Andrew Jasperson's Short Roasts Silicon Valley's Self-Importance
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
It's cool to want to change the world for the better. It's amazing to actually do it. But it's super annoying to act like you're doing it and talk about you doing it while you do it. Silicon Valley and Madison Ave are some of the biggest exporters of this often hilarious self-importance.
Luckily we have WNW Member Andrew Jasperson, here to hilariously roast some of the nonsense spouting from both industries in new short film PINGLR, which he wrote and directed. "Everyone has this BS language they all hide behind to protect their own jobs, which are usually unnecessary. Then there are the 'big goals' that everyone talks about, 'changing the world' and 'doing good', but the real problems are rarely things people actually do anything about...So I just felt like a swing at that whole self-important culture would be fun."
Andrew, in his decade-plus ad career, has clearly been listening to this rhetoric long enough to expertly ape it. And if you too work in the ad and/or start-up worlds, you'll enjoy PINGLR even more, while also resenting the fact that you know what most of these bullshit phrases are supposed to mean.
Below, Andrew tells us about his background as a Copywriter and Creative Director in advertising, what he likes about directing his own scripts, and what the biggest challenge was with this project. "The hardest part was honestly trying to get the App into the iTunes store. They keep rejecting it, which I think is funny because it speaks to exactly the thing I’m talking about. They claim this high minded purpose that the app store is this place where 'beautifully designed and amazingly functional' apps are showcased, and yet you find the most ridiculous apps on there like 'how high can you throw your iPhone.'"
Andrew also shares some of the other project highlights in his already imposing portfolio and talks about what's next. "There’s another short coming out soon - it’s like a sitcom but if Tarantino were to make it, and of course it’s nowhere near as good as how Tarantino would make it. And there’s a super bowl spot on its way too, so that’s all exciting."
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Andrew and how did he get here?
I got into advertising because my dream car in high school was a 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. This all happened because I forgot to put oil in my 1992 Dodge Dynasty and ruined the engine. I had to buy a new car. My dad told me i could only use the 5k I had saved up through my entire life to purchase this car, he refused to put any money in to subsidize my “idiocy.”
And, Like I said, I was in love with 1989 Jeep Grand wagoneers with the wood paneling on the side, like the one in What About Bob, but all the Wagoneers for sale were way too expensive. Then one day a Wagoneer showed up in the Star Tribune Classifieds for 5k. It was fate. When I showed up to see the truck, the guy who owned it lived in this beautiful little house with a few fun dogs and a really cool wife. I liked his style. When we went out for a test drive, he t0ld me he worked at Fallon. I knew of Fallon and the BMW Driver Series films because Fallon was on top of the world and the Minneapolis ad culture was a part of the Twin Cities (where I grew up) culture in general at that time. I asked him if I needed to go to an Ivy League school to get a job at Fallon, and he said “Oh god no,” So after that I, figured that’s what I would do- be a guy who made BMW Driver Series Films. From there I went to Boston U, then, in my senior year I hounded every place on Boston with bizarre emails until one agreed to give me an internship, which lead to my first copywriting gig.
I ended up not buying the truck because it was in horrible shape and I almost ruined it myself by trying to fix the distributor cap in the parking lot of my high school, but that’s another story and the Fallon dude was a really nice guy.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects, or do you try to approach each project as its own entity?
I want everything I do to be smart and dumb all at once. I like making the kind of thing that makes you go, “i can’t believe a bunch of people paid a bunch of money to have that thing made, but i love it.” Any time there’s an idea on the table that feels stupid and makes me laugh, then that’s the one I think we should make.
What do you see as the turning point in your creative development and career?
Getting to work at Wieden Kennedy in New York helped me turn a corner. Back then Scott Vitrone and Ian Reichenthal were running the place- they are incredibly tough CDs, they’ve seen everything and have come up with some of the all-time best ad stuff, in my opinion. So learning how to make work that lived up to their standards was the biggest shift.
Tell us about your latest project, Pinglr. Where did the idea for the short and companion app come from? What was the initial concept?
The idea came from just the absolute nonsense I’ve seen first hand in the ad world and witnessed in the Silicon Valley world. Everyone has this BS language they all hide behind to protect their own jobs, which are usually unnecessary.
Then there are the “big goals” that everyone talks about, “changing the world” and “doing good”, but the real problems are rarely things people actually do anything about (not that I'm doing anything special either, I just accept the fact that what I do isn’t all that noble). So I just felt like a swing at that whole self-important culture would be fun.
Plus it was an idea I knew would be easy to shoot. Just find an alley and dress up a comedy buddy.
What were some of the challenges and breakthroughs that came with this endeavor?
Getting Josh Ruben to be the main character was huge. He gave it this whole different spin that just cracked me up. Plus he did something that made this piece successful - he made that character likeable while still being out-there. That’s insanely hard to do. And he was so funny that during the shoot I had to turn away from him all the time because I’d be laughing in the middle of a take. You can hear it on the audio, which is not good if you want usable takes.
