While he continues to deliver his self-described signature brand of “smartly stupid comedy”--reflected as of late in a Rocket Mortgage Super Bowl commercial in which movie star Jason Momoa’s physique proves to be a facade--director David Shane of production house O Positive has managed to diversify well beyond such fare with dramatically poignant storytelling, at times abetted by a tinge of wry humor, sometimes sans it altogether.
Just juxtapose Rocket Mortgage’s Big Game spot “Comfortable” with Shane’s recent Xmas-themed public service short, “Naughty or...,” for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) out of Wieden+Kennedy New York. In the piece, a reflective Santa Claus sits on a home’s snow-covered rooftop, regretting the “naughty or nice” standard he’s perennially employed for assessing children’s behavior in order to determine whether they are gift-worthy or not. Today’s kids, after all, have so much to cope with given the news, the lockdown drills at school, bullying on the internet and so forth that the standby “naughty or nice” no longer applies, needing to give way, conjectures Santa, to “nervous or nice,” “hurting or nice,” “I’m angry and I don’t know why--or nice,” or even “uncomfortable in my own skin or nice.” Kids need to be kids, observed Santa, adding, “Show me a fully formed person and I’ll show you a once difficult child.” St. Nick’s revised thinking segues to a NAMI slogan veering away from judgmental to instead caring about youngster’s emotional health: “Look for signs, not labels.”
This 180-degree turn from the Super Bowl ad in which Momoa (Aquaman, Game of Thrones) arrives home, gets comfortable and let’s his hair down--actually removes it from his head, after having shed arm muscles and his six-pack abs to reveal a balding, somewhat puny lap guitar player--isn’t a career fluke for Shane. The same dichotomy was evident in the similarly high profile work which earned him a DGA Award nomination last year for commercial direction--the two entries being Babbel’s “An Alien Abroad’ from Wieden+Kennedy London, and the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund PSA “Daughter and Mother” out of BBDO New York.
The former deploys delightful comedy, introducing us to an otherworldly creature who embodies the universal feeling of alienation when you are in a different country (or universe) and unable to speak the native language. But language app Babbel gives our interplanetary protagonist the tools needed to converse and connect with others, turning him from feeling alien to being more at home.
In sharp contrast, the DGA-recognized Cure Alzheimer Fund ad centers on a girl serving as caregiver for her youthful mom. The stress on the youngster is palpable. At one point, the girl frantically searches for her mom who is missing from the house. The pursuit leads the youngster outside in the pouring rain where she finally finds her mom standing in the middle of the street. Then, there is a transformation as the young girl becomes a young woman and her confused, out-of-touch mom is now elderly. Supered messages appear on screen which read: “You wouldn’t put your daughter through this when she’s young”; “Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen when she’s older.”
In an industry where pigeonholing is prevalent, Shane has somehow managed to turn out work that runs the gamut, from charmingly silly to the profound. The director said he’s been fortunate to land this range of opportunities, noting that some early work from Europe, where at least at one time there was less of a tendency to get pigeonholed, allowed him to stretch his creative wings a bit beyond comedy. He also credited shops in the states like Wieden+Kennedy and BBDO with entrusting him with a serious, dramatic turn or two while also looking to him for comic relief.
“I’m deeply interested in both writing and telling stories that are emotional and affecting,” related Shane. “I still love doing comedy but I’ve always had an affection for more serious pieces. And the two aren’t far removed from each other. There’s a lot of shared DNA between comedy and drama.”
Helping equip him to take on an assignment--whether comedy, drama or a mix thereof--is if it triggers a passion from within for him as a filmmaker. That certainly was the case, for example, with NAMI’s “Naughty or...,” which he said was brilliantly written. “I myself was a super disruptive class clown kind of a kid,” shared Shane. “The concept definitely felt to me like people would relate to it. It’s a job I very much wanted to do.”
Similarly even the most outlandish comedy needs to have some rationale behind it, something relatable, to make it meaningful in the ad marketplace. The Super Sunday spot starring Momoa was all about his feeling that home was his sanctuary, the one place he could be who he truly is--and Rocket Mortgage helped him get the house where he could feel just that. Thus there was a method to the madness of seeing Momoa transform from a hunk to the proverbial milquetoast--so much so that in the end scene, Momoa’s real-life wife, actress Lisa Bonet, appears as a personal trainer having to help him lift a barbell without any weights on it.
Perhaps Shane’s strong sense of strategic ad relevance comes from his early industry days when he started out as an agency creative, initially at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York and later at the agency’s London office. He then moved to L.A. upon selling a screenplay (which he originally intended as a novel). But Shane returned to the ad fray when a former creative director colleague asked him to punch up jokes in a script. Shane recalled that the director was fired from that job “and I literally was just the idiot standing next to him in the room.” That proximity got him the directorial gig which “turned out okay,” he said, “and allowed me to do weirder things.”
That unlikely birth of a directing career eventually led to Shane joining the Hungry Man roster where he struck up a rapport with director Jim Jenkins who also had an agency creative pedigree. “We became fans of one another’s work,” said Shane. “We’d sit around, go to lunch and help each other out, look at each other’s scripts, throw ideas around.”
Jenkins went on to partner in the launch of O Positive. Shane was drawn to reuniting with Jenkins to pick up where they had left off at Hungry Man, helping each other out. “We made that the ethos at O Positive. Filmmaking is a very collaborative thing. We created this little collective of smart people, directors helping each other, making each other better. We’re not interested in world domination. We just want to make interesting things.”
Shane is committed to keeping things interesting. He’s taking a class at NYU’s Tisch Arts grad school getting instruction on writing plays, one of which has been discussed as being the basis for a movie. He also has a TV pilot in the offing for 3 Arts Entertainment with a cast including Rebecca Henderson (Russian Doll), comedian Rory Scovel, and Bonet whom he met on the Rocket Mortgage spot. And like his recently cited ad endeavors, the pending TV series is a mix of genres, described by Shane as being “a dramedy.”