creative profile: King of Comedy

Bryan Buckley hopes to parlay ad success into a film career
Bryan Buckley stands outside the TV-spun MSN Project House in the San Fernando Valley as the actors, cast as strangers who use the Internet to furnish their home, enact a scene. Buckley, 36–this year’s winner of the Directors Guild of America award for commercial directors–will film 17 “reality TV” spots for the software giant before July.
Dressed in a charcoal gray T-shirt, matching cotton shorts and a reversed baseball cap to protect his sun-drenched head, Buckley will spend three days filming at the Northridge, Calif., location, a far cry from New York City, where he resides with his wife and family.
“What’s great about commercials is there’s a certain instant gratification and a freedom that you don’t experience when you’re doing TV and features,” Buckley says of his last advertising effort before embarking on Finger Rocks, his third feature film project.
Buckley, a first-time nominee, picked up his Directors Guild award last month for his 1999 body of work, which included’s “When I Grow Up” spots and E*Trade’s “TriMount Studios” and “Broker,” among others. And the competition was steep: Buckley was pitted against directing duo Joe Public, veteran director Leslie Dektor and another first-time nominee Dewey Nicks.
What may have won the day for Buckley was his signature style– packing humor into every commercial. Eva Corets, ad director for MSN’s Consumer Gorup, would agree. She says Buckley’s humor was a natural fit for Project House. “He just made total sense because of his past work.” Yet, if there’s one thing the Cambridge, Mass., native has proven, besides his comedic touch, it’s his ability to adapt.
While many creatives dream of directing features, Buckley may have the staying power to parlay his commercial experience into a permanent film career. Buckley formed the Hungry Man production company three years ago with executive producer Stephen Orent and fellow director Hank Perlman, a former copywriter he worked with on the award-winning ESPN SportsCenter campaign, with the dual intention of seeking out film projects as well as ad work.
While the company’s ad work has earned critical acclaim, Buckley has experienced the capricious nature of filmmaking.
For instance, there was the Bat Boys script he wrote with former business partner Tom DeCerchio, which was optioned by Columbia Pictures in 1989 but never produced. His second foray, The New Jersey Turnpikes, was a feature film he directed in 1998; it has yet to be released by Universal. While these projects haven’t propelled Buckley onto Hollywood’s A-list, his most recent endeavor, Finger Rocks, may be his ticket to Tinsel Town.
While hoping the third time is a charm, Buckley says the romantic comedy, which he wrote and Hungry Man is producing, is modeled on his relationship with his wife, Sharon. In it, the main character has many adventures while searching for a diamond ring for his fiancƒe. Buckley is now casting for Finger Rocks, which will be released by MGM.
Perhaps due to past disappointments or a wish not to alienate an industry that has fed his creative talent, Buckley doesn’t talk openly about his project or a filmmaking career. Instead, he says he enjoys his commercial career and will return after his feature hiatus.
Ken Mandlebaum, a former commercial director, had similar feature film aspirations before joining BBDO West as chief creative officer. He sought Buckley’s counsel and was pleasantly surprised by the director’s generosity.
“If you have an agent at CAA, it’s not common for people to say, ‘Hey, let me introduce you.’ But he did. And he went out of his way to help me by reading my scripts.” Mandelbaum is convinced Buckley is closer to his dreams than ever before and cites the DGA award as a possible launch pad. Still, just weeks ago, Mandelbaum lobbied Buckley to direct a commercial for BBDO West.
Buckley declined, citing his feature-film obligations. “Obviously, he’s one of the easiest to sell now. He’s one of the most comedic directors out there. He’s the man,” Mandelbaum adds.
But there’s more to Buckley than “shooting on location” or dreams of the silver screen. In fact, Buckley makes no secret that his family is more important than his career, an unusual statement from a young, ambitious director.
For example, Buckley considered his 10-year-old daughter Kara’s recent performance in The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center in New York before an audience of 3,000 people on par with his own DGA award.
“For me, my daughter’s performance was one of those moments you just want to bottle up for the rest of your life. This was like witnessing a child in the Olympic gold medal round. It was definitely one of the highlights of my life,” Buckley admits.
Life at home with his wife, daughter and sons Ty, 5, and Liam, 4, has created a bastion of support and stability for Buckley. In fact, he claims spending time at home gives him the ultimate balance to the often-rigorous demands of commercial directing.
Moreover, Buckley ended up in advertising thanks to his father, Dick Buckley, an adman who introduced his son to the business. Buckley grew up knowing he would one day follow in his dad’s footsteps. He happily entered the advertising and design program at Syracuse University.
Since graduating first in his class in 1985, Buckley has been on the fast track, landing consecutive copywriting gigs at Doyle Dane Bernbach, Grace & Rothschild and Chiat/Day, New York.
Buckley subsequently formed a partnership with fellow copywriter and Bat Boys collaborator Tom DeCerchio and created New York agency Buckley/DeCerchio. In 1991, Buckley teamed up with former school chum and art director Frank Todaro and they began directing spots together.
The duo collaborated with then Wieden + Kennedy copywriter Perlman on the ESPN campaign. The team made a name for itself by launching the first Budweiser lizards campaign. The two parted in ’97 when Hungry Man debuted.
Both Orent and Buckley say they are satisfied with Hungry Man’s achievements so far, including the DGA award and placing third in overall points at the 1999 Cannes International Advertising Festival, at which the young company nearly won production company of the year honors.
Yet despite Buckley’s accolades, Orent says his longtime friend and business partner may still be gun shy from his past Hollywood experiences. “Bryan already produced a feature and it wasn’t the best experience. I think Finger Rocks will be a help,” Orent predicts, “and a rebirth back into features.”
Bryan Buckley, award-winning commercial director, is ready for his close-up.