You have the idea. Now, you need to execute it. As part of Adweek's Creative 100, we've picked 10 commercial directors who are at their top of game in the skillful crafting of spots—everything from comedies to dramas to documentaries. All the directors below bring their own singular creative vision to projects, often elevating them to new heights. And all were indispensible partners in some great ads from the past few years.
Lauren Greenfield, Chelsea Pictures
Lauren Greenfield wasn't expecting her 2014 empowerment film "Like A Girl," created with Leo Burnett for Procter & Gamble's Always, to be quite as big as it was. "I could not have dreamed we would reach this kind of audience," she says. With some 90 million online views worldwide, plus a Super Bowl airing, that's not hard to believe. But for Greenfield, the reach of the film wasn't even the best part. "The fact that people responded not just by watching, but by literally changing the meaning of those words in our culture, made the directing of 'Like a Girl' a peak personal and creative experience," she says.
Those are significant words—Greenfield is the documentarian responsible for films such as 2012's Sundance winner The Queen of Versailles, and the photographer behind books including 2002's Girl Culture, a gritty, critically acclaimed close look at femininity in contemporary America.
"Instead of 'casting,' I designed a survey in which we videotaped hundreds of girls and boys, men and women," she says of the "Like a Girl" process. "We didn't tell the subjects what the survey was for, or that we were making a branded content video, so it could be a truly blind experiment with valid results. When we brought our subjects in for the shoot day, which they thought was for market research, I was able to delve deeply in my first face-to-face meeting with them, and their reactions moved us all to tears. The part I love most in the documentary process is capturing the unexpected. There isn't always an appetite for that in the commercial production process, but when it happens, it can be magical."
With her Always sequel "Unstoppable" (wherein girls put a beat-down on cardboard boxes that symbolize stifling gender stereotypes) as well as new spots for Toyota and Hallmark packing a reel that also includes work for Chevrolet, Delta, Gatorade and Liberty Mutual, it's clear Greenfield is a mighty creative force.
Andreas Nilsson, Biscuit Filmworks
Nilsson captured Jean-Claude Van Damme's impossibly serene 2013 split between two moving Volvo trucks, via Forsman & Bodenfors, which is probably one of the most hypnotizing moments in the history of advertising. Since then, he's crafted a stunning alternate vision of The Wizard of Oz, as imagined by a blind 7-year-old, for Comcast via Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, inverted GE's world for BBDO, and made a bunch of dudes shimmer in gold for Southern Comfort and Wieden + Kennedy.
Yet this master of the surreal draws his inspiration from the very real world. "Reality beats fiction all the time," he says. "Like my friend, a retired factory worker who has created a Barbie landscape out of his villa in suburban Sweden. Or my grandad, whose testicle got stuck in the sauna. Or my uncle, the weed dealer who came back from a year in India and refused to wear shoes for five winters straight. Or my brother, who got his foot stuck in a public toilet and the fire brigade had to rescue him. All these stories from life are very valuable to me and they define the tone and shape of my work."
David Shane, O Positive
HBO Go's comically frank "Awkward Family Viewing" ads from SS+K are brilliant enough in their own right to earn Shane a place on any list of notable directors. And indeed, he says it was a joy to work on.
"It always starts with the scripts, and these were so well written," says the onetime New York copywriter and South Park alum. "There was such a clear built-in comedic friction animating these scenes that nothing we tried seemed gratuitous or random. And they didn't have to be true :30s or :60s, which meant each moment and each scene could live out its natural life instead of us trying to compress them artificially. It was really like making little films with a bunch of crazy, smart, talented people. The cast was amazing. We were having so much fun, it didn't seem like working."
Shane's reel also features the shamelessly crass, Emmy-winning "Swear Jar" ad for Bud Light and DDB Chicago in 2008; a body of work for ESPN and Wieden + Kennedy New York's "This is SportsCenter" campaign; and in May, some solid dark medical humor for ZocDoc and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners New York. His short films are equally lauded, and he's now getting set to direct his first feature, SixtyNine, which he also wrote.
Tim & Eric, Prettybird
Loctite glue's adamantly offbeat dance party was a sleeper hit during this year's Super Bowl—a prime example of Tim Heideker and Eric Wareheim's signature devotion to kitsch. With several TV shows, a feature-length movie and now a self-help book under their belts, the duo have fashioned a unique (if Kaufman-esque) brand of over-the-top, look-at-me weirdness that's in some ways best suited to advertising. Other recent highlights include the ultra-zany "Pizza Freaks Unite" short for Totino's and BBDO New York's glitzy infomercial for GE Lighting starring a deceptively glowing Jeff Goldblum. Photo: Jill Greenberg Studio
Harold Einstein, Dummy
Nobody does irresistibly ridiculous quite like Einstein. Once a copywriter at agencies including Cliff Freeman and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, he's now a go-to director for former partner Gerry Graf's Barton F. Graf 9000, shooting countless zingers for Kayak and Little Caesars.
