The Directors: Anthony Pellino
Anthony Pellino is a commercial director based both in New York and Los Angeles.
He has helmed campaigns both domestically and internationally for brands such as Guinness, Uber, Reebok, Peloton, Michelob Ultra, and more.
Pellino was selected to the 2019 SHOOT Online New Directors Showcase, while his biggest inspiration comes from his father's journey as an immigrant, and he tries to reflect that passion in all of his work.
Name: Anthony Pellino
Location: New York, NY
Repped by/in: Alkemy X USA, ElectricLime Worldwide
Awards: Shots New Director Showcase 2019
LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
Anthony> The scripts that most excite me are the ones that really understand their target audience, and are very aware as to what they want to accomplish with a campaign’s release. When a script knows who they want to talk to, who they’re trying to steal from the competition, those are usually the most authentic and often come from the creatives who are the most fun to work with.
As a director we love the freedom to explore and build upon a script, but having a framework that dictates the path we take and motivates each decision with a macro understanding of the audience ensures the best spots possible.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Anthony> References, references, references. GIFs, examples, sounds, and trying my best to make the most interactive treatment I can. We’re making visuals, and using other visuals to convey your message avoids a misinterpretation of words. I try to be as clear as possible with what I’m going to do with a script.
And on top of that - I always try to pull comparisons in my writing. Because everyone has a different image in their mind if I say “saturated,” “sharp,” or “soft.” But I think everyone has a more similar understanding if I say “We’re going to be this __ commercial mixed with this ___ commercial”
LBB> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?
Anthony> I think it’s important to an extent. Sometimes agencies are looking for that complete outside perspective. Obviously, you want to be fully aware of a brand’s messaging, identity, their audience etc. But, sometimes over researching their past spots can unconsciously lead you to create what’s been done before.
But it’s also different per project you know? Some brands have huge success with doing similar formats year after year. And sometimes it’s critical to match that past body of work and keep up appearances and level of success. So yeah, it’s different per objective.
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Anthony> Respect. Filmmaking in of itself is taking chances. You’re going out into the day with expensive gear and actors and making things happen in the moment. That’s a risk. Respecting people’s visions on both sides of the aisle and taking chances when the opportunity calls for it is important. But it’s only going to work if I respect the agency’s vision and they respect mine, and then if we all respect the client’s needs. From there, we can have the most collaborative (and fun!) environment. Nobody is an auteur, and nobody has all the answers. But it’s my job to understand how to best interpret and respect all of the ideas and wishes, and turn those into something special.
LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
Anthony> Ads that inspire. I want people to punch the air with joy when they see my work. I want them to look up from their phone during an ad break on NFL Sunday and say “F yeah.” I want us to be proud to be human, and I want the work that reaches for that feeling.
LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
Anthony> I’ve heard that my work isn’t soft, or emotional enough. And I think a lot of that comes from the path I took with my first Reebok ad. But I don’t necessarily agree with that - these are the interpretations these stories needed. Boxer from the underground, sprinter who ran 1000 miles in 100 days, and artists who broke the social stigmas of Singapore to become successful. I think it goes to the fact that it’s hard to break out of your box and get an agency to trust you with their six figure budget for something they haven’t noticed in your work. I look forward to the opportunities that let me!
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Anthony> Oh man - I have so many stories. But the one that had the most impact on the final film was on my Guinness ad in Singapore. The client really pushed to shoot in Singapore. And it was a mistake - it’s a small country, and we were there when Crazy Rich Asians was shooting. So crewing up was hard enough - nevermind getting the 50 foot technocrane we needed. Production luckily found a team in Kuala Lumpur to drive down a few days before.
Unfortunately they were live action, talk show guys who have never handled complex maneuvers or had real on-set production experience. We fell four hours behind on the first day (and I don’t mean to toot my own horn but I never go over.) We just couldn’t get the shots we needed.
End of Day 1 the DP and I sat down and reboarded the entire spot and shot the rest of the spot on a manual 25 foot crane. It only swung, so push and pulls were incredibly difficult, but it was the only equipment left in the country. I’m still very happy with the final product but it goes to show how much your location matters to what you can accomplish on set. I still wonder what that spot would've been if we went to Thailand.
LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Anthony> A lot of a director’s job is reading the room. How much does the client want you to do your own thing, how much do they want you to improv, or shoot the exact boards etc. I worked in the service industry for 10 years. My father came from Italy and started me as a waiter at 14. (That job funded all my specs, thank you dad!!) But we’re in the service industry. End of story. It’s the client's film, not yours. They’re the customer and it’s up to you to use your wits to best understand how to give them the experience and final product that they want, and use your judgment and creativity to give them the best spot that they want. Directors need to respect and understand that.
LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?
Anthony> I wasn’t lucky enough to have a mentor. Everyone comes up in a different way. I just funded specs from waiting tables, and cold emailed production companies. Some people interned or were DAs and got their shot in that route. I don’t know if I’d be comfortable mentoring someone, because there are much more senior directors who may be a better fit. But I’m always down to help people get into the industry in other ways. Give them advice on my specific journey, introduce them to former contacts etc. At the end of the day, you need work to work. Gotta find the ways to get people to give you that work. Hustle the networking or hustle the spec route.
As for diversity, hell yeah. More voices, better work, lifts us all up. Plenty of work to go around and we’re the new generation who needs to define advertising for the next generation.
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?
Anthony> I think everything will revert to the previous way it was, I’m already seeing it. Remote shoots are horrible and remote scouting is also horrible. If you’re spending this money to make a spot, you gotta give yourself the best chance to succeed, and that’s getting people there in person.
LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
Anthony> No more anamorphic. 16x9 everything. And honestly I’m so happy about that. Everything is watched on a phone or in a window on YouTube, so we gotta make the image as big as possible. Anamorphic is for big screen long form content. I think director’s need to understand the format and swallow their pride. Yes, we love our lens flares and our old Russian lenses, but unless you’re shooting a spot that’s only ad spend is for movie theaters, you’re wasting screen space and forcing audiences to squint to see it. Big bold images in 16x9 format is the first step I’m glad we’re all taking to make our spots stand out as best they can.
LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?
Anthony> I am itching to get on one of those virtual screens. What a game changer. Enough said.
LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
Anthony> Reebok, Red Bull, Guinness, 2XU.
Strong character portraits and visual storytelling. How can I immortalise my characters on screen, how can I visualise the idea of themselves that they have? That’s my goal with everything.