Bo Mirosseni Interview

The Spec Bank interviews Bo Mirosseni of Partizan.

Bo Mirosseni is a commercial director signed with Partizan, one of the top production companies in the world. He broke into the industry on the strength of his spec reel and by making the right connections. The Spec Bank met up with Bo in Los Angeles to discuss his approach to shooting great spec spots, getting a foot in the door, and working in the industry.

How did you get into directing?

Bo Mirosseni: It's cliche to start off my movie-making experience with "my dad brought home an old VHS camcorder," but yes, that's how it began. I started shooting nonsensical films using my cousins and pets as actors. We would just make random little short films.

What about commercial directing?

It was all sort of an accident. I guess a happy accident. I really wanted to major in physics in college, but for fun, I took a film class and then made a short film. It got accepted into the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival. And the festival said it was so good that they wanted to enter it with the regular submissions, not with the student stuff.

I just said "okay," and the next thing I knew, I was at the ArcLight theaters watching my no-budget short film on the screen. The experience got me more into film and soon I was obsessed with cinema. I never went to film school or anything, but I started shooting more short films, then took an internship at MTV in New York. And after, I'm not sure exactly what hooked me on advertising and commercials, but I got really into it. The Spike Jonze skate movies Fully Flared and Yeah Right! also played a big part in my getting into filmmaking.

Why did you shoot your first commercial?

I knew I needed to make a reel but had no clue exactly what needed to be on it at that time. I made a few shitty specs, then started making connections and asking a lot of questions to some older director friends and EPs who were offering their help. So I got on the right track and started shooting better, funnier spots.

Where did you get your scripts?

I wrote most of the scripts, but one, Virgin Mobile "Bridal Shower," came from the Spec Bank, and some others came from agencies at which I had friends working.

How much did you spend to shoot your specs?

It was different for each spot, of course. The most I spent was around $2,800. When I was done with the spots, I would just hold on to them until I had at least four solid spots to put up on my site so I could email it to reps and EPs.

How did you find your crew?

I met my primary DP through Craigslist. We became really good friends and, to this day, I still shoot with him. We just went to Europe to do a commercial. It HAS to be the best Craigslist success story, ha ha. My direct crew, like makeup, production design and producer, are my friends, people I have worked with on almost all my stuff. I met them through friends.

How did you pick your niche?

Comedy has always played a big part in my family. So I always had a natural gravitation toward comedy. I don't think I'm a super funny guy or anything. I don't know, maybe I am! Also, most of my favorite movies are not comedies, so not sure really what the hell is going on, but it's working.

Did you do any research before you started shooting your reel in earnest?

I sort of over-analyze and over-research everything I do or buy, so, yes, I researched the heck out of other comedy directors to see their style. But I didn't say, "Okay, I'll make quirky, offbeat comedy that involves strange characters." I just picked scripts I really liked and somehow, in the end, it worked out that I was doing offbeat comedy spots with dialogue or just action. I was also really picky. I think that's really important.

How so?

It's easy, at first glance, to fall in love with a script. It's like car shopping: you see a car, love the color and the fact it has an iPod hookup. But maybe the next car has all that, plus more. It's good to be picky because then you're getting exactly what you want. Take your time. Don't rush the reel. There are plenty of scripts in the sea.

So after you finished your spots, then what?

I made a website and put my spots up there. At this point, I already knew I was in the Cannes Young Directors Showcase so I wanted my website up when I went to Cannes.

Talk about that.

Cannes was real fun. Expensive, but fun. It all happened during an internship I had at Station Film. The EPs over there were pretty surprised. I'm not sure why, maybe because they thought an intern couldn't get into Cannes? I submitted in order to help me gain more credibility and exposure, and I wanted to go to Cannes to walk around with my shirt off and ride a Vespa.

The audience reaction to my spot, Virgin Mobile "Bridal Shower," was really great. People were laughing, and that was the most important thing for me. I met with some producers from Germany, China and France, and hit up industry parties. I also made some friends. One of them is a working director in the U.S. who helped me break into the commercial/music video worlds. The food was good too.

What was your internship at Station Film like?

I helped with their daily office stuff and also worked with Sam Cadman and Vance Malone, helping to put together treatments for the directors. Michael D and Caroline Gibney are amazing people. I would also see the boards that came in every day and became familiar with the agencies and directors and how the industry all functions. It was a great internship.

How do you prepare for a shoot?

I like to go into a shoot having already edited the spot in my head. That way, I know exactly what I need. I also do storyboarding, which I'm not really a huge fan of but you sort of still have to do it to help your crew understand exactly what you're thinking.

I also see if the actors are available before the shoot day for a rehearsal. Most times, for commercials, they're not, so we just have to do some quick warm-ups before our first shot. For music videos, I like to listen to the track on set using my iPod. It gets me in the mood and sometimes I get an idea last minute in my head.

