Craig Gillespie On The Spot

A former art director who spent more than a decade at New York shops such as BBDO and Ammirati Puris & Lintas, MJZ’s Craig Gillespie says his agency days still inform his work. The Los Angeles-based director won the 2005 DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials in January for his Ameriquest and Altoids spots and is now lending his comedic stylings to features. The 38-year-old Australia native just completed post on Mr. Woodcock, a New Line Cinema film about a man who tries to stop his mother from marrying his high school gym teacher (Billy Bob Thornton). Q: How did you become a director?

A: Oddly enough, I was on the agency side as an art director. At a young age [19] I had a friend, a producer who was really into working with cameras and stuff, and he kept coming in with Bolexes and 16mm and we’d go off and shoot stuff and he kind of got me into the … gave me the bug, in a way, to realize that you can actually do it.

You grew up in Australia. Why did you decide to come to the States?

I went to School of Visual Arts. I ended up staying. Every year I’d go back, and I kept giving it one more year.

What made you get into advertising in the first place?

I liked the problem-solving of it, coming up with ideas. I actually started out an illustrator, then changed to graphic designer, then changed to advertising through school.

You’ve been nominated for the DGA honor three times. Were you surprised by the win?

It’s really hard to judge. Plus this year, I thought all the work was so good. It was hard to really even make a call. It just depends on where the judge’s heads are, if they’re looking for comedy or something stylistic. I had no expectations.

How do your years as a creative director inform your directing work? Does it help?

It helps enormously. First, I have so much more empathy for the agency and what they’ve gone through to actually get the work sold through the client and to where we’re at when we start to produce it. I respect how much effort has gone into it, and secondly, if there are issues or problems I can pretty quickly see where they are coming from and what’s fightable and what’s not. Plus, I think coming from that side, I also enjoy trying to help … work on the creative with them whenever I can or add some ideas or thoughts.

What is the most underrated part of the production process?

Editing. It’s so crucial, and I don’t think there’s enough credit. I mean, good editors are a huge part of what makes a good commercial, particularly in comedy, choosing the right performances and timing.

You just completed your first feature. How does it compare to commercials?

The concept of working for nine weeks straight was a little more exhausting than I expected, but the actual process, which is very similar to my sensibility in commercials, wasn’t particularly a hard transition.

Do you think you’ll continue doing spots?

I like doing both, honestly. I love the diversity of the kind of work you can do in commercials and the people you can work with … just like sort of doing these minimovies. There’s a freshness to that that I really like, and every few weeks you’re working on an entirely new project.

What’s the last ad that made you think, “I wish I’d done that”?

Maybe Noam Murro’s Hummer spot [“Monster”]. He walked a really fine line between the bad Japanese horror film and something that was visually pleasing, which is not easy to do.

What’s the smartest business decision you ever made?

Going to directing. ‘Cause I love it.

What about the dumbest?

I don’t have any regrets at the moment.

What’s your vote for best agency out there?

I always have a soft spot for Fallon. I really enjoy working with them. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of stuff with them, Citibank and Holiday Inn. They just have a really good work attitude. They’re always trying to improve throughout the whole process with constantly thinking about how to make the spots better and taking chances. Doesn’t seem to be any egos.

What’s your dream assignment?

Fortunately, I’m kind of getting those opportunities. It’s just working with really strong ideas. I might like to do something just on a larger scale. … Going way back, the old Frank Budgen days, like the Guinness commercials with the snails, things like that. It might be fun to do something a little more exotic like that.

Name one person you’re dying to work with.

I’d like to work with Crispin Porter [+ Bogusky]. I’ve been enjoying seeing what they’re doing. They’re definitely managing to get their stuff on the air, which isn’t easy.

What are three words you’d use to describe yourself?

Collaborative. Easygoing. Perfectionist.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

When agencies can’t stand up to their clients.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your parents?

To instill confidence.