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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > creatives >  Joe Pytka
Joe Pytka
Director
Pytka Productions
 

If I was the world”s most famous commercial director of all time I would also likely shell out 35,000 bucks on a truffle weighing 2.2 pounds, just like Joe did two years ago. After all, Joe has worked hard to get to this point in his career. Directing 40+ superbowl ads is not a piece of cake. His 5,000 (and counting) commercials have earned Joe three Directors Guild of America Commercial Direction Awards and 14 nominations. When I called Pytka Productions to ask for Joe’s reel they compassionately laughed at me. “What reel? Joe doesn’t have a reel!” Silly of me to have asked. It’s hard to describe in one paragraph what it is that makes him the reputed heavy weight commercial director champion of the world. It is only until you see the list of spots he has given birth to, that you begin to realize that the most impactful ads you have seen in your lifetime, perhaps even the ones that convinced you to get in the crazy world of advertising, were very likely crafted by Joe.

Perhaps more famous than his success is Joe”s famous temper. But I didn”t face off an angry ogre, on the contrary I found an incredibly intelligent, soft spoken and modest guy who just likes what he does for a living. Did I dial the wrong number? Let see. Joe please meet ihaveanidea”s readers. Readers meet Joe Pytka, director.
ihaveanidea: Let”s say I give you a camera, a box of film, and a scriptAnd then I gave the same thing to 10 other directors. What is it you will bring back to the table that the other guys can”t or won”t?

Pytka: I can”t comment. Every director has a different point of view on the material. If you look at the great film directors, all of them have had their own personal philosophy come across in the film- sometimes its political. The great directors change their philosophies, as they grow older and mature.

If you look at the films of John Ford for example he varied tremendously over 30 years. They became more cynical, they changed their positions on political issues.

Everyone has his or her own techniques. Some people superimpose technique on the idea. I like the idea to be the technique. Many people have a certain style and they put that style on everything. That to me implies some kind of laziness and a certain bit of over commercial” attitude about your work.

“”I have always thought that advertising should aspire to be a creative form like painting or sculpting. “”

ihaveanidea: Everyone thinks that you are the big angry director that eats account executives with fava beans and a nice Chianti for breakfast. You’ve said that if intimidation worked for the church it should work for you.

Pytka: Yeah, that”s an old thing. I don”t believe in the church so that doesn”t work anymore.

ihaveanidea: What do advertising people do at shoots that messes up the process and pisses you off?

Pytka: I can only say this from my opinion. The biggest problem at shoots is that people don”t have a clear sight of the objectives. A good friend of mine who I use for production in Ireland used to be a captain in the Irish army. He said, you always need to have a clear objective to win the battle”. The final product is entrusted to me, and it”s up to me to bring a resolution to all the problems of the production. If I”m doing my job properly I”m the only one that understands all the issues. If I don”t know all the issues it”s because somebody didn”t communicate that to me ahead of time. Many times people come up to tell me that we can or cannot do something because of X reason which hadn”t been said to me beforehand. It makes me angry and exasperated because you have a finite amount of time and resources and it”s a very expensive process.

One thing you have to leave in the process is a certain amount of time for spontaneity. I would say that you actually should use 60-70% of the shoot time doing the work you have to do and around 30% of the time hopefully trying to discover something in the process that will make it better. So you have your fallback position, and then you have other stuff that might make the whole thing better.

I don”t want to use that energy on something that”s irrelevant or unforeseen due to someone”s incompetence.

That”s the biggest problem and that is why I try to get those problems out to the way before the production.

“”…And the client came over, looked at me, and threw the Powerbook out the window”"

ihaveanidea: When you get scripts that are ready to be shot, what do you think are the biggest mistakes copywriters make in writing TV?

Pytka: Most of the weaknesses in script are in dialogue.

You have to make the dialogue realistic. Very few writers can write good dialogue, not just in commercials but also in motion pictures. It”s not easy making people sound like real people.

We usually solve those problems on the set or before it, by refining it or having the actors simplify it. Many times clients will have very complicated things to say, especially the ones that work in technological industries. Many writers tend to write all that down verbatim, so it”s up to me to clean it up and make it sound real.

ihaveanidea: Maybe it”s me, but it seems that creatives left and right are all becoming commercial directors. I”m not sure if it”s a sudden realization that it is easy, or that there is more money, but certainly everyone is doing it.

Pytka: It”s hard to answer that one.

I heard this story about a tremendous director called Steve Horn who was one of my inspirations when I started. When I saw Steve”s work and Ridley”s work I felt that the medium had a tremendous potential to be beautiful. I found out that Steve, before being a fantastic commercial director, was a fantastic still photographer. And he became a still photographer because he was an art director.

