How to become a commercial director

Director Jackie Paper Detour Films

How do you become a commercial director? It’s a lot easier than you think.

Recently, Santa Monica based production company, Detour Films, signed Jackie Paper to their rosters of directors.

His perspective on work is playful and refreshing. His perspective on life is fearless.

I’m always inspired by everyone I feature on this site. However, after talking with Jackie, I reexamined my position in life. I hope you will too. The lesson here is; never take a shortcut, when it comes to fulfilling your dream. The foot in the door technique will never get you anywhere. If you know what you want to do in life — do it already. What are you waiting for?

Who is Jackie Paper? I am Jackie Paper. You are Jackie Paper. We are all Jackie Paper. If you recall, Jackie Paper is the little boy in Puff the Magic Dragon who tragically grows up and loses interest in his imagination.

I’ll let Jackie Paper explain for himself…

Why did you choose the pseudonym Jackie Paper?

 I think of him as the little boy stuck inside my head. I chose the name for a few reasons… I love creating videos and animations because they allow me to go into different worlds. Each piece is a new adventure, just like the ones Jackie and Puff would go on. Also, I think my childlike imagination and playfulness comes across in a lot of my work – I never want to lose that.  I can never grow up, cause we all know what happened when Jackie grew up…

Director Jackie Paper Pitch

You just got signed to be represented by Detour Films. How do you think you fit in?

Detour called me after the Pitch Videos. It got written up as ‘the weirdest thing on the internet tonight’ by Gizmodo. They were calling me an insane person. So, Josh, one of the executive producers at Detour, called me. He said that I created the work for the love of it and not because it was my job. He’s right. I would keep making videos even if the phone never rang. I think Detour saw me as an artist. They tend to to work with directors that aren’t necessarily traditional.

Director Jackie Paper tests

Do you think brands are looking for a director with a specific style and not so much a particular production company?

The look that I work with is more homemade and not really polished. I think that brands are starting to realize that. It makes them seem more relatable to the everyday person. There’s something to be said about brands that don’t take themselves too seriously and come off as playful and approachable as opposed to being too sterile and glossy.

When did you fall into the lo-fi style?

It’s funny that you ask. My style is a product of creating videos with very limited resources. It really forces you to be innovative and look at simple household objects, not for what they are, but what they can be turned into. ‘What else can this mop be? What else can this colander be?’ My bedroom was doubling as a shooting stage. Everything around me is a potential prop. You have to become really nimble when you don’t have a huge budget. You have to make something compelling with what’s around you.

How did you get started with stop motion?

I was working as an art director in an ad agency. A friend and I got an offer to direct. So, I left my job, at Mekanism in San Francisco, to do a stop motion project in my bedroom. We built a set of a big city out of paper and we animated yarn. It’s called ‘Yarn City.’ It was one of my first experiences with stop motion. We used clamp lights, cardboard, paper, cotton ball clouds and anything we could salvage from the warehouse I was living in.

Yarn City - Behind the scenes

You were an art director in San Francisco? That sounds like a dream job. Why did you decide to quit your job and pursue directing?

Essentially, I wanted to direct. I wasn’t going to get the opportunity to direct until I could prove that I could deal with the client and also come up with the creative. It was just me going out on a limb and doing it.

So you quit your job to direct. Was that enough? Did you prove that you were a director or did you have to do one more?

It got written up in a few magazines and a few blogs like motionographer. At that point, Mekanism called me back in as a director. So, I’ve been working with them for the past few years as a director.

Was the laundry soap idea a hard sell? How did you sell that idea and get the client, Method, to buy into this approach?

For that one, we had a very limited budget. We improvised a bit and thought, ‘Let’s make it fun.’ We thought, ‘What’s the opposite of what a soap company would do?’ Method is a really cool company and they were on board with doing something a little crazy. They understand that the fans of their products want to be entertained and not lectured to. They wanted to be part of something hip and edgy. That’s how we were able to sell that one to Method.

Have you ever had an idea fall flat?

The Pitch Video. It was an actual pitch I was trying to sell to a client. After I shot all these clips, I was trying to sell this idea to them. It was too far fetched for the client. I think the people who I was working with were all scratching their heads at me. I shot all the footage, and I conceptualized all the scenes. I had to do something with the footage because I thought it was great. The funniest thing about it was putting my coworkers and friends through this torture. We still didn’t win. You put so much work into something, and you ask for so many favors, and in the end, it doesn’t work out. At least, you can look back and laugh at yourself.

Pitch Videos

What was so far fetched about this idea? When I look back at your work, it seems right in line with everything else.

The idea behind it was to showcase things that weren’t really meant to be together. I think I just pushed the envelope too far. I wanted it to be very designed and funny in an unexpected way.  I didn’t want to make it expected funny. I thought, the more unexpected and striking you can make the imagery, the more of a kick people would get out of it. I’m always struggling to create something you see everyday and try to show a situation in a different light.

Do you think that being shot down makes you more cautious the next time around?

As a director, your job is to push the envelope as far as you can. What you don’t want to do is create a boring spot. Your job is to push the client, too. That’s why they come to you. If you just cave in, and take everyone’s suggestion, you are doing what everybody expected. If you can push a little bit beyond that, everybody wins.

Is there something you would like to shoot that’s in your bucket list?

There’s actually a funny short that I’m working on —not for a client, just for fun. It’s in post production now. I feel like a lot of times, when I push myself to do projects for fun, client work comes out of it. They say,’Oh that’s funny, we’d like to do something like that for our brand.’

I usually write ideas in a book. I have it by my bed and I carry it in my pocket. I write one-liners, the most random crazy stuff, and every now and then, we grab a camera and we go shoot it. Whether it’s for a client or not. It’s never a waste to keep pushing yourself and creating new ideas. If it’s sitting in a book, it’s not doing anybody any good. The potential for landing more projects is there. Detour Films wouldn’t even have known I existed, if they had not seen the pitch video.

What’s this new personal project about?

After I cut the Pitch Video together, I was laughing at how I made a friend of mine brush her teeth with a leaf blower. I thought, let’s get a few friends over, we’ll get a leaf blower and we’ll do a Chorus line meets Italian opera; except with their mouths blown while singing to the music.

Director Jackie Paper Pitch

A lot of people have great ideas, yet they make a million excuses why they can’t do it. Here you are wanting to do something really specific and you freaking did it. It happened. If you didn’t take the leap, you wouldn’t be doing what you want to do.

It’s easy to be paralyzed. When you look at all the work on Vimeo, it seems so unattainable. My style originated by thinking, ‘I have a DSLR, I’ve got some colored paper and I have a friend. What can I make from that?’ When you break it down to it’s most basic form of an idea, it’s a lot easier to make it attainable and not something that needs to be produced for a million dollars.

When you were a kid, did you ever see yourself here?

No. My brother and the neighborhood kids and I would make little films when were were young. One of my good friend’s dad was in the commercial world and he had a studio with some cameras. He would let us play with some of the cheaper cameras. We would make little vignettes using cotton balls as clouds, have a little model airplane flying by, that sorta thing. We were exposed to that stuff pretty young, however, I never realized that I would be doing it for a living. We were just playing around. I guess I’m still just playing around. Now people are hiring me to continue to play.

So, to answer the question… how do you become a commercial director? You need to stop making excuses and do it. You need to make do with what you have around you and never forget to tap into your childhood imagination. See more of Jackie Paper’s work at Detour Films.

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