Hank Perlman On The Spot

Hank Perlman is known for his human, funny directing style, evident in his recent FedEx campaign for BBDO; one spot shows chimney sweeps with soot escaping from their mouths as they talk. The 38-year-old was a copywriter at Deutsch, Buckley DeCerchio & Cavalier and Wieden + Kennedy before directing MTV promos and co-founding Hungry Man in 1997. On the heels of doing lighthearted Target ads with Heidi Klum and Ice-T, created by Mother in New York, Perlman two weeks ago switched gears and directed tsunami relief ads with George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the White House. Q: What was the most memorable moment of shooting the latest FedEx campaign?

A: I happen to really get along well with the group of people, from [BBDO’s] Eric Silver to Jim LeMaitre to Jonathan Mackler. When I think about that campaign, I think about just laughing my ass off with them.

Can you give me an example?

You always find yourself in these bizarre situations where you have conversations about the weirdest things. I remember the spot with the chimney sweeps from England, talking about what kind of soot should come out when they speak. I just remember laughing about that with those guys.

How was it working with Mother on Target?

What was great about that project was starting with more than just an idea for a commercial, they had already come up with the idea of this call center and actually having wake-up calls being placed by Darth Vader and all these different characters. It was fun just being part of that. And of course, Swedish people are always fun to work with.

Why is that?

Swedish people are just good. I like them.

Tell me more about the tsunami relief ads.

We got a call on a Tuesday to shoot something from McCann Erickson. It was an Ad Council project for tsunami relief, and it was going to be President Bush and President Clinton—”41″ and “42,” as people call them. And it was going to be Friday. But then they called back and said, “Look, the only time you can have them is between 4 and 5 tomorrow.” The next day we were on the plane going down to Washington, and we found ourselves in the [White House] library with George Washington’s sword hanging there and President Clinton and President Bush sitting on chairs. It was pretty wild. That was the kind of project that just makes you feel lucky to work in this business, because I think we all felt like we were doing something good.

What was it like directing them?

There wasn’t that much directing for me to do, because those guys were such pros, and the script was really well written, and it was on the teleprompter, and they just read it. President Clinton put some things in his own words. As a director you can’t really stand there and ask those guys to be more presidential or anything like that. It’s funny in this business to go from Ice-T, Heidi Klum and a stormtrooper to President Clinton and President Bush within a matter of months.

What inspired you to become a director?

Making the commercials always seemed like the best part of the business. Although some of those really long meetings were fun, too.

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

My mom and dad, because growing up they let me watch a lot of TV. That’s all I ever did.

Which commercial directors do you most admire?

You gotta admire somebody like Joe Pytka who can do a wide variety of work. He can do a really funny commercial, and he’s great with dialogue and performance, and he’s great doing something more visual. And then there were the guys I was lucky to work with—directors like Bryan Buckley and Frank Todaro. And then there are directors who come from a different perspective and bring something different to it, like Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry.

Have you ever done a feature film, or would you ever like to?

I’m actually working on a TV project, based on these short films I did for NBC about a year and a half ago. I’m working with John Wells Productions. Hopefully we get to shoot a pilot this spring. It’s about a 10-year-old child prodigy who’s a criminal.

What ad projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a Y&R/Sony “Dreams” short. The theme is “flight.” Mine is going to be about a man who’s a human cannonball. It’s kind of a documentary.

What’s the most disappointing creative trend you’ve seen lately?

I kind of get bugged watching TV and getting overwhelmed by ads for drug companies. Some of the stuff is obviously very important and serves a purpose, but some of the stuff seems like it is creating a need for something that maybe people don’t even need. Maybe it’s just the programming I choose to watch. I do watch a lot of Golden Girls. I actually love The Golden Girls.

What’s your dream assignment?

Doing political advertising for a candidate that I really believed in or admired.

Have you ever done that?

No. I guess [another] dream assignment would be to work on anything with Bob Dylan. I think his career is so interesting, the way it’s evolved so many times. He’s managed to keep people so interested in him, and his body of work is so impressive. He’s just an artist who seems like everything an artist should be. He’s never boring.