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Can you tell me a little about your background?

I got an internship at an agency when I was 22 as an art director. I kept working as a creative until about 1995, and then I realized I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t like it anymore. I didn’t like my ideas. Most of my ideas were dying in the process of sending them to a client, so I quit. I remember I sold my car and started studying film at a film school. Then I started working at a production company and got a job assisting a director in every bit of the process, and I kind of fell in love with this job. I really liked the way it worked and how directors bring ideas to life. So, I started doing treatments to show that I could do a commercial. I really liked the process of making it could come alive. I also liked the process of finding the locations and finding the right actors, working with them on the set and trying to come up with the best performances. I also enjoyed the process of post-production and trying to find the things you didn’t expect would grow that end up making it more emotional or funnier. You can manipulate the shots in post and make it anything you want.

What was your first shoot?

My first shoot wasn’t actually a commercial. It was something for MTV. We had to come up with a taxi van, or something like that, in which people could drop in. They would get in the van and take a trip while watching some music videos that would provoke them. We installed some cameras and we captured their reactions and emotions.

How did you get that opportunity?

I think I got it through having a good relationship with the MTV guys after working as an assistant to the director I was working for. We got confident working together, and they probably felt that I could come up with a good result for that project.

What was your first commercial?

I think it was one for Fox Sports that I did in 2003, which was very funny. It was about a woman who just got back from the grocery store, and she was back home.  As she went to take the grocery bags to the kitchen, she started to smell something weird. So, she goes to the living room, and the TV is on, and there’s a baseball match on TV, and she starts to smell something really bad. You know, like you could tell on her face. We see her turning around and looking back, and she has a really surprised look on her face. Then we see her husband sitting in the bathroom, checking on the baseball game with the bathroom door open!

That is funny! So, when did you realize you wanted to be a comedy director?

I think it was in 2002. I got two projects in a row that made me realize that I could be a comedy director. Before that, I was more into effects and graphics, but after those two projects, I felt like I could be good with actors in comedy. I really had fun working with the actors in those spots. We came up with very funny performances.  Then one of my spots won a few awards. So, after that I really felt like I was probably doing something right.

Is there something you learned early on that you still refer to today?

Yes. I think the most important thing that I learned early on was to trust my instincts and feelings when I work with actors. When it’s right, you feel it. I learned to trust in that. I can watch like two hundred people in a casting session, and I know in two seconds if I want someone to be in the commercial.

Looking back at your earlier work, is there anything that you would have done differently?

Yes, but I feel like it’s a part of history. I feel like I’m doing a really different job now compared to six or seven years ago, but some aspects of the way I worked in the past are still in my work now. I try to introduce more complex visuals now than I did before, but I never really look back. I’m at peace with my past.

What do you think makes a great comedy director?

Well, first you need to know how to make interesting characters, and you need to be able to find really charismatic people. That’s the basic, most important thing. Then I think every performance has to have a trick to make it edgy and funny. You have to take something out of reality but still make it believable. Like when an actor says a line a little differently from what you would expect in reality – I think those little details make a big difference. I think another thing is good timing, like having a well-put pause in the middle of dialogue, or the way an actor looks at another actor. Comedic timing is really important. How you edit the commercial is also really important.

Do you have a favorite comedy director?

Yeah. I really like Tom Kuntz. His work is a good mix of stuff I like visually, and it’s also really funny.

What has been your biggest challenge on a shoot?

There was this spot I shot a few years ago. It was really challenging, because it was a fashion show on the beach. The agency said that they wanted it to feel real. There was this part in the fashion show where this model is walking down the catwalk. At first, she’s far away from the camera, and she looks really hot. As she approaches the camera, about halfway down the catwalk, she starts to look fat and not very sexy. When she gets really close to the camera, you realize it’s really a fat guy. So, it was really challenging, because we had to make it look like it was all one shot. It involved a lot of technique, different compositions, morphing, and tracking. It was shot in 65mm, so it was kind of tricky.

What do you think makes you stand out from other comedy directors?

I think something interesting about my process is that I always feel tempted to do new things that I don’t know how to do. I love challenging projects, like the one I told you about – the fashion show. That made me learn a lot about the different aspects of the technique. I’m really comfortable with actors, but at the same time, I’m really comfortable with post-production. I really enjoy photography, framing, and getting the best possible time for shooting a scene. I think being eager to get defied by my projects helped me understand a lot of the technical aspects of filming. I always love to get a project that I initially don’t know how to solve. That’s the thing I enjoy the most.

Is there a director who influenced your visual style?

Well, I’m not sure if I can say that they influenced me, but I really admire Jonathan Glazer and Spike Jonze. Spike Jonze is probably closer to what I want to do. Jonathan Glazer is probably my favorite, but he is probably too far from what I try to do. He’s amazing, especially if you watch his commercials from 1998, 1999, and 2000. It’s amazing what he’s done. But Spike Jonze is someone I really admire, and I feel connected with the work that he does every time. I really like the way he works with actors and his style.

Can you describe your dream commercial assignment?

I think in the ideal world, it would be to produce a job with freedom, and just getting full trust from the client and being responsible for our choices – making every choice ourselves, without any kind of worry of what the client will think or do. I imagine a project with great performances, interesting camera movements and locations – all of those elements combined together.

Do you have any upcoming films or projects?

Yeah. I’m editing and finishing a spot for the World Cup for Coke. It will probably go worldwide in a lot of territories. We shot in a lot of different countries like Spain, Morocco, and Japan. I still can’t say anything about the idea publicly, but I think it will be an interesting commercial for the World Cup. It will be a really long one – like a ninety-second spot.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming directors?

Yes. They should expect to suffer in the beginning before they begin to discover what they love to do. Sometimes it gets difficult to realize that. My best advice is for them to shoot as much as they can, without caring if it’s good or if it’s bad. If they do that when they’re as young as possible, it really helps a lot. Even with cheap cameras, or cheap ways to edit, they should practice and get to know who they are by shooting.

Is there a movie or commercial that came out recently that blew you away?

I was really impressed by this commercial for Nike. I think it’s called Possibilities. It ends with Lebron James and this Japanese guy, but before that you see a guy in a rodeo jump on top of a rhinoceros. There wasn’t anything in particular that really caught me, but I think the whole thing overall – the music and the editing – was amazing. The last movie I really liked, although it’s not really new, is the documentary film called Senna. That movie is a few years old, but I saw it a few months ago.

Do you have a favorite movie?

Probably Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Name

Nico Kasakoff

Place of Birth

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Occupation

Director