His most impressive recent accomplishment is directing discount furniture commercials that are actually fun to watch—for Value City Furniture, via Translation. (Einstein-directed spots for Value City and Weedol won silver in Cannes this year.) In the Value City campaign, try not to laugh at the married couple gagging at the sight of their old coffee table.
The Perlorian Brothers, MJZ
Mainstays of absurdist advertising, Ian Letts and Michael Gelfand's recent hyperbole includes T-Mobile's "Data Vulture," featuring Rob Riggle and a cantankerous, bytes-hungry carrion bird, from Publicis Seattle. Older highlights from their rich oeuvre: 2013's "Social Farter" anti-smoking ad for Ontario and BBDO Toronto; Emerald Nuts' 2007 Super Bowl ad from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners with Robert Goulet wreaking havoc when office workers doze off; and the one that started it all, 2004's "Prison Visitor" for Vim shower cleaner, in which a mom who seems to be in jail is actually just imprisoned behind a glass shower door doing an endless bathroom chore.
Tatia Pilieva, Pulse Films
On paper, the concept for Pilieva's "First Kiss," featuring strangers kissing on camera for small fashion label Wren, might have seemed a bit coy to be a hit. But the resulting short film was so palpably charged that, when it launched in March 2014, it skyrocketed to 7 million YouTube views in a single day. (It's now north of 100 million.)
That landed the Republic of Georgia native a similarly awkward-slash-cute follow-up for Showtime's Masters of Sex, featuring strangers undressing one another and climbing into bed—perhaps the perfect promo for the show. Her first feature film, Forever, starring Deborah Ann Woll and Luke Grimes, opens later this year.
Randy Krallman, Smuggler
Krallman excels at dry, mocking humor, often featuring big-name celebrities. This April, it was Ewan McGregor side-eyeing a mock commercial set full of ad-industry idiots for U.K. TV provider BT and AMV BBDO. Last year, it was Newcastle Brown Ale's self-skewering spots from Droga5, including Anna Kendrick's biting non-Super Bowl ad. He also recently got Ricky Gervais to shape-shift through the roles of Netflix originals via agency Ignition Creative. The former Lowe art director and Berlin Cameron/Red Cell creative director's classic work includes the Cannes Grand Prix-winning "Still Free" for Ecko and the incomparable Starburst "Bus Station" spot with the Little Lad.
Wayne McClammy, Hungry Man
In January, Activision's Call of Duty and 72andSunny launched "Killcameraman," a perfectly twisted paean to the fictional workhorse of gory instant replays. It's one of many great gaming ads from McClammy—last year, he directed Kevin Hart and Dave Franco in a pop music video parody blitz for Madden and agency Heat.
McClammy credits meeting Emilio Estevez with kick-starting his career ("If Emilio can direct, I can direct," he thought), and soon he was making viral comedy hits, many for Jimmy Kimmel. (His short "I'm Fucking Matt Damon," with Sarah Silverman, notably won an Emmy.) His star-studded reel showcases this broader gift for comedy. Case in point: a growing list of credits for Geico and The Martin Agency that includes the instant goofy-camel classic "Hump Day."
Traktor, Rattling Stick
This Scandinavian collective—five directors and two producers—just last month moved to Rattling Stick after nearly two decades at Partizan. In 2014, they cranked out visually sizzling work like Heineken's hipster adventure "The City" from Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam and U.K. mobile network Three's Starship-lip-syncing, pink-bicycle-riding, kid-and-kitten duo from W+K London. Their insanely deep reel also includes "Stick," FedEx's Emmy-winning lesson in caveman shipping from BBDO New York, and "Evil Beaver," for Fallon and Miller Lite, perhaps the most delightfully twisted beer ad ever.
More of Adweek’s Creative 100:
Check out all the honorees by category:
• 30 Copywriters, Art Directors and Creative Directors
• 10 Chief Creative Officers
• 10 Digital Innovators
• 10 Branded Content Creators
• 10 Viral Content Creators
• 10 Commercial Directors
• 10 Visual Artists
• 10 Celebrities and Influencers
This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.