10 Directors Who Are Advancing Ads, Film and Interactive Experiences

They’ve got visual storytelling on lock

When one thinks of directors in this industry, the first default is to look for the big, expansive brand work that captures the imagination of consumers and drives culture. The next thought is: Super Bowl. Yes, there are Super Bowl ads in this year’s Creative 100. But there are also films addressing race and content for wildly popular TV series, social campaigns and activations.

Melina Matsoukas
Represented by: De la Revolución Films and Prettybird
Based in: Los Angeles

Recent work: Her first feature film, Queen & Slim, tells the story of a young Black couple who kill a police officer in self-defense and then must go on the run. “Every aspect of the process was challenging, from telling an original story that deals with systemic racism both in society and on screen, to maintaining ownership of the narrative surrounding the film. It had real purpose, and although challenging, it was a privilege to honor those people of color who lost their lives to police brutality,” she says.

Advice for aspiring filmmakers: “Educate yourself. Hone your craft,” she says. “For me, that meant both studying film, its history and production in a classroom setting, while also gaining experience on set. But education comes in many forms, and I believe deeply in learning your craft, immersing yourself in your passion to create great art.” —Doug Zanger

Tim Godsall
Represented by: Anonymous Content
Based in: Toronto and Los Angeles

Recent work: Squarespace’s Super Bowl ad featuring Winona Ryder in the Minnesota town that inspired her first name. “The experience had elements of ambition, chaos and Arctic temperatures that made it challenging and rewarding,” Godsall recalls. “David Lee [Squarespace CCO and also a 2020 Creative 100 honoree] and his gang are both agency and client, so things can move at a nimble pace. That’s key when you’re about to shoot with a famous person who may or may not have actually agreed to the scripts, locations which may or may not allow shooting to take place and skies that may or may not cough up a blizzard or two—they did. Always a fun adventure with them, and something I’d sign up for any time.”

Advice for aspiring directors: “Make things you like,” he says. “Don’t wait for others to catapult you into orbit, and don’t wait for permission.” —D.Z.

Ali Ali
Represented by: Good People, Little Minx and Caviar Paris
Based in: Athens, Greece

Recent work: Diesel’s “Be a Follower,” which poked fun in 2019 at influencers by joking about their challenges, such as eating a meal without taking countless photos of it.

What fun looks like: “We had quite a challenging time with styling [“Be a Follower”]. As you can imagine, Diesel can be very involved—a bit too involved—when it comes to styling. They were looking to style according to what sells, while I was trying to style for the better shot. We had very little time, just two days, to make a huge film, and timing was crazy,” Ali says. “But it [came together] and remains my most fun project from that year.”

Personal mantra: “Respect the product, not the process,” he says. —D.Z.

Fx Goby
Represented by: Nexus Studios
Based in: London

Recent work: VW’s “The Last Mile,” a tribute to the carmaker’s discontinued, beloved Beetle. The animated 90-second film captured the car’s cultural significance. “It’s rare in advertising to make a film that is not selling anything but just paying tribute to one of the most iconic pieces of design of all time,” Goby says, describing feedback from “generations of people relating to this car like a moving box of memories.”

Other notable projects: Back to the Moon is an AR tribute to the 1902 Georges Méliès film A Trip to the Moon. “It tickles my pride to have made this very unique multiplatform film,” says Goby. —D.Z.

Michelle Craig
Represented by: UNIT9
Based in: Los Angeles

Recent work: As Creative Partner, Michelle oversaw Charmin’s GoLab CES activation that featured futuristic bathroom innovations like a robot that delivered a fresh roll of toilet paper, a sensor that detected funky smells and a portable toilet outfitted with a VR headset so you don’t miss a moment at a concert or event. “I knew from the inception that we had the perfect combination of creative, product design, engineering and film production,” says Craig, who also led a project for Raised & Rooted where the company created a vegan nugget orchard. “When you’re creating products or concepts that don’t exist yet, you need to tread the line of innovation, fun and communication very carefully.”

How quarantine has affected work: “In many ways, it made us go back to our roots,” says Craig. “As a company that’s founded in digital, we adapted quite easily, and it’s been fascinating to work with our agency partners to discover new ways of communicating.” —D.Z.

David Estis
Represented by: Framestore
Based in: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Recent work: Several location-based pieces for the final season of Game of Thrones. “We utilized AR and VR in tandem with real-time practical effects and animatronics,” Estis recalls. “We were able to both transport fans beyond The Wall, and invite the dead into our world in two unique but narratively connected in-world experiences.”

How quarantine has affected work: “Since the lockdown started, the pause on live-action shoots and lack of location-based immersive opportunities have redirected efforts toward mobile and wearable device experiences that engage audiences in a very different way,” he says. “The challenge now is to infuse new and relevant narratives into the environments that people are currently inhabiting.”

Personal mantra: “The most engaging stories are a set of complex questions that allow the audience to call upon their own experiences in order to arrive at a conclusion,” he says. —D.Z.

Bryan Buckley
Represented by: Hungry Man
Based in: Los Angeles

MVP: Buckley is one of the most prolific Super Bowl ad directors, with more than 60 Big Game spots under his belt.

His 2020 work: Buckley helmed SodaStream’s spot with a space-travel theme and clever twist. But it was Hyundai’s “Smaht Pahk” ad—starring fellow Boston-area natives John Krasinski, Rachel Dratch and Chris Evans fully embracing the city’s quirky accent—that generated the most buzz. 

Additionally, Buckley nabbed an Academy Award nomination for the live-action film Saria. Previously set to be screened for the U.N., the work sheds light on the atrocities inflicted on orphaned Latina girls who are victims of sex trafficking.

On his versatility: “He gets humor. And not everyone does,” says Goodby Silverstein & Partners co-founder Rich Silverstein, who worked with Buckley on E-Trade’s subversive Super Bowl ad “Monkey” in 2000. “He can do anything,” says Silverstein’s partner, Jeff Goodby. “If you think it’s probably out of his ballpark, it’s not.”

More than laughs: Buckley brought gravitas to 2019’s “Generation Lockdown” for March for Our Lives and “We All Win” for Microsoft’s adaptive controller. —D.Z.

Mark Molloy
Represented by: Smuggler
Based in: Los Angeles

Recent work: Apple’s “The Underdogs,” a charming departure from the brand’s usual uber-cool advertising. The spot featured a quirky cast of characters sprinting to present a product prototype to their boss. “Casting the group was a challenge, but it’s what I love doing,” Molloy says. “The shoot in Mexico was intense—I’ve never shot so many setups in a day. Plus, we lost our production designer three days before the shoot, which was a nightmare. But the crew miraculously pulled it together. When it all came together, it was a testament to just how important that initial casting process is. The charm of the film came from the dynamic of great actors working together.”

This story first appeared in the June 8, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.
@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.