- Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2017
- LOS ANGELES
Dax Shepard--whose body of work as a director spans features (Brother’s Justice, Hit and Run, the recently released CHiPs) and TV (episodes of Parenthood and About A Boy)--has extended his filmmaking reach, landing his first career representation for commercials and branded content, joining brother, the production house headed by director/producer/writer Ted Melfi and executive producer Rich Carter. Via brother, Shepard has already made his spot directorial debut, having just wrapped a campaign for IBM out of Ogilvy New York. The IBM commercials are slated to break in the coming weeks.
Known for his comedic touch, writing (CHiPs, Brother’s Justice, Hit and Run) and acting chops (with notable roles in TV’s Parenthood, About A Boy, Web Therapy, Parks and Recreation, as well as such features as Idiocracy, CHiPs, Boss, and This Is Where I Leave You), Shepard has long had commerciamaking aspirations, initially becoming comfortable in short format fare with comedy improvisation/writing/performing troupe The Groundlings. His many endeavors there included directing shorts that ran on video monitors in the Groundling Theatre between live sketch performances. Shepard later became more involved in mainstream commercials, writing and appearing in a notable series of Samsung appliance spots with his wife, actress Kristen Bell--directed by Tucker Gates for agency McKinney in Durham, NC.
Though he harbored commercial directing ambitions, Shepard hadn’t gotten around to breaking into the ad arena in that capacity due to his heavy workload in TV and features. Ultimately, though, a feature acting gig in the dark comedy El Camino Christmas, which is slated for release this Xmas season, led him to securing spot/branded content representation. El Camino Christmas (Netflix) marks brother’s first feature, with Melfi as writer/producer and Carter as EP. Going into the film, Shepard had become familiar with Melfi through word of mouth and exposure to his work. At one point, Shepard was in line to direct the remake of Going in Style, written by Melfi. “His script was incredibly good with a great tone and sense of humor, a great story. I very much admired him from the outside as a fellow writer,” said Shepard who wound up being diverted from Going in Style when he took on the writing and directing of CHiPs. Still, Shepard remained interested in one day working with Melfi who himself had diversified beyond his initial roots as commercial director to enjoy great success as a feature filmmaker, writing, directing and serving as a producer on St. Vincent and then Hidden Figures, the latter earning him a pair of Oscar nominations--for Best Adapted Screenplay (in tandem with Allison Schroeder) and Best Picture.
El Camino Christmas--directed by Dave Talbert, with a cast that includes Tim Allen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Luke Grimes, Kimberly Quinn and Jimmy O. Yang--gave Shepard the opportunity to get to know Melfi and Carter first hand, developing a rapport with them as well as a sense of how brother produces and does business. “Ted asked me if I had any interest in directing commercials and within two weeks I was on a conference call to discuss the IBM spots,” related Shepard who went on to cite the support he received from Melfi and the brother team. “I had never written a treatment for a commercial, never pitched casting choices. I had done all this on a feature studio level but never to an agency or client. I benefited from Ted’s guidance throughout the process. I made a treatment that the agency and client liked, reflecting the desired comedic tone and I was awarded the job.”
Carter noted that it’s in brother’s DNA to help careers progress, with cross-pollination between commercials and features a staple of the company. Shepard first worked as an actor in a feature with brother, and then segued into commercial directing. Down the road, perhaps Shepard could direct a feature or TV property via brother, conjectured Carter. “That’s the intent of the company in a broad sense--to create a variety of opportunities for its talent.”
Shepard joins a brother roster which includes filmmakers whose work encompasses spots and theatrical movies, a prime example being Moorhead & Benson. The directorial duo consisting of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson turned out the feature The Endless, a thriller/drama/suspense genre hybrid, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. This marked Moorhead & Benson’s second run at Tribeca, the first coming for their horror/mystery feature Resolution in 2012. Bookended between those two Tribeca premieres was the directors’ Spring, an unconventional romance picture which screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Moorhead & Benson diversified into commercialmaking via brother, the most notable credit being a quirky comedy spot for Olympus Cameras out of Boston agency The Fantastical.
Also part of brother’s spot directorial lineup are Melfi (who got his start in commercials and remains active in the ad arena), Ben Falcone, James Foley, Shana Feste, Giovanni Messner and Tim Story. Established in spots and branded content, Messner is looking to enter the feature world, with Carter exploring various opportunities for him. Among Foley’s many credits are the features 50 Shades Darker and Glengarry Glen Ross as well as TV exploits spanning multiple episodes of Netflix’s House of Cards and Showtime’s Billions. Feste’s filmography as a writer/director includes The Greatest, which earned her a Humanitas Prize nomination, Country Strong and Endless Love. Falcone’s latest feature is the upcoming Life of the Party starring Melissa McCarthy. And Story has to his credit such features as Barbershop, Fantastic 4, and Ride Along.