Speck and Gordon in Shots
Comedy comes first, last and always for the joined-at-the-hip directing team of Will Speck and Josh Gordon
...Staking Out The Funnybone
Directing team Will Speck and Josh Gordon continue to deliver smart observational humor after a decade of top-notch work. The duo have directed hundreds of commercials and collected numerous awards for clients including Levi's, Pepsi, Visa, Mastercard,Samsung and GEICO.
Speck and Gordon met in film school at NYU and soon hit it off as a writing and co-directing team. In fact they hit it out of the park, nominated for an Academy Award for their short film Culture, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, while still at university. It caught the eye of Ridley and Tony Scott at RSA Films, who took them on.
Brief stints in different LA companies followed before teaming up with producer Diane McArter in the mid 90s. They have stayed with her since, now nestled together at LA-based Furlined.
A working partnership
“It feels like a mind meld,” adds Speck on the relationship. “With Diane we can talk about our ambitions. She indulges us in conversations and quickly gets us to where we need to go. What keeps us so tethered is the feeling that there’s never a sense of simply coasting through.”
What continues to be a theme in their work is a free-ranging visual approach that allows flexibility in garnering authentic moments – as evident in Hispanic for Levi’s where sweeping comedy goes beyond mere language to appeal to a wider audience:
Actor Michael Peña takes a comical turn as one of a pair of street-cred hipsters who try to outsize each other in coolness factor. Peña mocks his Levi’s-clad buddy, joking his pants are too big. As Peña slides his hand in his pocket he rips a hole in his corduroys: Game over. Embarrassment ensues. Superb acting, coverage and sly edits win the day.
Anatomy of funny
“We had to get Michael another pair of pants but we didn’t have anything on hand,” Gordon explains. “I gave him my brown corduroys that didn’t fit but looked good. We sewed him into the pants, then accidentally ripped his pocket during a take.”
“We were in the trailer not really knowing if we had got it,” recalls Speck. “It came together in the editing process. Sometimes you need to take that leap and the agency needs to be your partner in that.”
“Comedic work that succeeds is about situations that are inherently funny to both of us,” adds Gordon. “There are jokes and takes on a situation that we immediately see with our shared sense of humor. The key is not approaching anything defensively. Caution and comedy don’t mix.”
It’s this kind of sensibility that, with production experience, can successfully transfer across mediums, specifically from commercial to film. Speck and Gordon made the leap with panache on the commercially successful Blades of Glory.
The script was an unlikely first feature for Speck and Gordon to wrestle with. However, they saw possibilities on how to make the movie right. It also turned out that the producer on the project was a big fan of their work – Ben Stiller.
“We connected into the story of two brother figures who subjugate their feelings to work together,” says Speck on the film. “We were around Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell, who were in synch with us creatively. We were really open to collaboration.”
The first two weeks were nerve-racking. In the mythology of movies – also the truth – directors can be replaced within the first two weeks of a production without having to deal with the DGA. “
An agency is a lot like a studio,” notes Gordon. “Producers are essentially the agency. Thankfully we’d been through that process for years. We were prepared for people to come up to the screen and criticize things. It really was knowing when to fight and when not to that kept us on track.”
While many commercial directors get a bad rap for feature work, in Speck’s mind there’s no better place than commercial production to craft your skills: “I don’t think there’s any other medium both technically and politically that can better prepare you before a film,” he posits.
“But in commercials, the agency is the membrane between you and the client. You quickly find out on a feature that there is no agency to fight your battles. In a feature it’s you rubbing up against the money.”
Working in London
Speck and Gordon’s latest campaign is for client Nestea through W+K London. Perfect Day sees three guys admiring a bevy of bikini-clad beauties. One spins the Nestea bottle to choose a girl – and discovers the bottle is pointing to an old grandma.
“UK creatives are not a bunch of guys with screenplays in their drawers,” quips Gordon on UK Vs American creatives. “They take complete pride in what they do which is super infectious. There is a sense of full commitment and integrity and it feels like real art to them. You immediately follow suit.”
The pair loved the whole process with W+K, especially working on the edit. Gordon notes, “It’s the involvement, a shared sense of trust and belief during the process and, ultimately, it’s not a fear-based exercise.”
“London is a really small community and we love Fallon, BBH and had a fantastic experience with W+K on the Nestea job,” concludes Speck. “We love the culture of advertising in London because it doesn’t feel weighed down by the DVR culture in America. Plus they knight people for advertising. How cool is that?”