Director Bruce Van Dusen has had a long career making commercials, which is extremely rare. He’s discovered that making a good commercial is finding a balance between art and commerce, and the end product must be exactly what the client wants while getting the viewer to pay attention. Working in commercials doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in people- unlike a movie or TV show, there’s even less time and more pressure on a commercial shoot. The crew must gel instantly, work quickly and create a spot that’s going to be usable at the end of the day. A commercial director is in the unique position of not necessarily being completely in charge on set. The client is always present and is able to tell the director exactly what they want, even without any authority or experience. The director has to listen even if it seems stupid, or they get blamed for a bad result.
Straight out of film school, Bruce first wanted to make serious documentaries. He greatly admired Frederick Wiseman’s films, and Frederick happened to be listed in the phone book, so Bruce called him up. Frederick gave him a piece of advice- you’ll spend a lot of your time trying to raise money for your film rather than making the documentary. This set Bruce down a completely different path, and he decided he would do anything to get a job working in movies. He started working as a production assistant, and saw how much money some of the big names in the movie business made making commercials on the side. At age 23, he quickly found some local clients, started his own business in New York and established himself as the king of low-budget commercials by undercutting all the other directors’ rates.
Over time, Bruce became an established name, doing bigger and longer commercials, and he was able to find a niche in longer-format emotional commercial “stories” dealing with actors. Once he created a rapport working with the same clients, there was more trust, more art, and more confidence in his work. He finally made a documentary, The Surge: The Whole Story, and directed three films, including Cold Feet, a small 1983 indie that made it to the Sundance Film Festival. Most recently, besides writing a book about his experiences, Bruce made a spot for The Lincoln Project.
Find Bruce Van Dusen: https://www.brucevandusen.com/
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Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep105/
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