Spot Directors Reflect On Their DGA Award Nominations
Director David Shane of O Positive Films
Insights from MJZ's Fredrik Bond and Steve Ayson, O Positive's David Shane
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This year’s field of DGA Award nominees for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials for 2018 consists of a two-time past winner, a helmer with eight career nominations, another with three noms--two for commercials, the other for a feature--a director with a pair of career spot nods, and a first-time nominee.

Martin de Thurah of Epoch Films won the DGA Award for commercials in 2014 and ‘18. 

Fredrik Bond of MJZ has eight career nominations.

Spike Jonze of MJZ has two spot nominations and a feature nod--for Being John Malkovich in 1999.

Steve Ayson of MJZ just garnered his second DGA commercialmaking nomination.

And David Shane of O Positive is a first-time Guild nominee.

The latter breaks into the DGA nominees’ circle with Babbel’s “An Alien Abroad” out of Wieden+Kennedy London, and the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund PSA “Daughter and Mother” from BBDO New York.

“An Alien Abroad” shows us an otherworldly creature who feels like an outsider because he doesn’t speak the predominant language--which Babbel can rectify. Yet while this piece contains comedic sensibilities for which Shane is known, “Daughter and Mother” is dramatically different, introducing us to a young 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.”

As for why he selected these two entries for DGA consideration, Shane explained, “I just have a lot of affection for the Babbel ad. We worked hard to make it as dimensional and layered and honest as possible, tried to give it a little of the pathos and sweetness of some of my favorite silent movie comedies.”

Regarding “Daughter and Mother,” Shane said he “signed on to do the Alzheimer’s PSA for the same reason everyone did-- from (BBDO worldwide chief creative officer) David Lubars on--we’ve all been touched by that disease; that’s what makes it so insidious.”   

The subject matter was inherently emotional for all involved. “Honestly, the hardest thing was keeping our shit together on the set,” recalled Shane. “So many crew members have been touched by this fucking killer disease in one way or another and the two actors, Amy Davidson (the mom) and young Echo Campbell were so wonderful, and so emotionally present, that people were often bursting into tears. It was a rough couple of days and only got worse in the editing room as we were putting it together.”

Meanwhile the nature of the challenge posed by “An Alien Abroad” was logistical and international. Shane shared, “Shooting in Ljubljana in the dead of winter and trying to make it look like a southern European village in the middle of summer was tricky and deeply idiotic. But the hardest part was that, kind of by necessity, we had to use a truly international cast -- Brits, Germans, Spanish, Italians and Slovenians, most of whom didn’t understand each other. I know. For a language app. And since the key to acting is pretty much listening it wasn’t ideal. We always had two or three people simultaneously translating.  But the biggest thing was inventing a language for the alien that felt both convincingly otherworldly and also weirdly familiar phonetically.  And for that, most, if not all of the credit goes to our amazing lead Edward Harrison.”

Asked about key contributors to the success of these two entries, Shane assessed, “Filmmaking is so fully a collaborative art form that it’s ridiculous to try to single out a couple of key contributors because a director relies on so many amazing people to look good.  But I’d probably have to say the dope special effects artists at Millenium on Babbel.  It was super important to me to make sure the actor could use his own eyes and mouth so as to not rob him of his ability to emote and they managed to find the humanity in that giant insect.  And I should really give props to our DP on Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, Marc Laliberte, who shot such beautiful evocative film.  But really, kind of everybody consistently elevated my dumb ideas.”

Fredrik Bond
Bond’s latest nomination is for Virgin TV’s “Harmony” from BBH, BT Sport’s “Take Them All On” out of AMV BBDO in London, and’s “The Big Win” for Karmarama.

Featuring dancers dressed up as characters from hit TV shows like The Walking Dead and Orange is the New Black, as well as animated characters from the series Paw Patrol, Virgin TV’s “Harmony” spot is set to the infectious music Missy Elliott’s ‘We Run This’ as they perform slick choreography on giant, LED-lit stages.

“Take Them All On” follows a young girl, Charlotte,  as she imagines taking on countless athletes including England and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli, England and Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard, Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale, England and Man City Captain Steph Houghton, Scotland and Celtic defender Kieran Tierney, recently-retired Cardiff Blue’s, Wales and British and Irish Lion’s Captain Sam Warburton, WTA tennis star Johanna Konta, MotoGP rider Cal Crutchlow and UFC’s Darren Till.

And in "The Big Win," James Corden and his sidekick hit Las Vegas only to have their ride continually falter, leaving them prey to a Nevada mechanic. Their stack of cash is depleted by each dubious repair. It defies logic as does Corden’s win streak gambling.

