Tell me about your background.

I started off as a junior at DDB Hong Kong. It was a surreal experience for a teenager. Our ECD was a big personality, prone to tantrums and extravagant lunches at Landau’s to which I’d be summoned by way of long, handwritten letters in sealed envelopes. There was also an American copywriter who was a former Vietnam vet. I received my first creative recognition in Hong Kong – one of my ads was featured on the front page of the newspaper and I was quoted. It was an exciting time to be in advertising in Asia and to be in Hong Kong. I went on to work in Singapore for half a decade. That’s really where I learned my craft. Writing. Art Direction. Big, simple ideas were a must because TV budgets were so tight. It was a great time in my life and in my career.

What was your first award-winning shoot?

My first award-winning shoot was a spot for The Singapore Cancer Society which subsequently went on to be banned by the Singapore Government.

How did you decide to use the production company to produce the spot?

We used the very best in town, which at the time was Yarra Films because they were just that; the best and we had a strong relationship with them. Money was tight, the idea was powerful and the cause was an extremely worthy one. They supported our great work in every way. We actually used a rather famous stills photographer named Russell Wong as our director. Russell was the go-to guy for celebs at the time and probably still is. We thought there was a certain honesty to his work that would serve the idea well.

Who created the music for the spot?

We used Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. It was perfect. Once we zeroed in on it the decision was fairly unanimous.

Was the commercial a success?

The commercial was a tremendous success. Despite being banned by Singapore’s governing boards it went on to be picked up by MTV, so not only did it air in Singapore, but everywhere from The Middle East to Japan to Australia. Despite its initial ban, it was able to reach a much wider audience. It also went on to pick up a lot of awards, including a few best in shows, which exposed it to women outside the region.

Who gave you your first shot?

That’s a hard question to answer. I feel so many people gave me different first shots along the way. There’s a lot of people to thank. Recruiters who believed in me and pushed for me to be considered for my first ECD position. ECDs who agreed to pay a 19-year-old a grand a month to be a junior writer. Art Directors who saw value in my ideas and took extra time out of their days to bring them to life and patiently teach me their craft while doing so. People I viewed as grownups who were kind enough to take me out at night. Visualizers who literally markered-up my first thoughts so I could have a spec portfolio to knock on doors with. The list is long. Thanking one person would mean not thanking countless others along the way.

What was the best part?

The entirety of it all was, and still is, the best part. I remember being out with a colleague who was also a surfing buddy during my first year in the business. A trendy art director from Australia about a decade my senior. We worked on ads all day and at night we’d be out ‘til the crack of dawn talking about ads and surfing. It was fantastic.

Was there a lesson learned you still carry with you today?

There are two. Pay attention. It’s tough to do and this may sound like a cop-out, but I think paying attention might be really hard for a lot of creative people, but if you can pay attention and really focus you can learn and accomplish a lot. Knowing when to tune in and out is a real gift. The longer you can stay tuned in the better off you’ll be. And two would be to never give up.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the commercial industry?

We have to safeguard the craft of film a bit. Simple storytelling is a real art. The simplest films require one kind of craft and the more visually driven films another. There is art in our business. When we get too expedient the art suffers and people stop paying attention. The art does matter and it’s too easy for people to endorse great work after it has been successful. People need to get on-board sooner. I’m still hearing ‘film is dead’. No it’s not. That sort of commentary is politically motivated by people who have a vested interest in dragging down the power of film. You don’t always need to tear something down to build something new. I wouldn’t want to be one of those folks rallying against film.

How does an up-and-coming director get on the radar of a creative director at an agency?

The best way to get on an agency’s radar is by doing great work. Simple as that. Great work means not compromising. It means being insistent, and at times, it may even mean being unpopular.

Where do you look for unique work or fresh directing talent?

I tend to think the most moving stuff comes from outside of advertising. Not because advertising is bad, but because folks tend to make films about the things that mean a great deal to them. It’s almost as if the film pours forth from them and that leads to really honest work that isn’t dolled up. People will tell you that’s what purity is.

What’s your favorite commercial of all time?

I don’t have one favorite but I do have a soft spot for Sony Bravia ‘Balls’. Every piece of it is wonderful to me. I feel better every time I watch it. I suppose it just speaks to me and it’s really nicely summed up. The details are great without feeling sweated over.

Is there a director or a commercial that stands out for you this year?

Yes. Jason Headley just did a short called “It’s Not About The Nail”. It’s fantastic. More interestingly, it’s simple, but the degree of difficulty is much higher than it appears to be. That’s the beauty of it. I look at it and think just how tough getting certain aspects of it right must have been. I want to work with him. I think the production company is called Republic Content.


Curt Detweiler

Place of Birth

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


EVP, ECD, Managing Dir, Arnold Worldwide