Steve had been an art director in an agency and when shooting he would go to the shoot, set up the lightning, set up the shots, and the photographers would merely come in and press the button. So Steve got a camera and started doing it himself and became a legend.

I think that”s what”s happening now. A creative director will see that he/she is making X number of dollars working virtually every day of the week creating these things, and the director merely comes in and shoots it. They are thinking, give me a camera, I can do the same thing”.

The difference is, directing is easy to do if it”s your work, but it”s not easy if you”re doing somebody else”s work. The transition from being a creative director and having control over your work and saying I want to do it like this” and all that other stuff, and then doing it yourself and having to convince others of your positions is different.

The problem that I see is, that there is a lack of individuality. In the past you could tell a director”s influence on the work. Now there is a generic look to everything, which is unfortunate. Same is true in movies. You don”t have the strong directing viewpoint there was before. I”m not sure if the new guys coming in will have that.

Directing is a much more complex task that I think people understand.

ihaveanidea: So what about everyone around you, your AD (Assistant Director), your DOP (Director of Photography). What should you keep in mind if you want to be the best of the best?

Pytka: Well if you want to be an assistant director you have to know it”s a complex task because you have two different responsibilities. You have to manage the paperwork to make sure that all the work is done according to the principles put down by the various unions. Filmmaking is a very rigid and regulated industry. The A.D. has to make sure everyone is following these rules and you also have to run the set.

There is a conflict between the technical part, which is adhering to the rules, and the emotional part, which is running the set. Very few A.D.”s want to be directors.

Cinematographers have a very different set of qualities. The standards are different since they come out of the principles of photography and creativity. Knowledge of the camera and what it is capable of, different films or tapes, lightning and everything like that.

Each of those disciplines requires different mentalities.

Being A.D. demands one kind of personality: somebody that gets along with people very easily but which also has discipline. Cinematographers have to have a good eye. You need to have a certain talent.

One of the things I lament about too much education these days is that in the old days, talent was the only reason you became successful. Now, since there is a hierarchical way of getting in, other factors including politics, play a part. That might be why there is so much generic work out there.

“”Our visions of democracy and freedom are hypocritical and we”re using them just like the Church did to invade South America in the 15th century”"

ihaveanidea: There”s a rumor at Ogilvy that involves you, an IBM client and a flying powerbook. Can you tell me how it goes?

Pytka: It all started at an IBM shoot. One of the creative people had an Apple Powerbook. The client was offended by the fact that the creative person from the agency had an Apple computer in their shoot. The art director was being arrogant about keeping it out and finally the senior creative person had to tell the art director to put it way.

So, here we were a couple of months later, shooting another IBM spot, this time in Italy, and I was kinda bored and wanted to stir things up a little bit, so I teased this one person about their Powerbook, and they said “Yeah, well we”re allowed to” and the client heard that, and so I said loudly “Well If I was the client, I would take the thing and throw it out the window.” And the client came over, looked at me, and threw the Powerbook out the window.

It was funny.

ihaveanidea: I might be wrong, but from my perspective, the hardest task when directing must be squeezing the performance out of the talent. How”s it like when you shoot with Britney Spears or other celebrities?

Pytka: Celebrities are hard to deal with because there are a lot of different circumstances you have to deal with. It takes up an incredible amount of energy that usually doesn”t show up in the work. Britney was terrific, very professional, very easy to work with.

What celebrities give you is this incredible amount of charisma you can”t get out of a normal actor. But you have to make sure you are very efficient, capable, have strength and leadership and are clear about your direction. This is because celebrities are fragile. Most of the time they are in control in their environment and when they come on your set they are uneasy, because they are not in control of their environment anymore. You have to make sure you are on top of your game.

She [Britney] understood the script, the choreography, when things didn”t work out, she changed some things. She did 10 day”s work in 3 days. When people see the Pepsi commercial they think we took 2 weeks. In one day we did 8 major setups including choreography changes, hair, makeup and costume changes and it wasn”t a problem.

ihaveanidea: You were the reason for celebration at VCU Adcenter”s annual roast. I also heard you made an incredible donation to the scholarship fund at the school. What do you think about Rick Boyko and what he”s doing with the ad students at VCU Adcenter? Is he crazy for leaving the top of Ogilvy to make the best ad school in the world?

Pytka: He”s not crazy, it had to happen because of the new revolution in advertising. For a long time advertising was very simpleprint and television. There was a stratification of art directors and writers that carried over into commercials. That”s breaking down because advertising is becoming much more complex with the Internet, satellite, cable and other things that aren”t dominated by the networks. There”s more freedom and more potential for rule breaking. It”s a revolution in communications.

