is known as the most beautiful bike, if not machine, ever produced.
Keith heard the bike before he saw it and fell in love on sound. If you’ve ever heard one in the wild you would understand why. A mechanical symphony, the 750ss is run by a desmodromic valve system. What that means is the motor’s motion drives the valves instead of springs which is how most motors actuate. The way this is done is with a tower of precision machined gears and bevels that when running at 9000 RPM spinning faster then the earth rotates it makes a heavenly sound.
But then you see it and you’re done for.
Keith had to have it. He was just a kid from a big family that moved a lot and worked in a factory. So he scraped together as much money as he could, and begged the unwilling old man who purchased the bike from the factory to sell it to him for 3,200 bucks. He promised the old man he would race it and ride it everyday. Keith kept his promise in a most unusual way.
On a bike that was meant to do a 1/4 mile at a time, Keith did something that no one had ever, or has ever since, done. He put a ridiculous 100k+ miles on a track bike, riding it not just in a loop, but around the country, to work, to weddings and funerals, to the beach and the mountains. This race bike became an extension of Keith and their personalities merged over the 50 years he owned and maintained his machine.
And maintained is the key word.
Every bike needs constant attention. Some less than others. A Ducati, especially a desmodromic 750ss needs perhaps the most attention. It is the persian cat of bikes, and no ordinary diet will do. Keith had to learn this bike as if he were the engineer who built it and perhaps the physicist that defined relativity as well. These bikes were not meant to do a fraction of the milage that he put on this machine, but here it is, with so many miles on it that the speedometer eventually just gave up. It was the only part that Keith neglected to fix.
This story to me is cool because here is a person that does one thing and learns to do it perfect for the sake of knowing how to do something perfect. It wasn’t his career to be a racer, or mechanic, or engineer; Keith is a teacher, humble and lovely, soft spoken and artistic. His drive to maintain this bike came out of love, pure love of an object. He gave it value beyond it’s worth with a lifetime of memories marinating this aged piece of automotive history. He has also done the impossible; proven that these bike have been engineered to perfection, perhaps the only tested example that a bike’s engine simply will not fail, ever.
While this is a story about a machine, it has a very human center to it. Keith, after a lifetime of being defined by his bike, has to face the harsh reality of his mortality. There is no simple way to say this, Keith is getting old. A race bike is hard to ride for someone in their physical prime, and while Keith has maintained his body as well as his machine, and somehow eluded death which comes on tap with motorcycle riding, realizes that the bike he loves isn’t fitting in his life like it used to. Not that he loves it less, but realizes that it’s not being used in the same glory as it used to. Perhaps it is time to part ways with her, to pass her story onto the next keeper, who will love her in a different but same intense way.
Keith was an educator. He taught children most of his life, dedicated to making young people better at who they are and giving them purpose and direction in life. Now, when most people retire, Keith finds himself unable to stop working; there is no pension for school teachers in his district and requires a steady stream of income even living a humble life as he does. It would seem that he would have to spend his last days expiring in some random job that would have him, just to keep money coming in for increasing medical bills and daily living.
Here comes the twist.
What’s truly cool about this story is the because Keith has taken such exceptional care of his machine, has dedicated his life to keeping it not just in perfect condition but to proving its engineering superiority through miles of testing, he is now able to sell his beloved machine for a sweet little nest egg that will keep him comfortably retired well into his later life.
The machine he took care of his entire life now takes care of him for the rest of his life.
If you needed a more Disney ending for adults I don’t know where you would find it. It’s a lovely story, only made more unbelievable because it is in fact real. Keith is really a nice guy, a teacher with a heart of gold, and his motorcycle really is one of a kind and perhaps the most beautiful machine I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of story that transcends motorcycle culture and enters the kingdom of human existence, illustrating the beautiful ballance that happens when we dedicate our life to something for the sheer pleasure of the act of doing it. It’s a beautiful mix between wabi-sabi and Kaisen, and just knowing about it puts a smile on my face a mile wide.
Which is exactly what happened when Keith heard his bike start up for the very first time.
For me, my Ducati 750ss is documentary. It’s these stories that I get to share, and these amazing people I get to meet. I don’t make them because someone pays me, the payment is in the process, and if you asked me honestly I would tell you that becoming a filmmaker was my hack to life. I get to be part of these amazing people’s lives simply because I know how to put together a film. It’s an honor to tell these stories, and hope you enjoy them too.
