The Malloys discuss shooting a lot and working fast, new technologies, and how they approach new projects, in “The Directors” for Little Black Book.
LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from another and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
The Malloys> The creative is always the number one thing, no matter what. If a script catches your attention, suddenly you’re excited to do a call and it brings back a little bit of the hunger you had when you were just starting out and cutting your teeth in the business. Then there are the emotional elements that check a lot of boxes for you – it’s a really cool spot, there’s a great athlete attached, or a product that you love and support – and that’s when you can really dive into the creativity and add maybe just a little more of your personality than what was presented on the page.
LBB> Are there any other factors beside the script that come into play when you’re considering a project?
The Malloys> When we were just starting out, we were really hungry and just trying to find things that we could do well. Now, there are two lanes we get to go down. There’s one with familiar concepts that we react to immediately and feel we could do well. Or personal relationships or a respect for the way things are done at certain agencies that make you want to engage. Then, there’s the other side where we get really competitive. When it’s a great script, you feel that rush and hunger come back and everyone at the agency is percolating…a little fun and creative pressure is good sometimes. It stretches and grows you in different directions.
We’re also both really involved family guys. We coach all our kids’ teams and we take those commitments into consideration before we pull the trigger.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
The Malloys> We pride ourselves on bringing intimacy and authenticity to every project. You can’t really bring those elements in if you’re not in tune with the work. In the treatment, the key for us is to find a way to really show how our style and personality can shine through and be in sync with the campaign.
We start that process by talking and scheming to find a creative way to personalise the spot and make it feel like we could do it better than anyone else. We present ourselves in a way that people know we wouldn’t fight the process the whole time and we play to our advantages. We’re very approachable, easy to work with and dependable. And because there are two of us, we shoot a lot and we work fast.
LBB> If the script is for a brand that you’re not familiar with, or if you don’t have an affinity for the brand, do you research it? Is it important for you to understand the strategic side of a campaign?
The Malloys> We try our best to work with companies and products that we believe in. Or, we’ll work with a brand on a campaign that might be trying to change their profile. We’re always really open-minded when hearing those things and feel like that’s something we’ve been a part of creatively. For the most part, though, we try to work with companies we already support in some way.
With respect to new products, we take a different approach and ask the agency a lot of questions about the product and brand during the first part of the call. Flipping and reversing allows the agency to fill us in so that we don’t bring up a bunch of ideas that maybe miss the mark, or aren’t part of what they’re actually looking to advertise.
LBB> When you’re making an ad, what is the most important working relationship that you have in that experience?
The Malloys> The number one is the relationship we have with one another; making sure that we are in tune with everything we do, even when we’re not on set together. From there, it’s being in tune with the agency. We always try to create a great relationship, even when we know it’s going to be challenging early on. It’s something you’ve got to overcome, even if it means making jokes about it and having everyone admit there’s an elephant in the room. That’s one of those things that everybody knows exists. The possibility that the vibe feels off at the beginning, or maybe the stakes are very high and so everyone’s a little tense. Having a shared vision for what you’re doing is the key. You have to find a rhythm with the agency for the campaign to go well. Sometimes it’s super easy and sometimes you really have to get creative from both sides and find a way to make a productive relationship out of a situation that might otherwise become unproductive.
In the end, you just have to ride with it because, again, you get nowhere by fighting it. You need to stand strong and hold your ground so that nobody can sabotage their own campaign, because that’s something that can happen. You’ve just got to stay positive with the agency and the talent and find a productive lane to travel down together, whatever it may be.
LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about? Is it a genre or a style, or a subject matter? What is it about something that you feel that really sparks something for you?
The Malloys> It varies for us. There being two of us, it really doubles the number of things that resonate. So, for us, there’s an open-mindedness to the subject matter and genre that comes from having a partner, because sometimes one of us is into something that the other might not be into right from the jump. We respect when the other is really into a concept. We’re willing to give it a try. To trust each other’s instincts. We both share a love for real stories, real people, real things. There is always truth behind our work.
LBB> What’s the biggest misconception about your work?
The Malloys> In many ways, both in the ad world and also with Netflix, it’s really become the era of the documentary, which is cool because we’ve always worked in that spirit. But it’s been a funny dance because the moment you bring up “documentary” to an agency person, it still seems to have a little bit of a stigma attached where it won’t look as stylish or cool. That’s something we’ve had to really find our way through on almost every call, dancing around the word ‘documentary’. Ultimately, though, the campaigns we’ve had the best success with centre on real stories, real people. And just because a film is made in the documentary spirit doesn’t mean it can’t look incredible and cinematic.
