Any time you try to shoot straight down the middle and please everyone, whether it’s in terms of style or functionality or humor, you end up with something that’s essentially boring.
What do you do for inspiration?Usually things that don’t have to do with the web. Going to a great music gig always gives me a creative buzz. Also watching old movies on a proper big screen. When I’m looking for inspiration I’ll often wander into an art gallery if I can, especially if there’s something really weird going on. I find it helpful to jostle my mind by forcing it into unfamiliar territory. Cooking is also useful.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?I’m always extremely gratified when after a project is over people tell me they hope to work with me again. It never fails to amaze me that after all the demands I’ve made and everything I’ve put them through they would actually want to do it again. Of course it’s possible they’re just being polite.
How many hours do you work each week?It’s a challenge to not let work take over every corner of my life. It’s very seductive to let it, because working nonstop seems so virtuous. Especially in the US, where we really admire the type of person who sleeps three hours a night and is constantly working like some kind of machine.
How do you relax or unwind?I sneak up on children in public parks and shout at them. I’m pretty sure they love it.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?There are a lot of other careers I think I’d enjoy. Being in a band, being an actor, a pilot or a chef. It’s interesting- when I look at that list I realize those are all jobs that yield pretty immediate results, whether it’s a reaction from the audience or a feeling you get from flying or chopping vegetables. The gestation period on the internet can be months from the time you start a job until you finish, and it’s that way with film too. You have to be very patient, and it’s alluring to imagine a job that provides more immediate gratification.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?I love creative collaboration with people who are great at what they do. Designers, programmers, actors, producers, camera people, production designers, editors. I love the energy that comes from everyone being huddled in a conspiracy to make something great.
I feel especially privileged to work with actors. Working isn’t even a good word for it- it’s more like being in a band, where you’re feeding off each others’ energy and skill and honesty. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a silly bit of a commercial or something more serious. Time disappears completely. Which is of course why you need a good AD.
The hardest part of the job for me is watching a great idea get progressively beaten down into something safe, derivative, and dead.
When I get stuck I turn to alcohol. Has anybody else discovered this stuff? I can’t believe it’s legal.
What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?We’ve probably all had all-nighters here and there. But for me the thing that really starts to fry your brains is when you’re forced - because of deadlines or other pressures - to do virtually nothing but work for weeks on end. That’s harmful because you can’t maintain perspective on the work, to say nothing of life in general.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?My general tendency is to be very analytical and perfectionistic, but whenever I’ve made a conscious decision to loosen up a bit and just have fun I’ve always ended up with a better result.
One really instructive experience was shooting a commercial while I had a bad migraine- I was directing and also operating camera, and although I didn’t tell anyone, I was actually mostly blind because that’s what happens when I get a migraine. I had no medication with me and so I just said, “alright, well this spot is going to be a mess”, fully expecting that I’d have to reshoot it all. But not only did it turn out ok, it ended up being one of my favorites. And it was because I had been forced to let go.
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?Any time you try to shoot straight down the middle and please everyone, whether it’s in terms of style or functionality or humor, you end up with something that’s essentially boring. The nice thing is when any client, big or small, is confident enough to not try and throw their arms around everyone, but instead to take a calculated gamble on a project that could be really exciting for one segment of their market.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?It’s not up anymore. It was a site where by inputting your friend’s name you could send them a fake news report that made it look like they had been nominated as a presidential candidate. It was 2008 and everybody was transfixed with Obama and the runup to the election. We made a really basic site and a very cheap video, and it was shared over 10 million times. It was a good lesson about keeping things simple and relevant. Also about the timeless appeal of seeing your own name tattooed on a granny’s behind.
Are there things you do OUTSIDE of work to ensure that you are in the right mindset to be creative and/or successful in whatever you are doing?I’ve always needed plenty of time alone to just draw or honk on my saxophone or knock around taking photos. And I almost always have a ball with me, because no matter how great the project is I like taking regular breaks to go outside and bounce it off a wall or have a catch with someone.
Kids are good like this- they can spend long stretches in intense concentration, building Legos or arranging their action figures, but they alternate that type of focused behavior with running around like maniacs or staring at bumps on the ceiling. I think that split between intense focus and goofing off is a good model for maintaining a creative mindset.
Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?
The interactive Muppets experience for Disney Parks has a special place in my heart. I just felt incredibly lucky to work on set with the Henson guys, many of whom have been there since the very first Muppet movie.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?I’m a serious car nut, so my ultimate ride would probably be some work of automotive art like a ’38 Corsair or a ’72 Pantera. But who doesn’t want a jetpack?
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
There are lots, and most of them are in fragments that would sound too dumb if I said them out loud or wrote them down. But I’m very keen to do more work that involves music in an interactive way, and to play with longer and deeper storylines.
What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?I’ve started taking swing dance lessons, and even though it’s been a few months now I’m still really struggling. It’s extremely frustrating to be clumsy at something you want desperately to do well. But I’m highly motivated because so much of the music I love - Louis Armstrong, Ellington, Bing Crosby, Ella, Sinatra - comes from that era.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought in the last week?A plane ticket to visit my grandma.
Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?
If you're lucky enough to have a grandma, spend the money to go visit her.