At an early age Martin de Thurah studied acting and painting as he tried to find his way in the arts. He wound up on a path which led to National Film School in his native Denmark, eventually finding his calling as a director.
In 2005, de Thurah made his first directorial splash in music videos. Over just a year’s span the director’s clip-making exploits progressed from a local Danish band to varied international acts. Next came acclaimed short film fare, including most notably Young Man Falling which was selected for Critics’ Week at Cannes in 2007.
Later de Thurah diversified into commercials, a success story punctuated by a pair of DGA Award wins—in 2014 and last month—as spot director of the year. The latest DGA Award came on the strength of StubHub’s “Festival” and “Machines” for Goodby Silverstein & Partners; and WealthSimple’s “Mad World” from WealthSimple’s in-house agency—all produced by Epoch Films, de Thurah’s commercialmaking/branded content home in the U.S. for the past seven years and counting.
De Thurah credited Goodby Silverstein creatives with letting him “run with the ball,” particularly on “Machines” which started with the basic premise of machines going beyond controlling other machines to exerting their will over humans. The director took that storyline to an ambitious visual level carrying higher stakes, depicting the rise of artificial intelligence and its inevitable chaotic turn on humanity. As the machines take over the world, our lead human character, who is about to meet his demise, laments about never seeing and hearing Sia live in concert. It’s a profound regret that makes an offbeat case for getting out and experiencing life, making sure to pick up those tickets at StubHub to attend worthwhile, memorable events.
For de Thurah, the biggest creative challenge posed by “Machines” was building to the delightfully absurd punchline with a story that the viewer would believe and “buy into.” This suspension of disbelief is deftly attained, all the more remarkable with his apocalyptic vision realized over just two-and-a-half days of shooting. He credited his long-time collaborator, DP Kasper Tuxen, for his contributions to the StubHub work.
De Thurah topped a field of DGA nominees this year which also consisted of Alma Har’el of Epoch Films; Miles Jay of Smuggler; the directorial duo of Hoffman/Metoyer (Will Hoffman and Julius Metoyer) from MJZ; and Isaiah Seret of Biscuit Filmworks.
Environment at Epoch
Epoch having two nominees wasn’t lost on de Thurah who was asked about the company’s role in supporting and fostering the growth of its directors. He observed that Epoch is “a mid-range, medium-sized company” with a boutique feel, a far cry from the “big factory” feel of some other houses. The working environment at Epoch is extremely supportive in terms of production as well as career development. “Everybody likes and respects each other, like a family.” He cited the strong role played in creating a collaborative camaraderie by such company professionals as managing executive producer Melissa Culligan.
That family feel was also evident in de Thurah’s acceptance remarks at the DGA Awards ceremony. He not only thanked Epoch and his support team—which included first assistant director Charles Connor on the two StubHub commercials, and first assistant director Jey Wada and second AD Custis Smith on WealthSimple—but also gave a shout-out to Har’el, sharing that he thought she was going to win the award based on her high-caliber work. He also pointed to her efforts to open up opportunities for women directors, a reference to the Free The Bid program she launched a little more than a year ago. The non-profit initiative, which has picked up widespread industry momentum, asks ad agencies to include a female filmmaker on every triple-bid project, production companies to sign more woman directors, and marketers to seek one woman’s bid on each of their commercial productions. Free The Bid has also expanded to include women DPs and editors.
“Alma has been a friend for many years,” related de Thurah who praised her for what she’s done for others in the industry.
De Thurah described the DGA Award as “a very prestigious prize” because it is judged by and represents recognition from “your peers.” De Thurah first won the DGA Award in 2014 for two spots he directed in 2013: Hennessy’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Slow Down” for Droga5, NY, and Acura MDX 2014’s “Human Race” for Mullen L.A.
While continuing his commercialmaking pursuits, de Thurah is also prepping his first feature film with the second draft of a script currently being crafted. He hopes to commence shooting down the road either later this year or in 2019.