The rationale being selecting these three entries for DGA judges was the range of work they represented: the technical wherewithal of “Harmony” including deploying projection and choreography to attain the desired effect; the soulful human feel to “Take Them All On”; and the comedy touch evident in “The Big Win.”

Each entry had its challenges. For example, child labor regs restricted the available shooting time with the girl in “Take Them All On.” Bond related, “It became all about finding the girl who could almost deliver regularly on the first take. We cast until we were blue in our faces before finding the right one.”

There were also shooting time concerns with the athletes involved who too had limited availability due to demanding schedules. Still, scheduling and other challenges posed by the work were met by Bond and his collaborators. The director stressed that creatives, crew members and good clients are essential to bringing good ideas to fruition--and making DGA nominations possible. On the agency side, bond has worked over the years with AMV BBDO and BBH. As for Karmarama, its chief creative officer Nik Studzinski “goes way back to some of my first commercials,” said Bond.” One of those initial endeavors was Monster fare back when Studzinski was with Droga5.

Reflecting on his eighth career DGA nod, Bond said each time it “feels better and better.”  He was previously nominated in 2016 for “Dive” (Apple) and “World of Play” (LG); in 2013 for “Voyage” (Heineken) and “From the Future” (Johnny Walker); in 2012 for “Surfer” (Puma) and “Eternal Optimism” (Budweiser); in 2011 for “Date” and “The Entrance” (Heineken); in 2008 for “First Time” (Levi’s), “Fridge Magnet” (Guinness) and “Space” (Carling); in 2007 for “Aviator” (JCPenney) and “Straw” (Milk); and in 2004 for “Cherry and Jelly Fish” (Three) and “The Other Game” (Nike-Euro).

Bond’s sense of DGA deja vu extends beyond his multiple nominations over the years. He once again is part of a field of nominees that has at least a couple of MJZ directors seemingly year in and year out. This time around, he’s one of three MJZ filmmakers on the DGA honor roll--the others being Ayson and Jonze.

Bond said that MJZ’s DGA track record is “a testament to David (MJZ president Zander). He keeps saying ‘we’re like a football team.’ He is so focused on building a company with people who are dedicated to and love the work. The DGA nominations year after year are a reflection of that.”

Steve Ayson
Ayson’s second career DGA nomination comes on the strength of two entries: a client-direct Dollar Shave Club film titled “Getting Ready”; and Speight’s “The Dance” out of DDB New Zealand.

“Getting Ready” depicts the embarrassing and sometimes painful things guys do in the privacy of their bathrooms, all unfolding to singer Steve Lawrence’s rendition of “I’ve Gotta Be Me.”

“The Dance,” meanwhile, isn’t your typical beer ad. It’s centered on two chaps who are brought closer together by ballroom dancing and a good brew.

Asked why he submitted these particular two films into the DGA competition, Ayson related, “In the end, we felt it represented my best craft. At the same time these two spots got the biggest reactions publicly.”

Relative to “The Dance,” Ayson said, “Teaching people who don’t dance to dance was a challenge. But beyond that it was an overall tonal awareness to be conscious not to make the idea of two men dancing in any way associated with dated homophobic values. Handled badly this story could have played into the ‘oh were heterosexual men touching each other!’ gag, but that concept is so dated and the opposite of where any of us wanted to go (agency and client included). We wanted to depict hard working men, who love sports and statistics and think they know stuff about everything, to suddenly be into dancing in the same way they would analyze or obsess about a football match--simple as that.

“So I played the very first moment, when they take each others hands as the only moment of discomfort in that area....but I built the discomfort off the idea of imagining anyone at your workplace, and then imagine dancing with them after hours, man or woman--you’re going to feel odd about that first moment when you touch.

“I think the casting loads that moment beautifully too, the foreman--a burly quite serious man who is the boss, has agreed to help teach the young scrawny guy from the workshop how to dance,” continued Ayson. “That first look he gives the young guy I love, it’s like ‘Look, I would rather be home watching TV, but lets get this over with’...all in one look.

“Then they’re away, and it’s about a man’s obsession with getting it right after that. It’s also about a man’s commitment to his wife to be. In a way it’s a love story. We talked about this, how this character knows his wife loves to dance, and his commitment to learn to dance is essentially an expression of how much he loves her. And the commitment of his workmates to help him shows the value of true friends.”

The challenge of “Getting Ready” was quite different. “Usually shooting in a bathroom,” said Ayson, “is the least inspiring place to be! So how do we make 23 different bathrooms entertaining and believable? First for me is the casting. I was aware early that if we’re not pointing the camera at a genuine, unique or interesting face then we’re dead in the water. This job was direct through client, same way Apple and Spotify work, with in house creative. Michael Dubin the owner and creator of DSC (Dollar Shave Club) works very hands on, and what sold me is he and the creative team were absolutely up for casting real people, so that the end result felt non-commercial. If this idea had typical commercial style faces it would not have worked. It had to have an off the street authenticity.