Plus the production company, Daughter and Sons, and the DP, Steven Breckon, made the shooting of this thing wonderfully easy. I’m sure on their end it was not at all. But they were fantastic the whole way. Steven is a DP who is concerned with the entire concept of the piece, not just how it’s framed up; that makes a huge difference.
The hardest part was honestly trying to get the App into the iTunes store. They keep rejecting it, which I think is funny because it speaks to exactly the thing I’m talking about. They claim this high minded purpose that the app store is this place where “beautifully designed and amazingly functional” apps are showcased, and yet you find the most ridiculous apps on there like “how high can you throw your iPhone.” And without a hint of self-awareness, they just reject this Pinglr app that is made to be as dumb as “Santa Tracker” with no real explanation.
Did the script evolve at all as actor Josh Ruben started delivering your lines? Have you two worked together in the past?
The script is probably like 80 percent of what was written. I wasn’t concerned with Josh nailing the specific language in the script just because the whole idea is this character doesn’t really have a handle on what he’s saying, so that got mushed around, and the little performance bits where he’s not talking to camera were all improv that we just figured out on the day.
Josh and I had never worked together before, but I was a fan. He was actually friends with the producer, Adam Kurland, which is how we connected. But we both come from improv backgrounds so it was a pretty immediate connection on how to approach this script.
What tips or advice can you offer to fellow writers looking to gain the skills and confidence to start directing their own scripts?
You just have to make your own stuff because nobody is going to take a risk on you until you show them you can do it. It’s hard and expensive and this is not the answer people want to hear but that seems to be the only way.
And don’t be too precious. I think one of the biggest lessons I learned from this little short is the importance of being prepared but still keeping things unanswered while shooting. Forcing yourself to make a few in-the-moment decisions will help the piece have a bit of spontaneous life to it. It’s kind of incredible how that really does translate onto film.
Which 3 projects are you proudest of and why?
The Jeff Bridges Sleeping Tapes album - it was such a thrill to be able to write these comedic pieces and then have Jeff Bridges go perform them and send a tape of what he just did. I remember sitting there hearing his first recordings of the stuff thinking “holy shit this is wild.” I got really excited that what was in my brain had been transmuted into this real thing that was stranger than I’d even hoped. Then to just see it existing in spaces outside of advertising, getting attention for what it was and the quality of it, that was very cool too.
Last Days Jose Cuervo Commercial - It’s the first time I’ve made work that I feel is making a bit of a commentary on the state of things in general. We wrote the idea because we were so disheartened with everything going on in the world (this was back during Ferguson and a lot of Police shootings, even before Trump got elected), and this was what we saw a tequila brand could bring- a bit of lighthearted fatalism that we thought rang true.
Pinglr - The excitement of seeing an idea succeeding on its own merit, seeing people respond to it without the crutch of it being paid for by an advertiser, is incredibly exciting.
Who are your biggest comedic influences?
Monty Python blew my head open as an 8-year-old.
I remember listening to all the Steve Martin records my dad had too.
Later on, shows like Wonder Showzen and Tim and Eric were equally revelatory.
And I always go back to The Coen Brothers, being from Minnesota I feel like watching their stuff is very comforting.
Those first three are all in that Smart/Dumb vein, which explains a lot.
One book, one album, one movie, one show. Go.
Book - Lincoln At The Bardo by George Saunders
Album - Katie Lied by Steely Dan
Movie - Force Majeur by Ruben Ostlund
Show - Baskets
What do you do when Not Working?
I get outdoors a lot. Skiing and Camping are big. In California, there are piles of amazing places just a couple hours away. I love spending time in Joshua Tree - that weird desert vibe gets me going. It’s the best way I know to decompress.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
One was from Ian Reichenthal, and it pertains specifically to ad writing- he said that as soon as you stop writing for yourself, and instead try to answer what other people want, you’re done. You have to write what you actually like, that’s the only way it’s going to be great.
The other is from Ira Glass. He has a great interview where he talks about how people in any kind of creative field get into it because they have a level of taste about what they are doing, and often you have to keep working for a long time before your work lives up to your own level of taste. I think it’s good to recognize this so you can be honest with yourself while not being too harsh as you try to get better in whatever you’re doing.
Who are some other WNW members whose work you admire and why?
Brock Kirby is a ton of fun to work with, he’s got a really great organizational mind and is just a good dude, aside from all the killer work he makes.
Sezay Altinok is also just a badass. His work is incredible.
Same with Ruth Bellotti, she’s like a sphynx, you never know what’s rolling around in her head, but it’s always gonna be something amazingly nuts.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
There’s another short coming out soon - it’s like a sitcom but if Tarantino were to make it, and of course it’s nowhere near as good as how Tarantino would make it. And there’s a super bowl spot on its way too, so that’s all exciting.