A lot of the young people are not paying much attention to television anymore. They think it”s a silly medium. So Rick is totally right in trying to revolutionize the next generation of advertisers and their perspective on advertising.

ihaveanidea: So, if you were a teacher tomorrow, (imagine that), what would you teach young creatives?

Pytka: I”m not an advertising person. I”m a filmmaker. I couldn”t teach advertising in the way someone like Rick can. By the time the advertising idea gets to me it”s already done and all I have to do is produce it. All I can do is point out or refine things. I just need to make sure I understand the concept, and make sure that I execute it as properly as possible, bringing my expertise and improving things that need improving.

So I couldn”t advise people into the conceptual part of what an ad should be like. I do have knowledge in film and how a documentary, commercial or motion picture should look like.

The only philosophy I have about any creative medium is that you should get a fundamental knowledge in all the other so-called art forms, including literature, theatre, painting, and music, because in the end, they are all intertwined and intermeshed, especially when it comes to commercial advertising. You also never know where inspiration will come from.

I would advise to get as much a complete education in the arts as possible. And maybe even a practical education in the sciences because it applies to the technology we use as well.

I have always thought that advertising should aspire to be a creative form like painting or sculpting.

ihaveanidea: You”re a painter right?

Pytka: I originally went to art school to become a painter in Pittsburgh. But I never followed up on it. I tried to go back to it a couple of years ago, but either you do it or you don”t do it.

ihaveanidea: So I was flipping channels the other day and I saw the special on your house, I mean castle, underneath the big Hollywood sign. I hear former gangster now dead guy, Bugsy Seigel used to own it and apparently even ran a casino there, then Madonna bought it and now you live there. It seems very tranquil and beautiful.

Pytka: It would be, but it”s full of ghosts. I had a friend a while back who freaked out so much he got in his car and drove to the airport that same night.

ihaveanidea: They don”t bother you?

Pytka: Nah. They know I”m not afraid of them.

ihaveanidea: Ok, so because you live in California I cannot help but ask you this question: Is Arnold going to become president?

Pytka: It”ll never happen. He can”t. The constitution dictates that the president has to be born in US soil. Not that it could be worst than the presidents we”ve had for the last couple of years. We haven”t had a good one since

Oh, well, we”ve never had one. Can you name one?

ihaveanidea: What about Bill?

Pytka: Bill Who? icon smile Joe Pytka

ihaveanidea: Clinton.

Pytka: He wasn”t a good president, what did he do?

ihaveanidea: Who would be a good president?

Pytka: I think the whole notion of democracy is a bit blurred. I”m not sure our notion of democracy works. I”m not saying I”m anti-democratic, but we have distorted views of what democracy is. It”s not working for us because we”re an aggressor nation. Our visions of democracy and freedom are hypocritical and we”re using them just like the Church did to invade South America in the 15th century. It”s just a new notion of how to become an empire.

Lincoln was the first one to corrupt the notion of democracy and turn us into a very strong central power nation when we were supposed to be a nation of independent states. This notion of throwing freedom around into places that might not work is far fetched.

Our political system is ready for some sort of revolution. We”re not doing our fair share to help the world.

This last election is a classic example of that. Kerry was a catholic when he needed to be a catholic, all things to all people. We don”t have anyone out there to take us in the right direction.

ihaveanidea: Well, when you go for President

Pytka: Many world leaders are in arrangements to destroy parts of the world they don”t have. England and the US have been in an alliance that goes back to WWI, and Europe thinks we”re a bunch of idiots. China is quickly becoming the world power, and both China and the US are quickly using up all the resources in the world, while the developing world is giving them up in exchange for instant wealth.

ihaveanidea: It”s kind of a mess there, eh?

Pytka: I don”t think George Bush or Arnold can get us out of that mess, but Arnold does look better in the photographs.

ihaveanidea: Thanks Joe. Now I feel totally depressed.

Pytka: Well, if we had real media and freedom of speech we could get these things out there

ihaveanidea: It”s scary.

Pytka: It”s very scary. In Paris you have 4 or 5 different newspapers, each with a radical opinion, but at least a different one. But there”s hope. There might be a woman president.

ihaveanidea: Hillary!

Pytka: I like Hillary”s humanism but I”m not sure she has the political clout to pull it off. If you go back to the Greeks and (Aristophanis ??) you might find answers to what is going on here. An inward effort to look at our problems and solve them in a humanistic way might be the right way.

One of the things I admired about Hillary is that she tried influencing Bill in things like healthcare. With the technology and skills we have, this shouldn”t be closed to some. Making that accessible is a step in the right direction.

ihaveanidea: I agree, I always found it funny to see busloads of citizens from the world”s richest nation crossing the border to buy pills in Canada.

Interview by:
Ignacio Oreamuno
ignacio@ihaveanidea.org
President
ihaveanidea

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