Tell me about your background.

I always wanted to be a producer. I was targeting film by the time I was maybe 15 years old. I even worked within film when I was in high school for a bit and when I was in college, even though I didn’t go to film school. In my twenties I worked as a production assistant and did a bit of film school in Portland, Oregon. I got distracted and almost went into the wine business and was about to leave the film business but then I got this opportunity in Miami that turned into an agency production job. I was able to use my wine knowledge as a very effective tool at being a good agency producer. Many people in the business know that wine is intricately connected to successful producing. (laughs) From about the age of 28 on I’ve been an agency producer, I became a head of production when I was 33 and I have been a head of production ever since.

What was your first shoot?

Well, my first big shoot was for an account called Truth, which was the state of Florida anti tobacco initiative of the settlement. It was the reason I went to Crispin Porter + Bogusky. It was an opportunity to go and produce there and do a lot of interesting work. Our demo was young teenagers around twenty-four years old, which is a great demo for creating relatively edgy advertising. The head of production had this script called Focus on the Positive, and it was a big dance musical number that parodied big tobacco and how they constantly try to sugarcoat or manipulate the truth about the harmful effects of cigarette smoking. It keyed on a core tendency of big tobacco where they constantly lie and try to shuffle information and cloud facts by focusing on the positive. We created a two-minute spot that played in the cinemas as well as a sixty and thirty.

How did you decide to use Oil Factory to produce the spot?

I really liked working with Billy Poveda, so I called Billy, and he suggested using director Pedro Romhanyi – who had directed a lot of cool music videos. He had the best treatment for it, so we went with him. We shot it in Orlando, and we used all these dancers from Disney and Universal – every song and dance person who worked doing their theme park stuff. We found some great adults to play the tobacco executives and some great kids to play the teen protagonist’s in it. We only had two days two rehearse it, but we nailed it.

Who created the music for the spot?

I was reading The New Yorker, and there is this section called The Talk of the Town. In it there was an article about composer, David Yazbek. He was a comedy writer that worked for David Letterman and other TV shows but was also a librettist and did musicals, he had just been nominated for nine Tony Awards for the musical The Full Monty, which was a Broadway play at the time. After looking through tons of reels for weeks from music houses and watching every musical ever made, I showed the article to the creatives and said “I want to use this guy” and they were like “Cool. Let’s talk to him.” Our instincts were right, because he nailed it, and was exceptional at writing our music.

Was the commercial a success?

Well, about two or three months later I saw Alex Bogusky in the office lobby, and he said ‘Hey, last night your spot won the gold at Cannes.’ I was like, ‘What’s Cannes? The film festival?’ and he said ‘No, it’s an advertising festival in Canne and it’s really a big deal!” I was like, ‘Cool’ (laughs), and that was my first gold at Cannes. I was very proud of it even though I didn’t know what it was.

Who gave you your first shot?

It was Alex Bogusky who gave me my first big shot. Alex liked to do things quickly and uniquely. I had been a producer for a bit but not at the creative level of the work that was being produced at Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

What was the best part?

The making of the music was the best part for me. We found someone who was not connected to the mainstream music world. He was an artist and a writer, and he turned out to be an outstanding talent. In general creating the music was the most unique part of it. The most successful things I’ve done have always come out of having an unconventional approach to a project. I let things that inspire and interest me drive how I approach a project. Make the peripheral things actually core to how you approach a project and you’ll make it great.

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

Yes. There is no easy answer on how to solve a production. There’s no way you can make something that truly breaks through unless you approach it in a breakthrough way or a unique way. I learned quite early on to only approach my projects that way. It’s something I try to teach a lot to my producers now, and it can be pretty hard if producers have already been taught not to have an open mind with how they approach the work.

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

I think it’s a truly tricky time because how we do what we do is more exposed than ever— we’re in a healthy state of self-questioning, probably. We just produced a series of Vine videos that were shot downstairs at BBDO that garnered nearly as much press as anything I’ve seen this year. It was extremely effective, and it was so simple and easy. We produced it very uniquely, and it blew up. I think the peripheral has been exposed now more then ever. There are just so many ways – long form, short form – to create the things we want to do. That should be a very inspiring thing for a producer. At the same time that’s tempered by a little bit of fear, because there is no set path on how to do it or who you ask to help make it. We just shot with Werner Herzog, which is amazing and our producer did an inspired job bringing him to the project. It is scary though, and it is less and less appropriate to approach our work conservatively because of how differently people consume media and advertising, short form video content or TV content. And how they are buying and making their decisions to buy. It’s wide open in terms of how we want to make, or what we want to make and not to mention how much we want to make it for. The means or resources to work with different types of people are limitless right now, more then they ever have been.

You made a new move recently from CPB to BBDO NY. Does it feel like starting over when you land at a new agency?

It does feel completely new and like you’re starting over because so much about effective producing is about relationships. I had a great deal of leverage and understanding at CPB, because I was there for so long. I was able to be pretty fertile in that environment. BBDO has invited me to be here because of the integrated  and workshop-like approach I took to run a production environment within an agency. But at the same time in order to be effective I have to know people and know the landscape and know the ins and outs, because it’s a large place, and a lot of people have steered the place and it has its ways. Even though those are great ways any large organization has to look at ways in which it wants to be new and redefine itself. I’m proud of having the honor of being a part of that. In order to pull it off it can’t just be things that are in my mind or things that I say. It’s gotta be about the relationships I build, and that takes time. That’s where it feels brand, brand new. I have to remind myself to be patient and to keep pushing to forge the relationships that will help me get some of the thinking I have to share.

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

Just make stuff. Make sure you’re making stuff. Make cool stuff and attract attention. There are people who thankfully appreciate unique pieces of work and work that comes from a true perspective that has a true point of view. People respond to that, both inside an agency as well as within the production company landscape. You want to try to embolden the people that you want to be interested in working with you or who are charged with the responsibility of selling you and so forth. Don’t make something that someone has already made. Try to make something that’s truly unique and that represents your point of view. If you’re quite good, someone is going to find you. That’s what this business is all about. Be prolific. Be active.

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

First of all, I don’t stay fresh enough. I try to be a sponge, and I try to find stuff from a variety of different places in case I find something unexpected. I do go to Vimeo and YouTube and the like. I will often look at material that is sent to me from people I don’t know sometimes even more than the people I do know. I’m very interested in things that are fringe.

What’s your favorite commercial of all time?

Probably ShamWow. The ShamWow guy.

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

I think people should use this director named Matt Piedmont. He’s with Prettybird. I think he’s the funniest guy in movies and maybe the funniest guy in advertising! I think some great work that stands out are the DirectTV campaigns that Tom Kuntz directed— he continues to craft breakthrough stuff. I am also proud of our AT&T It’s Not Complicated campaign. People just love them.


David Rolfe

Place of Birth

Tacoma, WA


Director of Intergrated Production / BBDO NY