On The Spot: Norm Murro

The director behind Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ beautifully executed “Sheet Metal” spot for Saturn was trained as an architect in his hometown of Jeru sa lem, but his first job was as a creative at Gold smith/Jeffrey in New York. Three years later, Murro, 39, moved on to directing full-time and, in 1999, launched Biscuit Filmworks with executive producer Shawn Lacy Tessaro. Their credits include E*Trade’s “1999” campaign and the darkly funny Free agent.com spot on the death of the “company man.” Next up: more Saturn work and a holiday campaign for eBay.

Q: What inspired you to get into directing?

A: It’s twofold. One, I’m an architect by trade. Architecture seemed to me like such an incredible responsibility. A movie or a commercial is two hours or 30 seconds long. If you don’t like it, it didn’t ruin anybody’s life. To build somebody a house based on my twisted Freudian existence and have them live in it is quite an ordeal. I’ve been obsessed with film really from a very early age. I need the word and the visual to make a living. I can’t do just the visual or just the word.

Q: What skills did you bring from architecture to filmmaking?

A: The understanding of structure is a great deal of it. The ability to see things in their entirety before they’re completed is another skill you get from it.

Q: Who had the greatest influence on your career?

A: Gary Goldsmith at Lowe had a profound effect on me. He’s a purist, and he is a great concep tualist. He taught me to keep going, to try harder, not to be satisfied.

Q: What work are you most proud of?

You ask me today, so I must say Saturn. I think it’s an incredible idea. I humbly say—please say humbly—it’s well executed. A high concept that is well-executed is a very satisfying thing.

Q: What was your first thought after seeing the “Sheet Metal” concept?

A: Oh, my God, if I get it I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. Rarely do you see something out of the fax machine that has such an incredible impact on you and at the same time is so open-ended for interpretation. That’s an incredible adrenaline rush.

Q: What was the most difficult shot in “Sheet Metal”?

A: The ones that didn’t end up in the cut, thank the lord Jesus—and that’s coming from a Jew’s mouth. The sim plicity of the execution combined with the scale of it—that was a very interesting thing we had to work out.

Q: What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?

A: Which is, by the way, the most stupid one as well—to establish Biscuit. There is freedom and respon si bility. I would love only to have freedom.

Q: If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

A: More risk. More chances. Make the friggin’ thing a little longer—all :60s.

Q: How do you get past a creative block?

A: It’s like negotiations for hostages—buy time, buy time. In paren theses I would put, eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.

Q: What’s your dream assignment?

A: Saturn was pretty much a dream assignment. There were brave people behind it on every front. The dream assignment is to have smart people around you. The director can only do greatness if the page is great. So the dream assignment is when the page is great.

Q: Name one person you’re dying to work with.

A: Isabelle Huppert [star of The Piano Teacher].

Q: Speaking of film, what are your three favorite films?

A: You mean the 300 favorite films? It is the hardest question for a film maker. If you had to press the gun to my head, The Conversation is certainly one I go back to. A Woman Under the Influence. And The Conformist is one of the greatest. One of the most influential directors for me is Abbas Kiarostami [Under the Olive Trees, Taste of Cherry].

Q: What is your biggest fear?

Not to have something next.

Q: But you’ve got stuff going on.

A: Yeah, but every creative person’s motivation is fear. In one way, shape or form, it’s fear. You pick the fear of your desire for the week and you go with it.