The other thing is, I'm sort of anal-retentive, which can temporarily piss off my AD because I like to take my time and never move on to the next setup until I have the shot I need. I like to really analyze each frame and make sure everything is just right. Don't get me wrong, a little imperfection makes for some good comedy, but you don't want to go to edit and realize something was not set right or the colors were off in a certain prop.

I also love to shoot options and variations in dialogue so we have some room to try different edits in post. At the end of the day, though, you have to make sure you get what your client wants and what you're also happy with. It's easy to forget that it's a job when you're having fun on set doing what you love. With that said, I never like a very serious set. People should be relaxed and laughing and enjoying themselves. We're shooting a comedy spot, not a depressing PSA.

So how did you land the gig at Backyard? How did you prepare for your meeting?

I got into Backyard in a funny way. When I was at Cannes, I met a friend who is a fellow director. After my reel was ready, I hit him up and said, "Can you send my reel to your reps?" I got an email 5 hours later from Backyard's east coast rep. They got me in a meeting with them the next day. We hit it off and they brought me back for a second interview. Well, not really an interview, just a meet and greet with the owner. Everything went well and I was signed. In terms of preparing for the meeting, I didn't really. I just wore a nice button-up shirt.

What kind of questions did they ask you?

What do I do for fun, how long have I been shooting, do I have a crew I normally work with, do I know how to edit, and where I grew up.

So what was the experience of your first production company like?

I think it's safe to say my first production was an exception because I doubt new guys like me get jobs of this size. It was a big-budget Nintendo spot. I was literally thrown into it. There were some things that translated over from the spec world, but also lots of new things, like working with the client, getting on conference calls, all that good stuff. But it was fun and everyone was happy in the end. It was a surreal feeling for me. I felt I had graduated from the minor leagues to the major leagues.

How did you get signed at Partizan?

I had two producers I know refer me to the EP at Partizan, Sheila Stepanek. She saw my reel and called me immediately. Partizan really liked that I had both commercials and music videos, and I guess they didn't have a comedy dialogue guy who does more quirky stuff. At the time, I was talking to a few different shops. Choosing one was one of the hardest decisions I've made. I was so humbled that some top production companies wanted to sign me. In the end, I'm very happy with my decision. That, and also Partizan has a drum set in their office. I play the drums so it was a match made in heaven.

What's it like being a director on the Partizan roster?

There's a reason Partizan is one of the top production companies in the world: they do a great job of supporting their directors. I was a little wary signing with them at first due to their roster size, but after being there for 6 months, I can say they really do focus on their directors and give them TLC. I've been seeing lots of boards, and good ones, too, along with tracks for music videos. So that's great.

How do you get hired to shoot a spot?

Usually, depending on the script, they will see which director would be best suited for the job, who is available, that sort of stuff. They then send the boards to me and I review them before jumping on a conference call with my EP, rep and the agency. I don't have a set way of preparing. It just depends on my mood. Usually I make notes on what I want to focus on, like casting, tone, and locations. Sometimes, if the spot requires visual effects, I'll talk about that and how we can pull it off. I tend to get comedy/dialogue boards a lot so I'll spend time on casting. I'll also find out how open the agency is to alternative ideas and how quirky or conservative they want to be. Usually, by the time I get the boards, the agency has sold the client on the idea, so you have to be careful when introducing new ideas.

Then, the agency picks a recommended director that they propose to the client. After I'm awarded, we get really busy and I consume lots of candy and high fructose sugar and we start prepping. Location scouts, tech scouts, casting, a wardrobe meeting with the production designer and DP, sometimes rehearsal, storyboarding - all the fun stuff.

Depending on the client and country, we may have a pre-production meeting with the agency and client where we review everything just a few days before shoot day. And then we shoot!

So what have you been up to lately?

I just got back from Europe shooting a spot with DDB Paris. It was a four-day shoot in Prague and we did the post in Paris. I don't want to give away too much, but it's going to be a funny spot. Strange and cute and funny. I was just awarded another commercial that will shoot in Sweden, so I'm going back to Europe. I'm also writing a lot, working on developing a short, and trying to stay busy with treatments and pitching. Also, reading The Walking Dead. It's pretty good if you're into that sort of stuff.

What advice do you have for people shooting spec spots and trying to break into the business?

I would say the biggest thing is to make sure you have a really great idea. Not a good idea, but great. Make sure it's shot very well and the acting is all on point. And also pigeonhole the hell out of your reel. Yeah, it sounds wrong, but you have to craft a style and niche. If you're going to do beauty spots, don't throw in a quirky candy spot. Make sure it's all beauty. Of course, all your spots should be different in their own ways, but have a consistent style.

Creating a spec reel is like starting a business. Sometimes you'll fail at your first attempt, but you shouldn't quit. And spend the money to make it really awesome. That doesn't mean spending 30k on a spec. That's just absurd. I've heard of guys that do that and it's always strange. A great idea should not cost a lot to make because the best ideas are simple.

Oh yeah, and grow a beard and buy a hat. It's part of the director dress code. And if you're a female director, I would suggest also buying a hat and growing a beard.

Sage advice. Thanks!

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