With SHOOT’s 2020 New Directors Showcase Reel having just gone live at NDS.SHOOTonline.com, it’s an apropos time to reflect on what prior Showcases have yielded over the prior 17 years.
Suffice it to say that there’s been a slew of alumni who have made indelible marks on the industry, in some cases helping to influence and inspire the next generation of filmmakers. In that mix have been Oscar and Emmy nominations, a Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award win, and other varied accomplishments too numerous to mention.
Consider for example Theodore Melfi, first recognized in the 2004 New Directors Showcase for “Pizza Guys,” a comedy spec spot for MTV which he directed. Melfi has since gone on to establish himself in commercials and in recent years as a feature filmmaker, making his theatrical movie debut at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival with the tug-at-the-heartstrings comedy St. Vincent. His second film, the acclaimed 2016 release Hidden Figures, garnered three Academy Award nominations, including two for director/producer/co-writer Melfi (Best Motion Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay); the third nod went to Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress.
Melfi’s next feature is The Starling with a cast including Melissa McCarthy, Daveed Diggs, Timothy Olyphant and Veronica Falcón.
Melfi is partnered with executive producer Rich Carter in the production company brother, which recently became part of the RadicalMedia family. The brother shop has produced such projects as Daughter, a Melfi-directed short film in Apple’s “Shot on iPhone series.” Lensed by Oscar-nominated (for Joker) DP Lawrence Sher, ASC, Daughter recently won an AICP Next Award in the Web Film Over 15 Seconds category.
Melfi this year also directed, produced and co-wrote the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) short, Perseverance, which heralded the launch of the Mars Rover this past July--with a landing on the Red Planet projected for February 2021. Perseverance provides an inspiring look at NASA’s storied history spanning triumphs, tragedy, ingenuity and resilience.
Meanwhile on the Emmy front, look no farther than Hiro Murai, a 2010 Showcase alum. Murai is a three-time Emmy Award nominee--two of the nods coming for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2017 and 2018 as exec producer on Atlanta, and one also in 2018 for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series on the strength of the “Teddy Perkins” episode of Atlanta. That same episode additionally garnered Murai a DGA Award nomination, which also came in 2018.
In 2010 director Ross Katz won the DGA Award for HBO’s Taking Chance, the same telefilm which earned him inclusion in SHOOT’s 2009 New Directors Showcase. Taking Chance secured three Emmy nominations for Katz in 2009--for writing, directing and Outstanding Made for TV Movie. Katz thus far has five career Emmy noms--the other two being for Outstanding TV Movie as executive producer, on the strength of The Laramie Project in 2002 and My Dinner with Herve in 2019. A two-time Best Picture Oscar nominee (for In the Bedroom and Lost in Translation) as a producer,
Katz recently launched Sui Generis Pictures. Plans call for the new Los Angeles-based venture to be active in feature films, TV and both short- and long-form documentaries.
On rare occasion, a director earns major accolades before gaining inclusion into the Showcase. Ellen Kuras, who first established herself as an acclaimed cinematographer (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and most recently the Spike Lee-directed David Byrne’s American Utopia) made her directorial debut with Nerakhoon (the Lao word for Betrayal), which in 2009 scored Oscar and Independent Spirit Award nominations for best documentary. A year later she garnered her first representation as a commercial director and was selected for SHOOT’s 2010 New Directors Showcase.
Now Kuras is at The Corner Shop for spots and branded content while continuing her work in features and television; on the latter score her recent directorial credits include episodes of Catch-22. Brave New World, the Son, The Umbrella Academy and Ozark.
Kosinski, Terri Timely, Kayiza
Director Joseph Kosinski first showed his commercialmaking acumen with a spec spot titled “iSpec” for Apple. The visually driven piece earned him a slot in SHOOT’s 2005 New Directors Showcase. From there he saw his career as a commercial director pick up momentum at his first roost, Anonymous Content, where he landed thanks to the support of director David Fincher and veteran exec Dave Morrison.
When Fincher and Morrison went on to form production house RESET, Kosinski said it was “a no brainer for me to jump on board. It’s a director-driven company all about the work, producing the highest quality content. It’s been a great partnership for me with so many people on the roster who are bouncing between features, commercials, major TV work. Dave Morrison has never ever complained about me going off to do a feature for a couple of years. It’s a place geared to opening up and accommodating opportunities for filmmakers.”
Those feature pursuits for Kosinski most recently include Top Gun: Maverick, the much anticipated sequel to 1986’s Top Gun. The pandemic has pushed back the scheduled release of Top Gun: Maverick to July 2021.