Of course we must not forget that while this is a truly beautiful story, it is afterall, just a motorcycle. It’s something that I think Keith mitigates exceptionally well in his life, the balance between putting improtance on an object, and always remembering it is just a thing. But what a beautiful thing it is, and in so … well, we had to have a little fun with it. May I introduce you to All The Pretty Things:
This was a little fun film we put together to celebrate, well, all the pretty things we love. In it you’ll find a dozen cherished items, from handcrafted Hedon helmets, to museum worthy glassware and even our favorite recipe for the perfect Negroni. Add in a dash of star studded cast of our favorite people and you can get a sense of how easy it is to fall in love with this bike, how inspirational it can be.
This was a divine experience for me, to meet Keith, explore his world, and even get to play in it for a while in my own way. The older I get the more I feel burdened by things, the more I realize how materialistic we are, and don’t get me wrong, I love my pretty things, but it’s nice to see someone truly own something, rather then just having something, you know what I mean?
It’s March which means it’s Year In Review time cause I literally can’t even get it together these days and I’m a good 2 months late, not that anyone is really asking for these ridiculous recaps of what I did last year. I’m not even sure how I started these back in 2013, I’m sure it was a way to flex-without-flexing too hard but now I really cherish having them. Each year I watch the subsequent years and get a nice snapshot of my trajectory as a filmmaker and human. Spoiler alert: I’m nosediving.
This year is obviously a little different in some ways; lots less travel lots more at home creation, but overall you would hardly know that I spent most of it crying in front of the TV eating Trader Joes Potstickers watching RuPaul Drag Race. Hardly. There’s some highlights, like a new music video for Chris Sullivan (NBC’s Toby on “This is Us”) band Joseph the Spouse, the launching of One Man One Camera where I proved you can have it fast, cheap and good, and of course Italy In Bocca, the saving grace in this whole pandemic, which helped a few people get through this hard time through their stomachs.
Anywayz, what a year, and some really beautiful new projects and friends came out of the insanity which I am ever greatful for. Really just happy we got another 365 round the sun to play with.
Looking forward to ’21 now that we are all legal to drink. I have a feeling this will be a big year for booze;)
I take pizza VERY seriously, thats why when master pizza oven makers OONI asked if I wanted a new 16 inch Koda Pizza Oven I said, “Certo! Come no?!”
At this point you might be asking “What’s an Ooni?” … well if you dont know, it’s probably why your pizza sucks;)
What I didn’t expect was really how much joy this little oven brought me. I had seen a friend in San Francisco use it; brining it out on the sidewalk to have some friends over at a safe distance. A COVID friendly pizza party if you will. It looked intriguing but using it first hand really blew my mind.
It can use wood, or gas, and gets to a positively scorching 500 degrees celcius WHICH COOKS PIZZA PERFECTLY IN 60 SECONDS. This is the key to the Ooni’s magic, and to great Neapolitan pizza.
I’ve had her for about a month now and when I tell you I use it three days a week I’m not lying. No, I’m not pounding pizza every other night, I’m also roasting in it, beautiful vegetables, porchetta’s even making wood fired lasagna’s in it. Honestly its faster then my real over and everything comes out perfect.
And if you say this sounds like a commercial it kinda is. I want everyone to experience this Ooni, and discover the magic of real pizza. I want it so much I made a series of films about my Ooni that have since gone somewhat viral. It’s not just me … everyone loves their Ooni.
Pandemics, they’re the worst, amirite? We’re rounding nearly a year of a “new normal” and while hope is in sight, it’s still pretty far off. As a commercial director and filmmaker, this year has been particularly “interesting” for my career, but with a little innovation, some clever marketing, and a very open mind, I was able to make the best of it, and even, dare I say, thrive, even if not how I expected.
Flashback a year ago and I was just starting to hit a stride in my career. I had been in SHOOT magazines Top 30 New Director’s Showcase, had my first rep, and was directing broadcast spots for Nike, Google and Honda. Finally, I thought, years of hard work and dedication were starting to pay off.
Then someone ate a bat bisque and my life, like everyone’s, was put on hold.
A month in, when everyone stopped calling and all active projects were shelved indefinitely, I realized I had to make some creative moves. The first thing I did was put together a little documentary that I shot with a friend about these funky, rare cookbooks called Italy In Bocca. It was just a passion project, something I could shoot single handedly about a subject I hold dear to my heart (my stomach), and it just made me feel good to make something heartwarming when the world was falling apart; call it the filmmaker’s equivalent to baking bread. I built a simple little website for it, attached the World Foodbank to the project, worked with Atlas Obscura in promoting it, and started doing interviews with celeb chefs that now, like all of us, had time on their hands to talk to random strangers. The project raised some money, helped out some people in need, and ended up bringing in some welcomed attention that ultimately attached itself to some small projects. Little did I realize that this would be the beginning of a new way of filmmaking for me.