LBB> Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so, how have your experiences been?
The Malloys> We definitely pay mind to our budgets and we work with producers that respect those numbers – fighting the fight with everybody. We give when we should give. We take jobs that feel worth the investment even if they’re smaller jobs and we’re shrewd with the numbers because it feels like we’re part of the company. When you’re with executives like Rebecca and Michelle at SUPERPRIME, who have been with us since we were really young, there’s a real feeling of partnership. We’ve grown together and helped them build their company by just being loyal, dependable people that care about the company as a whole. We’re not just directors. We’re in there making things happen with them. It’s a trickle-down effect. When they’re doing well, we’re doing well.
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
The Malloys> Being on a basketball court in China that we built in an ancient temple courtyard, with three of the biggest NBA stars on the planet and getting shut down after only 30 minutes of filming. With the language barrier, we had really no idea why we were being shut down, but next thing we knew the athletes were loading into their bus and heading home. We solved it by shooting everything we needed in the first 30 minutes, because we felt uneasy about things and knew something like this might happen. So we came out of the gates swinging!
LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open and collaborative with the agency or brand client, while you’re also protecting the idea?
The Malloys> It’s always a dance. Sometimes the agency gives you the ropes and sometimes they’re controlling them the whole time. So then you just throw the ropes back to them and ride it out. Some jobs have this cloud that follows them where it feels like a lot of counterproductive things are being put forth minute after minute. You can see that everyone is melting down and you have to shift that, like a no bullshit leader and rally everyone back. You’re almost like a quarterback, where you’re calling the plays but you know you’re not shit without your team. Then there’s another type of job, where they keep reminding you that they hired you, but it was really competitive and they almost hired the other director. And you respect that. In the end, you’ve got to befriend them so you can collaborate and work together, or you’re going to end up being the directors they regretted hiring. So, you get there in the end. Most jobs usually fall somewhere in between those two extremes.
LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up to a more diverse group of talent? You mentioned that you found your way into the business because you worked with great mentors and that you wanted to be the same sort of filmmakers. Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?
The Malloys> We grew up loving this business because everybody was so open. It didn’t feel competitive. In no other business could you walk up to the head dude and be like, “Hey, want a coffee?” and then just chat it up with them. That’s a tradition that we’re continuing on set and it’s a way of giving back.
Now, more than ever, we’re excited to help people in ways that open up opportunities for them. We’re in an era that really values working with a diverse group of people who can and open your mind to other perspectives. One of our producers works with kids in South Central LA, helping to provide opportunities to youth that normally wouldn’t have a pathway into the business. Often, those kids are the ones you’re most impressed by on the job, because their stories are so unique and the point of views are so different.
LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?
The Malloys> Craft service will never be the same again! Just kidding…kind of.
In the pre-Covid days, I remember being on sets where endless details were overanalysed, oftentimes people were on their computers, or worried about the WiFi connection and then when it came to do the shot you had to re-engage people. We’ve done a few jobs on Zoom now and it might sound crazy, but with everyone there on the monitor before the shot, I feel like people are weirdly attentive. Sometimes the most remote shoots have the most attentive focus, which is interesting. Shooting virtually also allows you to be much more productive for things like casting, where you can see many more people who might not have been able to make the casting call in person. From my experience, it makes sense to continue doing a lot of the casting remotely.
LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats – to what extent do you keep each in mind while you’re working?
The Malloys> We want the core :30 or :60 to be a cinematic experience. But in the varied format era, we don’t pitch shooting anamorphic lenses as much as we used to because they’re too complicated to work with, even though they give you that cinematic look. I feel like everybody’s been burned in some ad or another when they’ve shot on anamorphic lenses. The number of options directors are required to deliver on every campaign sometimes detracts from focusing on one pure thing in the longer format. And sometimes, on shoot days, it feels like everybody’s gunning for these little social spots that you could almost shoot on your phone. If it feels like everybody is focusing on those little films, then we have to re-focus them and make sure that the hero piece doesn’t get diluted.
LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?
The Malloys> We love all aspects of new technology. Each week the digital cameras get smaller and have a more sophisticated color palette. It’s incredible. But to be honest, we still pitch shooting film on a lot of jobs, so we have a soft spot for the analog era as well. That said, we know we have to get in and play the field. We’ll partner up with the best DP who can help us adapt our styles to be a little more post-driven, for example. The partners you choose can definitely help you stick to a slightly altered style. You hire the right DP and production designer and suddenly, you’ve got their whole bag of tricks with you. I really enjoy those moments when you discover something you never even knew you could do.