Under the Influence: Max Weiland

February 8, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

It takes a combination of the funny, the creepy and the magical to inspire this director.

Creative people don’t hammer out their own unique style by sitting alone in silence. To become a successful in any creative role you need to immerse yourself in the amniotic gloop of culture until you’re fully nourished. That’s why in this series we ask people in advertising to tell us about five things that impact their work in some way, to examine the parts that make up their imaginations.

Max Weiland is still at the start of his directing career, but he’s already done some impressive filmmaking. Represented by Somesuch – a company he used to work for as a writer / researcher – he recently finished two funny ads for the BBC that have been warmly received by both the advertising community and the public. Take a look at what inspires him and you’ll be eager to see what he does next.

Hamlet Cigar Ads

“My dad’s a director as well [Paul Weiland] and he made a few Hamlet cigar ads and some other big ads in the 90s like Cinzano and all that – comedy. Those ads, for me, are the purest. The kind of comedy that I think commercials should go back to.

There was one joke and it was so nicely told in one or two shots. It was never trying to ram information down your throat. It was just a beautifully crafted end line -‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’, with such a great idea at its core it allowed them to be completely silly with everything.
The one in the photo booth is a classic. I think people remember these ads from those top 100 ads of all time lists, but I remember them because I was with my dad. When I was young I’d be on set with him a lot. He did all the Heineken ones as well – “the water in Majorca” – so that was a massive influence on me, growing up in that comedy world. He’s always driving home to me how can you tell it in the simplest way? What’s the core idea?

Nowadays you get a script and there’s so much stuff they’re trying to shoehorn into 30 or 60 seconds. People whack on an end line at the end. I was a creative as well for two years so did a lot of writing ads myself. I worked for a guy called Matt Keon at 18 Feet and Rising and he was always driving home ‘get a good end line and then work backwards’ or just find the simple idea and then go as silly as you want as long as you can bring it back.

The only people that do that sort of comedy nowadays – people like Tom Kuntz. I can see that simplicity of idea in his work. But also people like Tim Godsall, who never overcomplicates it. It’s just ‘what is the funny thing here? Now let’s turn that up to 1,000.’”

Otto Dix

“He was a German war painter and he used to paint these kind of caricature, satirist, mad paintings. His portraits are some of my favourites. He did a lot of disfigured war veterans and prostitutes. The colours are amazing and I try in my work to push colour a lot. I like getting that vibrancy and playing with this cartoonish feel. I think directors like Jean-Pierre Jeunet have that slightly grotesque, surreal character looming out of the frame too. His work is all like that. You want to know more about that character as soon as you see it. For me that’s what good casting is. If you get casting right, yes, they might look great but also you want that intensity and depth beneath that.

One of the fist things I shot was a little short for my sister who runs a fashion line called Shrimps. She’s definitely inspired by Otto Dix a lot in her colours. We tried to bring his work into the way we shot people, close-ups on wide angle lenses, their faces distorted in that cartoonish, Ren and Stimpy, creepy way.

He did this one painting called The Skat Players, that is a group of war veterans playing cards in a bar. They’ve got tubes going up into where they’ve been injured and they’re all disfigured. I made a video for The Vaccines where I tried to borrow from that language, strange nightmarish faces in this surreal casino.“

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

“It’s a novel about a Jewish boy growing up in America. I basically see it as all of our Jewish neuroses. It almost reads like stand-up comedy from someone like Larry David. I’m rewatching Curb Your Enthusiasm at the moment from season one to eight. You see so much of Philip Roth [in that].

Another one of my favourite films is The Coen Brothers’ Serious Man. The little boy in that film – you can feel Philip Roth worming his way in. He captures that growing up as a Jewish boy in America – all the rules. There’s this amazing chapter about when he first discovers wanking. The whole chapter is just about where he used to wank and what he would wank into. I’ve read a few of his other books, but Portnoy’s Complaint is just comedy. I’ve never laughed that much while reading a book, especially that one chapter.

There’s one scene where his mum goes to the butcher and she then leaves. He goes to the fridge and sees the liver and ends up wanking using the liver. And then the next scene is him watching his family eat the liver that night for dinner. It’s twisted but it felt so fresh reading it, even though it was written in 1969.

My dad’s Jewish, and my first short film was very heavily inspired by Portnoy’s Complaint. It’s about a young boy who’s mum never cut his umbilical cord, so he is still attached, a metaphor for the overbearing Jewish mother. A Jewish coming of age story and Philip Roth is the master of that.

I find it such an interesting community, the Jewish community. My nana is 92 and she lives in the same house she’s lived in since my dad was born. It’s in Southgate and it’s exactly the same. She’s got all these little Murano clowns and she goes and plays bridge with her local Jewish bridge club. And my short film completely ripped off everything in her house.”

Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers

“Do you remember those mini-DV players? My dad used to transfer VHS onto those things so we could watch stuff in the car. We basically only had Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers, so every car journey we’d watch that.

David O’Russell recently said every time he shoots an action scene he watches it because that train scene is the perfect action sequence. For the rhythm and everything.

I love it because of the craft. One, because it’s Claymation so it’s another level of craft but also the fact that every shot is so considered in terms of telling the story. You can get lost nowadays and hide behind a lot of handheld and mop it all up. But the great storytellers are able to know which shot leads to which shot. I recently saw the storyboards. It’s amazing how pieced out it was and everything was completely crafted. It’s got everything – comedy, emotion, action. And it makes you laugh. The dialogue is so stripped back.

You can also see all the influences from films he’s watched, where he’s pastiching them slightly but the Claymation world it brings its own life to it. I love where you can see people’s influences where they’re giving a little nod to their predecessors. I love giving it layers, trying to create more subtext. For instance I just did a Sport Relief commercial and the fat guy pings his swimming trunks. I work with Kim [Gehrig] a lot and Kim did it in hers [Sport England, This Girl Can] and she called me afterwards like ‘you cheeky little shit.’ That’s what I love about Somesuch. Because I worked there before becoming a director I have relationships with all the bigger directors, so every time I get anything I send it to Daniel [Wolfe] or someone. I call up and they give me feedback and references. It’s a bit of a family. I definitely get my inspiration from there. And Tim and Sally are great. Everyone’s so helpful. You can go to production companies where the other directors there are your rivals, but Somesuch is very collaborative.”

This Kid’s Reaction to Maurice Sendak’s Drawing

“It’s from an interview with Maurice Sendak who wrote Where The Wild Things Are. It’s a slightly different one to the all the others because it inspires me as a thought.

He was being interviewed by this woman called Terry Gross and she asked him ‘Can you share some of your favourite comments from your readers that you’ve gotten over the years?’ And he said:

‘Oh, there’s so many. Can I give you just one that I really like? It was from a little boy. He sent me a charming card with a little drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters–sometimes very hastily–but this one I lingered over. I sent him a postcard and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim, I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.”

That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.’

For me this made me think one day I hope I can make something that will provoke that sort of visceral reaction from someone. The way we live we consume entertainment so I think that’s quite a nice symbol. If you can get someone to want to eat your work – not in a literal way but watch it over and over again, that’s the dream. Great videos like Fatboy Slim, Weapon of Choice by Spike Jonze, you just want to watch it over and over again. It never gets boring.

MIA, Bad Girls, by Romain Gavras. I want to create work like that. A music video or a film or an ad that people want to watch and ‘eat’ over and over again. That is something that I always want to try and provoke.”

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