You have two films premiering in October—tell us a little about each of them.
A SINGLE FRAME is a documentary premiering at the Austin Film Fest, which is where SIRONIA also premiered. It explores the journey of a father inspired by a photograph of a refugee boy taken during the Kosovo war. He decides to go on a quest to find the boy from the picture, and the film follows him as we meet some amazing characters along the way—like renowned photojournalists, Gary Knight and Ron Haviv. I can’t spoil where it leads, but I hope the doc is found as entertaining as it is thoughtful—a profound journey of the power of photography and the belief that every life matters. VICTOR is premiering at the Heartland Film Festival and tells the true story of Victor Torres—a migrant teen from Puerto Rico forced to survive the ghetto of Brooklyn in 1962. Enslaved by the power of gangs and the addiction of the neighborhood, he must find freedom before he destroys his family and himself.
Not many directors, cross back and forth between fiction and non-fiction filmmaking. What inspires you to do both?
I’m far more Danny Boyle than Wes Anderson in that I love to work on diverse projects with a variety of themes. I think “true” is something that unites all of my work as not only my documentaries, but my narrative films are also inspired by true stories. My commercial and music video work has always been like this as well as I explore a variety of music genres and dance between doc/real people, youth, and comedy. Coming off two features, I'm looking forward to more story driven projects.
How does the feature work influence your commercial projects and vice versa?
I think I carry over that idea of “true” into my commercial work as I’m always looking to explore what is authentic about a brand and bring that to screen. The greatest influence writing + directing feature films has had on my commercial work is the opportunity to work extensively with actors in a way that you don’t get to in spots. Films have definitely enhanced how I work with commercial talent. Technically speaking, there is a lot of cross-pollination between films and spots as I am always bringing something I’ve explored in commercials into the feature space and vice versa.
How did you get your start?
Growing up in Southern California, my family would go to the movies almost every weekend. One October evening in 1979 we saw THE CHAMP. I cried. We went back two weeks later to once again see little Ricky Schroder idolize his boxing father, Jon Voight. I cried again. I asked my dad, “How does it do that?” wondering how one could grasp what drama was coming and yet still be emotionally charged. He explained to me how films worked and the guy at the helm was a director. Amid schoolyard aspirations of being a fireman, dating Olivia Newton-John, and someday owning a Sony Walkman–I declared, “I want to be a film director.” I wanted to be a part of stories so powerful they could make you cry. Twice.
I was deep in music videos when I met Lauren Schwartz who asked if I’d be interested in doing spots. Our first commercial together won a Gold Lion at Cannes. Whenever I’m asked how to break into commercials, I say, “You start out by winning a Gold Lion.” Ha! That was a pretty wild and humble blessing to spark my commercial career.
What’s one of you favorite things about directing?
I love working with talented people, from cast to crew to copywriters to the craft service chef who blows my mind with his Pierogis. I’m passionate about the visuals as I started out shooting all my own work with my wife doing art direction and wardrobe (she now owns her own fashion/lifestyle brand Raven+Lily). But my absolute favorite is working with whoever is in front of the camera—whether a seasoned actor or real people who’ve never had a lens pointed at them. That’s where the magic happens.
You moved from LA and now live near Austin on what you call Green Acres ATX, recently featured on the cover of Austin Magazine. Tell us more about this place you call home.
It is quite a journey that took us from living at Sunset+Vine to Farm-To-Market Road 1704. When we settled in Austin, the only thing we were missing was the retreat spaces outside of LA that we would go to often to get away and unplug. So we bought a piece of land outside of the city, got rid of 80% of our stuff, refurbished a 1955 Spartan Trailer + 1967 Airstream, and bought two miniature donkeys on craigslist for $20 each… delivered! I named them Donkey and Yoti (of La Mancha) and started a blog about the adventure: www.storiesaboutmyass.com. We named the land "Green Acres" as we are city folk bluffing our way through this adventure.
We wanted to share the land and had always loved the times we were able to go “Glamping” so we furnished a YURT and made it available on AirBnb. The response has been pretty overwhelming as a wide variety of folks have enjoyed coming out to unplug. If we were outside of PDX instead of ATX, we’d be ripe for a PORTLANDIA episode mocking “sustainable living” in a “tiny home” embracing “Farm-To-Table-Slow-Food” with our “Glamping Yurt”. At least I traded in my Volvo 240 for a Ford F-150 to fit in with the locals.
What’s your hidden talent?
My family gave me a Ukelele for my birthday, and I have found a knack for mashing-up pop songs with a smooth Hawaiian vibe. The kids have a love/hate relationship with my versions of Shake It Off/Call Me Maybe. Tyson’s Tacos in Austin will give a free taco to anyone who can tune and play a song on their Uke. The kids are both rocking Stairway to Heaven, so we’re giving it a go next week.