Starting with something you are passionate about can bring welcomed attention to new work.
It was clear that everyone was looking for new media, so I started reaching out to brands that I really liked, and creating content just on spec for them; mostly in trade for product or a very (very) small budget. Like most modern filmmakers, I am fortunate enough to be able to do a bit of everything even if not very well. From shooting, to editing, to even some light After Effects, these days it’s easier then ever to have full production capabilities in your living room. I tried being as creative as possible, working with whatever limitations the quarantine brought. For example, for Aegis, a data security company, my friend worked for, I was able to pitch the following idea, using a simple camera trick and remotely directing an actor on his phone, allowing me to safely turn one actor into five.
Shot on a cellphone with me on speakerphone you can easily turn one actor into five.
When I had a handful of these self produced projects completed I launched www.onemanonecamera.com, which was my answer to “contactless content creation”, a search term I saw skyrocketing in Google Analytics. Before long I was getting calls from all types of brands looking to do a wide range of work; from simple instructional videos, to fully budgeted spots. While my goal as a director naturally been to focus solely on bigger and more complex work, I now found myself happily playing all the roles in production, using every asset around me to its fullest, and getting to work with new brands every week.
Recently I just finished doing spots for Dosist, an elevated cannabis company, and Dennis Buys Cars, a crazy, used car salesman. Brand-wise they couldn’t be more different, but because I was able to offer a one person production team and hand-crafted concepts, they were equally eager to have content created for them. I don’t think I would have ever had the opportunity to work with either one of these brands before the pandemic; I don’t even know if they would have been on my radar. Now however I realize the best thing to come out of this whole shut-down has been how it’s opened up my eyes to new possibilities by just putting yourself out there, and sometimes trying to make the worst film possible ends up being your best option.
Good, fast, cheap; pick two doesn’t apply when you are trying to make a bad commercial on purpose.
I know a lot of filmmakers are going through strange times like everyone is. It can be depressing, unmotivating, and devastating economically, which is why I wanted to share my story, and offer three key concepts that not only got me through this time, but have let me further my filmmaking career during this crazy slump.
Taking inventory of what you have to offer is probably the best place to start if you want to see immediate results in creative productivity. For many of us, we were on some sort of path in our career, but when the pandemic hit, the road forward seemed to end abruptly. Taking inventory of what you have available is a way to cut a new path forward. What kind of gear do you have, or can have access to? It doesn’t have to be a RED or Alexa that you are used to shooting with on set, it could be your phone, a GoPro or even VHS. Anything becomes a tool when you use it as such. Do you have access to other professionals or actors now with time on their hands? How about locations? Your living room, a garage, a nearby park. Just taking inventory and making a list will spur creativity.
2. Take Initiative
The second most important thing to do is create. Anything. Use everything at your disposal to make something. For me (because I like to eat) I found it easy to make something about cooking. It was something I knew I could shoot, edit, and distribute without having to rely on anyone else. If there was something I needed to do, like build a website, now was a perfect time to watch some tutorials and put new knowledge into action. Making something you know you can complete with what you have available to you is key in connecting with new clients and more work.
3. Take Chances
One beautiful about the world is falling down all around you is the ease in which you can take big chances. Normally if you are on some career path, you want to make “smart” choices. Work with the “right” brands, do the “right” work, so that you can move forward in a specific direction. For me this was an extremely liberating time, offering the opportunity to take wild chances not just on new brands and clients, but creatively as well. For Ooni Pizza Ovens I did an entire multi-tiered campaign from my kitchen and backyard, cloning multiple versions of myself to create a full cast of characters even, despite being very shy of the camera. Gulp.
It’s been a crazy, crazy year without questions. For me, that resulted in getting crazy with the work. I’ve been told before that if you want people to take you seriously, you need to focus on one direction and master it. It would seem that during this time, the opposite would prove true. Open up your horizons, lend your unique perspective to brands and subjects that you normally wouldn’t have considered. I feel extremely lucky to have made it through this rough time creatively, and done some unique work that opened up new doors to me, and what’s more, connect me with new people, especially when the world is set on keeping us distanced from one another.