“Beyond that the challenge was visual--how to construct realistic bathroom sets, but with their own character, and light them authentically,” continued Ayson. “We approached each set with different levels of deconstruction--some were just a window hanging in limbo next to a sink and mirror. The idea to spotlight a vast space of bathroom sets is a wonderful visual. In the wides we see the spotlights come on and off, to instigate a study of that particular set. But if we lit the cast and bathrooms with a spotlight they’d look horrific, like shaving in the light of police helicopter.

“So the challenge for DP Greig Fraser was to create very real and authentic lighting in each set we filmed in. I do remember saying to him on the last day, ‘So Mr Fraser, how will you impress us with your lighting on this the 20th bathroom?’”

Ayson has a deeper appreciation for the DGA Awards this time around, as compared to when he received his first nomination in 2012 for “Beer Chase”  (Carlton Draught) and “Let Me Go” (The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas). “The first time I was nominated I had just moved to America from New Zealand and wasn’t aware of the honor it was to be nominated. Up until I attended the event I remember thinking ‘Oh that’s nice, I guess it’s just a little union thing’ I’m well aware that it’s a very important and exciting acknowledgment of the work I’m making.”

Jonze, de Thurah
Nominees Jonze and de Thurah were unavailable for comment at press time. Epoch Films’ de Thurah is nominated for Audi’s “Final Breath” from Venables Bell & Partners, Chase’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” via Droga5, and Macy’s “Space Station” out of BBDO NY.

This is de Thurah’s third career DGA nomination. He won the DGA Award the first two times--in 2013 for “The Man Who Couldn’t Slow Down” (Hennessy VS) and “Human Race” (Acura MDX 2014); and in 2017 for “Festival” and “Machines” (StubHub), and “Mad World” (WealthSimple).

Jonze’s most recent DGA nod is for Apple Homepod’s “Welcome Home” out of TBWA\Media Arts Lab. He was first nominated in the commercials category in 2006 for “Hello Tomorrow” (adidas), “Penguin” (Miller Beer) and “Pardon Our Dust” (Gap). His other prior DGA nom was in the features category for Being John Malkovich in 1999.


Client Cure Alzheimer’s Fund Agency BBDO New York, David Lubars, chairman, chief creative officer, worldwide; Greg Hahn, chief creative officer, NY; Mike Smith, executive creative director; Matthew Brink, Adam Livesey, sr. creative directors; David Rolfe, head of integrated production; Amy Wertheimer, Diane McCann, executive producers; Melissa Chester, music producer; Crystal Rix, chief strategy officer. Production O Positive David Shane, director; Ralph Laucella, exec producer; Marc Grill, exec producer/producer; Mark Laliberte-Else, DP. Editorial No6 Jason MacDonald, editor; Corina Dennison, exec producer; Malia Rose, producer. Conform/Finish No7 Ed Skupeen, conform artist. Audio Post Heard City Evan Mangiamele, engineer; Sasha Awn, producer.


Client Chase Bank Agency Droga5 NY David Droga, creative chairman; Neil Heymann, chief creative officer; Lauren Costa, group creative director; Jake Shaw, Ash Tavassoli, creative directors; Nedal Ahmed, sr. copywriter; Julia Melograna, sr. art director; Jason Severs, chief design officer; Anna Fine, design director; Andrew Diemer, Kelsey Lynch, designer; Sally-Ann Dale, chief creation officer. Production Epoch Martin de Thurah, director; Monika Lenczewska, DP; Melissa Culligan, exec producer; Leah Allina, line producer. Editorial Exile NY Shane Reid, editor; Sasha Hirschfeld, exec producer; Evyn Bruce, head of production; Cutler Gray, assistant editor; Lauren Pullano, Dale Nicholls, producers. Postproduction Method Randie Swanberg, Flame lead/CD; Sofie Borup, colorist; Angela Lupo, Adrienne Mitchell, exec producers; Tsiliana Jolson, sr. supervising producer; Camera Edwards, VFX coordinator; Suzanne Dyer, Chris Hunt, Ed Lopez, Glen Bennett, Flame artists; David Piombino, 2D comp supervisor; Scott Minter, 2D/Nuke compositor. Music LL Cool J, Song: “Mama Said Knock You Out” Sound Q Department, NY re-orchestration & remastering; sound design. Audio Post Digital Arts NY Josh Heilbronner, mixer. Graphics Production Second Child Lisa Bishai, quality control manager; Virginia Vargas, graphics studio manager; Nereida Valles, graphics studio coordinator; Joseph Barrile, production artist.


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