The faster you learn this one thing, the better off you’ll be: commercialism isn’t as bad as you have been lead to believe.
By Charles Sutter
Over the past two weeks, I’ve seen many of my former students posting pictures on Facebook, dressed in their graduation gowns and I’ve been exceedingly proud to see so many of them realize the milestone of escaping college. However, as a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida myself, one who has produced a couple of movies and directed one other one, I feel like should share the wisdom I’ve gained, since I was posing for my own pictures in front of the fountain.
The faster you learn this one thing, the better off you’ll be: commercialism isn’t as bad as you have been lead to believe. For most of the students graduating from UCF, and really most colleges, the idea of following your passions is the only advice anyone has given you for the past 4 years. People tell you that if you are doing what you love you’ll never be poor. And that is important, but your landlord might not be as encouraging.
More than the simple truth that you’re going to need to do something for money, consider this: most working artists will work for hire as greeting card writers, or painting commercial art, even making sculptures based on commissions. It’s true that painting in the hotel you stayed at on your last vacation was the least thought provoking piece of art you’ve ever seen, but someone got paid to paint it, someone got paid well to paint it. Why let that money go to someone else? At least if you did it, you maybe could have put your own spin on it.
As all of my experience comes by way of making films or teaching about making films, it’s really the only art form that I feel qualified to talk about. Luckily for me, this where we find some of the most obvious examples of how selling out isn’t quite selling out.
Let’s look at the list of Oscar nominated directors from 2011. Tom Hooper won for directing The King’s Speech, beating David Fincher for The Social Network, Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, The Coen Brothers for True Grit, and David O. Russell’s The Fighter. (Side note: What a great year for movies!,). These directors represent some of the most respected and revered in the industry. They also represent some of the most sought after in the advertising world.
Darren Aronofsky –
The Coen Brothers –
Tom Hooper –
David O. Russel –
In each of the previous commercials, there are elements that the director’s feature film work: Russell’s absurdist humor, the technological marvel of a David Fincher film, or the gravity of a Tom Hooper work, but these commercials were all made to sell something. Maybe these examples are from directors that are too mainstream, and a more outside of the system director would be more impressive: enter Spike Jonze, director of Her and Being John Malcavich and/or Errol Morris, director of the Fog of War and The Unknown Known.
Spike Jonze –
Errol Morris –
Both Morris and Jonze have tones that are very specific to the work they do, and that tone is still brightly on display in their commercial work. Maybe they’re to far outside of the system, and we should look at someone that has so much prestige that they didn’t need to make a commercial, like 6 time academy award nominee Janusz Kaminsky.
Janusz Kaminski –
Ang Lee –
Martin Scorcesse –
This line of commercials in particular shows how well made and unique and interesting advertising can be.
Wes Anderson –
I defy you to tell me how Wes Anderson’s commercial isn’t as good as the movies he’s made.
But let’s forget about whether someone can make these commercials into “art” or not and focus on why people that want to artists should make them. You get to take on subjects that you might not have otherwise had access to, on someone else’s dime.
Michael Bay –
Ridley Scott –
In the case of Bay, Jonze, Scott and Fincher, their commercial work is what convinced investors to trust them with the money to make their first feature narrative films. They proved their ability to bring a vision to the screen and more importantly to connect with an audience. Commercials are an even stronger teacher of how to work collaboratively, as the filmmaker is ultimately at the service of whoever is paying for the commercial. The director of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Angel Heart, Alan Parker once remarked “I did very few (commercials) in the last thirty years. When I did, I had a piece of paper in my top pocket that said, “Reminder: I am but a hired hand. Nod and smile. Bite your lip. I am but a mere labourer in the ditches of advertising. I must hold my tongue and think of the large cheque and my kids’ school fees.”
In every almost every other field graduating from college necessarily means that you’re going to go find a job where you will be proving your worth to your employer. Why should artists be any different? Occasionally, I’ll hear a horror story about someone graduating and having to move back into their parent’s house, and they get a job at Starbucks “just until something else comes up.” And while I respect the spirit that makes take any job, I have to think that my worst day making a commercial, or music video, or band promo, has got to be better than the best day someone has working in food service.
I guess what I’m saying is if you have to sell French fries to pay the bills, there’s no shame in that, just do it like this:
Charles is an experienced documentary director, the producer of multiple micro-budget features, including the recently-released Interior, and the co-writer of the Spanish-language feature film The DeCorruptor (shot in Equador in 2013). Charles has also produced and directed over 20 music videos in the last five years, while writing, directing, and producing Blivits!, a soon-to-be completed documentary about the veterans of the Naval carrier, the USS Randolph. Charles has also produced and directed several award-winning short films, including “Jest,” “Married To the Band,” and “The Get-Together,” and has served on the selections committees for both the 2013 and 2014 installments of the Florida Film Festival. He will soon graduate from the Entrepreneurial Digital Cinema program at The University of Central Florida, where he has been an instructor of record in the School of Visual Art and Design for the last three years.