The film reunited Kosinski with Tom Cruise. The two first worked together on Oblivion, the director’s second feature, which grossed nearly $290 million worldwide. Cruise and Morgan Freeman headlined the cast on that film which continued the director’s box office success, initiated with Tron: Legacy ($400 million globally while also netting an Oscar nomination for sound editing, and a Grammy nod for the score by Daft Punk). Kosinski’s feature filmography also includes such work as Only The Brave, which told the story of firefighters in the wild.
Kosinski has seen his feature filmmaking inform his short-form endeavors, a case in point being “Web of Fries,” a parody movie trailer for a thriller starring Josh Duhamel that promoted Taco Bell’s introduction of its Nacho Fries. Kosinski directed a :90 cinema spot from which shorter versions were crafted for television. This trailer for a movie that doesn’t exist was conceived by a creative team at Deutsch and went on to win numerous honors including a Webby Award in 2019, a Cannes Silver Lion and Best of Show at the AICE Awards (now the AICP Post Awards).
In 2006, a year after Kosinski gained a Showcase slot, so too did the directorial duo Terri Timely (Corey Creasey and Ian Kibbey), now with Park Pictures. Terri Timely has gone onto assorted achievements, including directing Geico’s “Unskippable: Family” breakthrough pre-roll ad which in 2015 garnered The Martin Agency its first ever Cannes Lions Grand Prix honor.
However, one needn’t go back years to find significant achievement for Showcase directors. In 2019, Crystal Kayiza made the Sundance cut in the Documentary Short competition with Edgecombe. And this year she returned to the docu short lineup with See You Next Time. In-between those two tours of Sundance duty, Kayiza saw her Edgecombe earn her a slot in SHOOT’s 2019 New Directors Showcase.
Kayiza is handled in the advertising arena by Little Minx, founder/president Rhea Scott’s longstanding shop that has an affinity for bringing new promising talent to the fore.
Both Edgecombe and See You Next Time reflect Kayiza’s penchant for delving into and shedding light on the human condition.
Edgecombe introduced us to North Carolina’s impoverished rural Edgecombe County, focusing on an African American on probation who works at an Applebee’s restaurant, and expanding with a look at his larger community. In her SHOOT New Directors Showcase profile, Kayiza described Edgecombe as “an intergenerational story about the ways trauma repeats and reinvents itself in rural Black communities.” After its 2019 Sundance screening, Edgecombe won the Gold Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Now See You Next Time uses the beauty industry as a window into the relationship between East Asian and Black women. Through the voice of a nail technician and her client, the film focuses on how women from these communities overtly and covertly bring their experiences with race and foreignness into this self-care routine.
The film presents an intimate portrait of Fancy Nail and Spa in Brooklyn, NY, a serene getaway for the neighborhood’s predominantly Black residents. It is here that we meet nail tech Judy, a Fujianese immigrant, and Arrianna, a Direct Care counselor and Judy’s loyal client. Expressed as a dialogue between two seemingly familiar women of color, the film is an inquiry into what is gained, and lost, from intimacy without context. At its core, See You Next Time is a story about how two women see each other and themselves in a space unlike anything else in their world. And through Judy and Arrianna’s own words, much is revealed about the way they connect across the nail salon table.
Helping Kayiza shape the concept for the story was her colleague and friend, the film’s producer Cady Lang, a writer about culture for TIME Magazine.
Kayiza also brought cinematographer Leroy Farrell on board to lens See You Next Time. His filmography includes branded content for the likes of RocNation, Google, Under Armour, Disney and PBS. He recently wrapped his first feature-length documentary exploring and investigating the impact of anti-trans policies on the lives of transgender Americans.
Kayiza and Farrell teamed to bring a cinematic dynamic to See You Next Time, underscoring what the director described as the nonfiction space having the potential to be enhanced by narrative fiction feature aesthetic sensibilities.
“The lesson learned is that there are no limitations to your voice as a storyteller,” observed Kayiza, noting that while she’s identified as a documentarian, her wings can spread into the fiction narrative discipline, a diversification she’s exploring through her commercialmaking/branded content production house affiliation, Little Minx, under the aegis of industry vet Scott.
“The nonfiction space is where my passions started and evolved,” related Kayiza. “But there are other spaces and possibilities. I’m learning about the pitching process from Rhea, expanding my understanding of what the commercialmaking space looks like. In this coming year, I’d like to expand into the scripted content area. Even my recent documentary work is in that gray space, somewhere within whatever the separation is between nonfiction and narrative.”