From scuzzy skaters to philosophical admen.
B-Reel’s Chris Woods has shot some weird commercials. From sugar-crazed cat men to rabbits with a talent for intimidation, he’s built his career directing scripts that raise eyebrows. Also a photographer with a particular knack for portraits, some of this weirdness comes through in his portfolio of stills, but overall he’s a hard one to pigeonhole. That’s what got us excited to have a peer into his mind and work out what’s inspired him and his body of work over the years. In his words, here are five of his biggest inspirations.
“I was never that good at the actual skateboarding part, but the people, the culture, and the mindset were a draw that was impossible for me to stay away from. My friends, on the other hand, were amazing skateboarders and I stayed involved by photographing them. A few of them ended up getting sponsored, which meant that my photos were beginning to get published in some reputable skate mags (because of who they were and what they were doing).
They were being asked to submit portraits and because I was the only one around with a camera constantly hung around my neck, I became a portrait photographer (which ended up being a stronger facet for me rather then the ‘action’ shots I was trying to pull off.) This led to photo school, which led to a photo career, which led to shooting for Rolling Stone and Spin, which eventually led to directing for B-Reel London.
The skateboarding films were just as responsible… The Search for Animal Chin, Future Primitive, Public Domain and Ban This were on a constant rotation on the VHS player in the basement, mesmerizing us. They all had this amazing sense of rebellion and fun. This is what I wanted to do. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better - Spike came along with the Girl video and it changed everything for me, which leads me to…”
“The Girl video was my introduction to Spike, followed by Yeah Right and Fully Flared. Then I found out that this guy was responsible for brilliant Fat Boy Slim, Weezer and Beastie Boys videos - Jackass, Adaptation, Being John Malcovich, and so on and so on. Who the hell directs an amazing Hollywood movie like Adaptation and then goes and does a skate video that is, in my opinion, just as impressive?
Whatever he does has this amazing sense of humanity that makes you truly invest in caring for his characters (even the non-humans ones like the IKEA lamp). And then there’s this sort of softness to the imagery that’s so amazingly appealing to watch. Everything looked so effortless and simple to achieve (which I now know is quite different). Spike made me understand that you can be a chameleon with many different skill sets while others were telling me to ‘stick to one thing’.
I’m not doing him much justice in this piece, but he’s definitely impacted the way I see and approach things. And for me, working with the likes of Halls, Orbit and Skittles I’ve tried to adopt an adaptable approach to some of the ads I’ve worked on.”
“I can’t remember where I heard it but someone once said that if we want to know the absolute truth in history, all we need to do is look to the comedians. This is, of course, because all the good ones tell the truth – there’s nothing funnier.
I used to watch a lot of comedians but more recently I’ve found myself almost studying them. The ‘bits’ are the obvious source of comedy but I’ve been obsessing over the transitions they make between bits. How to get from A to B is where the genius lies and I’ve become a bit obsessed with finding these moments in their acts and trying to pay more attention to how transitions can play a huge part in storytelling whether it be comedic or not. I’d be being lazy if I wasn’t to mention a few of the ones that do this so well it almost goes unnoticed – Louis CK, Rickey Gervais, Doug Stanhope (if you haven’t seen beer hall putsch you should), Jim Jefferies and Bill Burr are at the top for me. I’ve tried to take that humour and include it within certain ads, for example there was a Skittles spot a couple of years ago where we got people to hold their finger to a screen for it to later be licked by a guy dressed as cat!”
Saturday Night Live (Bill Murray)
“I remember watching SNL when I was a kid and I didn’t really understand the impression it was having on me at the time. I remember wanting to send in my skit ideas (because that’s how I thought it worked at the time) and thinking that they would KILL.
There was something about these ‘adults’ that just looked like they were having such an amazing time ‘goofing around’ and making people laugh. It was like they’d found this fountain of youth that the other adults simply watched. I never related to other adults the way I did with these people (and kind of still don’t).
Bill Murray stood out amongst these folks to me as he didn’t really seem to be acting that much. This, of course, is because he is so fucking brilliant and he taught me that there is a TON of comedy in subtleties and in the calm. He would go big from time to time when he needed to but I always loved the way his understated demeanor drew a ton of entertainment and comedy.
Even to this day, when I see him in an interview or something, I can never tell if he is messing with the interviewer or not. He is just so calm and calculated that I never know what’s going on, but I could watch that guy read the dictionary and be entertained for hours.”
Paul Arden – Whatever you think, think the opposite
“I wish I found this book earlier in life but whenever I pass by a bookstore I buy every copy they have and give them as gifts to the younger people I come across. You can get through this book in about 20 minutes and for about two years I would set my alarm a little early and read through this book every morning.
It’s essentially a different way of thinking in easily digestible haiku-type reading. It’s more directed to agency folk but, for me, it has a ton of life lessons in it as well. It makes you want to make creative better and to not pass the blame on a shit budget or bad client.
One of my favorites is a page explaining a professor bathing in a river with only a small towel, when a group of his students come floating by; he wraps the towel around his head. I remember the first time I read this it took me a minute to get the point, but when it clicked I thought it was one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever read.
The book has helped me with treatments and the way I approach creative by at least considering what would happen if I listen to the seemingly ‘bad ideas’ and exploring what would come of something that is the complete opposite that I think might be correct. Its one of those books that made me feel dumb in its seeming simplicity.”
Have a look for these influences on Chris’ reel.