- LOS ANGELES
Director Daniel Stessen, the creator of Adult Swim’s dark comedy Dream Corp LLC, has entered the advertising arena by joining Miniac, the L.A. and New York-based creative production company under the aegis of director John Pina and executive producer Stephen Roesler. The signing marks Stessen’s first formal representation agreement with a commercial production company. Stessen has already wrapped his first official job since becoming a rostered director at Miniac--“The Liquid Death Recycled Plastic Surgery Center,” a spot which broke this week and was produced for the Liquid Death canned water brand’s in-house agency.
The “Recycled Plastic Surgery Center” is framed as a TV infomercial, with comedienne Whitney Cummings cast as head of a medical facility which not only exposes the myth of plastic bottles being recyclable, but shows what happens when plastic gets used as the filler for ghastly examples of cosmetic surgery.
The tongue-in-cheek piece marks a reunion of sorts for Stessen, Miniac and Liquid Death. Back when he was directing independently, Stessen dovetailed informally with Miniac for the production of Liquid Death’s “Hoop Head,” a commercial which debuted in March. The spot features Houston Rockets star Jalen Green showing of his skills with the Liquid Death “Hoop Head” basketball, which looks, not surprisingly, like a severed head, since Liquid Death bills itself as being able to “murder your thirst.”
Stessen clicked with the Liquid Death clients thanks to his work as a show creator and screenwriter, according to Miniac’s Roesler who said, “On both spots, the clients asked Daniel to help ‘plus’ the creative, so he worked with the brand to develop and write both spots.”
Miniac and director Stessen's collaborative relationship goes back to last year when they first teamed informally on a PSA produced for Better DAO, an environmentally focused crypto initiative created by Ben Becker, a freelance agency creative director. The resulting spot, “A Climate Change Warning,” used AI technology to show Elon Musk musing about the future on the surface of Mars, circa 2099.
Born and raised in Upstate New York, Stessen graduated from Syracuse University, then went on to study at the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Center. Shortly after, he wrote and directed Fringe Festival plays in New York and Edinburgh, Scotland.
When he arrived in L.A., Stessen first worked as an editor for music videos and sketch comedies. He went on to direct and edit The Farewells, a short documentary featuring the cast members of The Office, to commemorate its final episode. The project earned him an Emmy nomination in 2013 for Outstanding Special Class--Short-Format Nonfiction Programs. That same year, his animated short, The Gold Sparrow, became a festival darling, being nominated for the Grand Jury Award at SXSW.
Shortly after, Stephen Merchant, co-creator of the original U.K. version of The Office, and John Krasinski, star of the American version, teamed up with Stessen to executive produce his one-of-a-kind live action/animation hybrid, Dream Corp LLC, tapping Stessen as showrunner. Dream Corp LLC ran for three seasons on Adult Swim and is currently streaming on Hulu.
“We’ve known Daniel for many years, always admired his creative mind from afar and closely followed the success he had at Adult Swim,” said Roesler. “We believe he’s a great representation of how we define a Miniac--an often restless individual who uses unorthodox creative and innovative methods to reveal new possibilities.”
“We’ve always wanted to produce more comedy,” explained Pina. “Our plan was to mount this effort with a director we had a longstanding relationship with and whose work and sense of humor we wholeheartedly believed in, and that’s Daniel. We share similar philosophies and laugh at the same things. It’s a perfect match.”
Stessen said, “There are two types of people making branded content--vampires and werewolves. These dudes at Miniac are werewolves. When ‘Dream Corp’ ended and branded opportunities started being offered, I chose to sign with Miniac because it’s director owned and operated. Our business needs more people in decision making roles who actually make art. It was important to me to join a team that has both taste and integrity, a team who thinks differently and actually cares about craftsmanship. They’re wolves I tell ya, wolves.”
Roesler shared, “Daniel adds a new flavor to Miniac. We like that he has a background in TV as a co-writer on his Adult Swim show, which is something we’re excited to share with our clients. Daniel writes and develops creative concepts and then carries them through scripting and directing. He is proficient in every part of the creative process.”
For Stessen, the key to making something memorable lies in the idea. “No matter if it’s live action or animation, it all starts with the script,” he noted. “Then it’s the actors who bring that script to life. I love working with actors--I have since theater school. I’m quite passionate about discovering the character and the tone with the actor, especially through improv.
“My goal at Miniac is to work with more brands like Liquid Death, brands that trust their creative instincts and who buck the status quo.” Stessen continued. “It’s a weird time to be alive--art and advertising should reflect that.”