Credits (director, writer, DP, producer, etc.)
Director, Editor: Mark Jwayad
Writer: Dan Sorgen
Producer: Ian Lindsay
Cinematographer: Topher Osborn
Production Designer: Gill Gayle
Sound: Sean Oakley
Color: Brain Hutchings
1st AC: Mike Lemnitzer
2nd AC: Moses Davis III
Gaffer: Zach Rasmussen
Key Grip: Tyler Manning
Swing: Team Bashet
Best Boy Grip: Taurean Reynolds
Make Up: Olympia
DAD: Garry Guerrier
DAUGHTER: Juliette Amara
SON: Isaac Amara
MOM: Gia Mora
Why this script/concept? How does it reflect your vision as a commercial director?
Currently, my reel is very dialogue/comedy driven and I felt that this GILT script was another way to show how I handle this medium. Most comedy, if not all, is a misdirect. This was a big misdirect. I saw a great chance to make something that could feel like a car commercial and then turn it on its head. It was a lot of fun.
A lot of my work has the audience learning the outcome of the characters at the same time the characters do. I've always been attracted those small little moments that just go south in a comedic way. Dan's GILT script was different, in that the audience are discovering what the characters already know, I loved that. He wrote it so well that I could see it clearly in my mind, not only is that a sign of well written copy, but from a director's standpoint, a big consideration in choosing a piece.
Being on the phone while with other people is also a topic that most of us can identify with. I love how the script dramatize this. However, elevating something to a level of comedic “drama" can tricky, and it needs to be done well for it to come off in a believable manor. This is true for both the dad and the kids as well as the mom. If it isn't done right, it can get into eye-role territory very easily. Again, this is another aspect that drew me to this script.
When it comes to spec scripts, I'm always considering both the concept and the brand. It is the only time you have control over both. I think it is smart to curate a spec reel that keeps this in mind. For me, GILT as a brand fit well with what I have on my current reel, and the concept for the spot also added a new dimension to what I have.
What was the casting process like?
I've been in commercial casting for over six years. I get to work with so many talented actors in Los Angeles. For me, once I have answered the questions of tone, look, and strengths needed for the concept, then it is just asking the right person. If you don't have a large budget for your specs and therefore you aren't able to budget good pay for your good actors, then in my opinion auditions go out the window. You are asking favors even if you are paying them some sort of small day rate. Thankfully, I've worked with or seen my actor’s work on other projects, so I feel more than confident when I cast from previous experience.
For GILT, I was looking for a dad that would have a handsome rugged look that set the tone and feel of a car spot, then we reveal the kids and I needed a solid performance from them. Finally, with the mom I needed that honest engagement with the phone and an actress to push it into an excitedly humorous place without giving to an ungrounded performance. Our actress, Gia Mora, delivered very well. The Mom role needed an actress who could give us good improvised moments to use in the editing room and that is definitely one of Gia's gifts.
How did you search for/lock a location?
This was the toughest part of the project. I started by trying to find a location with a lookout vista on private property, but never found it. Time was running out so I called the LA Mountain film office. They were SUPER helpful even though I spent three times what I budgeted for that location. But when the clock is running out, you have to make it happen. We were stuck with that shooting day in part because I was shooting another spec spot the same day, so there wasn't a lot of flexibility on moving the date.
How did you select your DP, crew?
I work with a few cinematographers. Topher and I met in undergrad @ the University of San Francisco. We both attended grad school (he for cinematography @ UCLA and myself for directing @ Chapman) and now enjoy working together in Los Angeles. He is great, he gets what I'm looking for and he has a great crew. In the sound department, I have a friend named Sean Oakley that I met at Chapman, and he does wonderful work. I had lots of friends from the business and personal life that helped with the rest, it really would never happen without them.
How did shooting go? Any challenges?
It was a great day, couldn't have asked for anything better. We were shooting two specs and so we had to race with the sun a bit @ the end of the day, but that is pretty common when you are doing a Golden Hour shoot in one evening. I would caution letting the kids have too much sugar while you are still using them for a scene like ours, but other than that I was very happy.
Tell us about editing and finishing.
Editing was tougher on this project then on the other spec I shot the same day. There were so many options and small tonal choices that it took awhile to find the right balance. I like to get feedback from people pretty early on. So I cut two options for subtly different versions and started sending that to my “brain trust.” I was getting feedback that was 50/50, and I knew we were close to being finished. Some projects, you know pretty quickly when to lock picture, others take more time, this was one of the latter. In retrospect, I'm glad I did more cuts then I usually do. You want to feel confident that you have the best cut possible. Thankfully, you have that kind of time when you are creating a spec. Getting it right is what it is all about. As for color grading, I gave an early cut to my grader and he found the timing quickly, he does very solid work. Sound really helped bridge our gaps. I found the music pretty early on and it became very important to the editing of the piece. The music stepped up the drama of the piece in really impactful way.
In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently?
It would have been helpful to lock our location earlier, but we just didn't have that luxury. If we could have had the location locked earlier, then I might have had a more solid board/plan with my cinematographer. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that, but that's the way it works when you have to get stuff done. You have to go with the date that works for most of the people's time conflicts, and do the best you can with all of your unsettled pieces of your puzzle.
Any other thoughts.
I've written most of the specs/projects on my reel. It was great to work with a copywriter on this project. Having a creative team of two (instead of just me) from the beginning to the end of process is SOOO helpful. When you have to make decisions about the project there is another person who is also invested that you can call. This is also much similar to the process of making advertising for a client. Realistically, there would be a copywriter whose vision the director must find and bring to life. I thrive on collaboration and I'm very thankful to have worked with someone who enjoys the collaboration as much as I do.