The Directors: Eric Maldin
Eric is a director/photographer who got his start in post production, crafting live content narrative. He brings those same storytelling chops to his directing approach. With a style that the kids might describe as IRL, Eric’s work exhibits a vitality that keeps our partners on their heels.
Name: Eric Maldin
Location: Venice, CA
Repped by/in: Stadium
Awards: Webby Award for Bumble
LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
Eric> Often, when I receive agency briefs, the scripts are half baked or not even in a format to be called a script. So, it really comes down to the imagery and basic framework of what the spot or film can be developed into. Then I ask myself, “does this have potential to be elevated?” If so, I am most likely excited to be a part of it. For me, getting excited about a project is directly related to the prospect of collaboration and working together to make something better than where it started. That holds true for automotive, lifestyle, pharmaceutical, or mayonnaise commercials.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Eric> Honestly, it changes every time. My basic workflow is to hop on my laptop and just google a ton of films, images, and inspirations that feel relevant to the creative and bookmark them. A lot of the time I also look at directors and DPs work I admire and find relevant camera moves or techniques to pull references from. Then, I go into a wormhole of researching processes and asking a ton of questions to myself or to other people I want to collaborate with. Normally I am listening to music, to help me focus. Once I feel I have the script or creative broken down in my head, I open a text edit document because it’s the easiest interface to look at for me. Microsoft word scares me, so text edit feels more malleable and easier to essentially regurgitate ideas into a single place. Once I get to a decent place with my writing, I scour the internet for images and start pulling visuals. Then I go back to the writing and finish the rough format of the treatment. Once that is done, I start the layout either in in-design or keynote. From here, it’s kind of a blur…I hop back from tweaking writing, designing, and image research. Then once I feel it’s nearly there, I export a PDF and proof-read it. I’ll make some final changes and send out to my EP for their feedback. Most of the time this all takes place in about 24-48 hours as most treatments don’t allow for much time to sit on, or it’s likely because I procrastinated too long.
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?
Eric> This is crucial. Agency creatives or brands love to know the director is familiar with their brand and the work they’ve done. If you don’t know the brand, research it extensively so when you speak to the people who may be hiring you, you can speak to several points that strike your interest. For example, if the brand is primarily a DTC brand, point that out on a call, and ask if they are looking to get into retail. It shows you care and are paying attention. I normally go on the brand’s social channels to see what they have released in the past few years. Then I find out what agencies or production companies they have previously used. This all helps inform you on how to approach the project, if you are bidding against others the hope is that your research gives you small pieces of information that others may not bring up.
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Eric> For me, its always my DP. They are the ones who are making decisions on the look and feel of the spot or film. Someone once told me that DP stands for director’s pal, and I think that is very true. I normally lean on my DP to help me come up with ideas, camera moves, and blocking. I find the more you lean on other people, makes them feel involved in the project and that their opinions truly matter. Collaboration is key for me, and I welcome ideas. Doesn’t matter if you are a DP, editor, producer, or PA I think that the more people feel involved in the creative the better the project normally end up being.
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?
Eric> Documentary based films are my favourite types of things to capture. It’s all about the human condition for me and capturing images that make people feel something that they can relate to. I’m blown away by directors who use tons of VFX and crazy production design, and to be fully transparent am slightly in awe of it. That’s why I stick to my skillset and focus on what I know. Always looking to learn new things, but I very much feel an affinity to reality based concepts that the viewer can see themselves in.
LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
Eric> That I only do one thing. I wear tons of hats and am never scared to get my hands dirty. If that means operating a camera, so be it.
LBB> Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?
Eric> Hah, yes we have worked with a ton of them. If I am being honest the experience is never good. “your bid says it costs $12 for each walkie talkie, can you please reduce to $11” Often times I feel they undervalue the cost of doing film production. They take context and discretion out of the equation and try to lower your budget to the threshold of making it almost undoable.
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Eric> Oh boy, I had a lead talent come off an overnight shoot the day before without telling production. Wouldn’t be a red flag with the exception that this person was epileptic and the chances of having a seizure go WAY up when they are sleep deprived. We were shooting in a busy train station and this person went into a violent seizure mid-take. It was super intense, and they had to be removed in a stretcher. Everyone was super freaked out by it, but I tried to stay as calm as possible and make sure both the agency and the crew knew that everything was ok. We ended up casting our second choice and had them come in on the day. We shot another scene out of order while we waited on the new talent to arrive. We shot it out (in a quarter of the time) and no one would ever know it happened. Commercial directing rarely goes exactly as you anticipate and your ability to stay calm and figure out solutions is why you get jobs, even though this was a difficult one to stay composed for it all ended up working out in the end. And yes, the lead talent who was taken off in a stretcher recovered fine!
LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Eric> This is something I struggle with. It really is all about reading the room as I say. Is this agency or creative someone who feels super collaborative and welcomes your opinion? If so, speak up if you disagree, chances are they accept feedback positively. Or is this client more conservative and by the books? If that is the case maybe sometimes it’s better to listen to their ideas and not risk making the taste in their mouths after the job be sour. Every job and every person are different. I normally trust my gut on things, most of the times it works out.
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?
Eric> I absolutely think this is overdue, we need more voices from all backgrounds telling stories. I love helping people learn the craft and watch them succeed, often faster and better than I did myself at their age. Paying it forward is essential.
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?
Eric> I am trying to just slow down a bit and tune out of social media more often. We are in a world that craves attention, and if you are not directing something every day you feel left out. It’s a shitty feeling, and one that I think is detrimental to the craft of directing. So, as I get older, I am trying to be ok with the stillness of being a commercial director may bring at times and allow that time to relax or develop an idea. Some people get to work all the time every day, some people work once a month. Neither one of these is bad, it’s just up to the person. For me I am happiest when I have a balanced workflow and that I something I am developing coming out of the pandemic.
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)?
Eric> I just try to collaborate with whatever team I am working for and make sure they know I am paying attention to the various formats we must work on. Sure, I don’t love framing for a 9x16 social post, but that is the world we live in. My ambition is always to create a hero film in 2:35 anamorphic or 16x9 widescreen but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect or acknowledge the growing need for various formats.
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)?
Eric> I am currently working with Unreal Engine for a project which is WAY out of my comfort level. However, it’s time to learn new things so while VFX and AR is not normally in my workflow, I am welcoming new tech and seeing how it works. Learning new skills is something that will never be un-cool. So I am trying this one...
LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
Eric> I don’t really have an answer for this, I think my work tries to blend cultures and genres and that’s what STADIUM is all about. I don’t really consider myself a typical commercial director because I work on such a wide array of projects. I will say that I loved working on the Bumble project during quarantine and the fact that we created the series in-house.