Documentary Filmmaker Rory Kennedy Is Making Ads Now

Storytelling in a new creative medium


New gig: Commercial director, Nonfiction Unlimited

Continuing Gig: Documentary filmmaker

Age: 45

Why the interest in commercial production?

I’ve been doing documentaries for about 25 years and want to continue to do that, but I love the idea of working in a different medium. Advertising pushes the envelope creatively and there is some really great work being done right now, so I’m excited to jump into it.

Photo: Karl J Kaul/Wonderful Machine;

Hair and Makeup: Carissa Ferreri/Tracy Mattingly


What is some of the advertising that has inspired you?

A couple of things that immediately come to mind are the Pantene commercial, “Labels Against Women,” and “Best Job” for P&G, which was part of the London 2012 Olympics “Proud Sponsor of Moms” campaign.

Do you see advertising as a way to address social stereotypes through more broadly distributed image-making?

Those two commercials relate to women and pretty efficiently reframe the way people think about gender, and because of the wide audience, you have impact. That excites me. That’s in line with my documentary work, but I’m also interested in doing more straightforward commercials.

Have you done any advertising before?

I’ve done some PSAs, but haven’t done a traditional commercial yet. I hope to get into it full force in the fall. Right now I’m finishing up two PBS films—one is on women in Hollywood, the other is about women in politics. I also have a documentary coming out about the last days of the Vietnam War.

How did you get involved in film?

When I graduated from Brown after majoring in women’s studies, I made my first PBS documentary, Women of Substance. My first feature documentary was called American Hollow, which I did for HBO and was at the Sundance Film Festival. I was attracted to filmmaking in college because of my love of storytelling. You can have such an impact and reach a broader audience than conventional journalism.

How do you feel about the way women are depicted in advertising?

We’re at a time where women are portrayed in a positive, complex, interesting way that helps to sell. There’s an opportunity in the commercial world to push that envelope with 52 percent of the population looking for a more empowered, interesting representation of themselves rather than just people buying things.

Do you think your own experience in the Kennedy media limelight influenced your decision to go into film and look at the larger culture and representation of people?

I don’t know that it’s so much as being in the limelight as it is family. How we all grow up impacts the way we are and the things we’ve become, that’s for sure. I’m not sure I would make a direct connection between having press attention as a young person and being interested in the media as an older person. I came to it more organically, coming from a family of Irish Catholic storytellers. Storytelling is a pastime and important part of my family’s history and culture.

What are you doing when not filming?

I’m based in L.A. with three children. My work is pretty consuming, but that said, my children are my priorities and I enjoy spending my time with them and my husband. My husband, Mark Bailey, is a fantastic writer. He’s primarily a scriptwriter and doing a project with Marvel right now and with [director] Doug Liman, and a few other projects, but he also writes my feature documentaries as a partner.