Accomplishing fame and (relative) fortune in one industry is impressive enough. Amy has managed to do it in two.
After several decades as a highly sought-after Creative Director at agencies like Kirshenbaum Bond, Fallon, Goodby, and Wieden & Kennedy, Amy lost her mind (her words, not ours) and attended NYU Film School. Since then, her documentaries have premiered at the Hamptons, Full Frame, and Big Sky Film Festivals, and have garnered numerous awards.
Amy has also been lucky enough (again, her words – we’d have chosen talented enough) to be broadcast on PBS multiple times and managed to wrangle several theatrical runs, qualifying for an Oscar twice. Her films have been reviewed by Variety, Indiewire, The Hollywood Reporter, the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. She counts dog groomers, muskrat skinners, and grizzled carnies as some of her closest friends.
Amy just wrote and directed a short film titled IRONY that debuted as a Vimeo Staff Pick. She is currently working on a feature-length project starring the denizens of a waterfront trailer park. We can’t wait to see it as we contemplate our options for career number 2.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
I only ever thought about my age when someone else brought it up. I had friends in the industry that would say things like, “well at some point you get too old to do this.” And I would think, “why?” So I just stared to look for examples of old goats in other professions like acting or filmmaking or being a musician where age isn’t an issue at all. I think everyone in advertising needs to go to a Rolling Stones concert (before they finally croak) and stop thinking 40 is old. Besides, for those of us who don’t have children, we have nothing better to do than to keep getting better at what we love.
Is ageism something that’s affected you? What are some of the challenges you faced as a person who was getting older in the business? Do tell.
I am certain when I walk into a room, the younger people are reacting the way the checkout girl at the liquor store does when she doesn’t bother to card me. But other than feeling like it’s time for a facelift, the biggest challenges for me have came from the way technology transformed the business. Not that it was challenging to learn to work a different way. I was one of the first creatives to get a computer (when I was 5), so I am not a reluctant adapter. It’s just that I grew up in the industry during Just Do It and Think Different and Got Milk? and I miss the art of convincing people to part with their money. It was more honest - and a lot more fun – to have to make people laugh or cry to get them to buy things than it is to get them to be friends with a brand. I have been directing commercials for the last few years and always think, “Wow, I wish I had some of the many scripts we threw away back in the day.“ Everything is so over-complicated now. And I will say what no one else will: it’s all a bit tedious and kind of boring. I find that’s a little too easy for someone who doesn’t have that industry perspective to just think you’re being an old fart when you find the business frustrating for a very real reason.
Then again, the beauty of getting older is that I don’t care anymore that everyone under 30 thinks I don’t “get” social (I do and BTW I am a huge Twitter person.)
"I have been directing commercials for the last few years and always think, 'Wow, I wish I had some of the many scripts we threw away back in the day.' Everything is so over-complicated now."
Tell us about your own creative journey. What are your thoughts on where you are now, compared to your mindset when you were in the beginning of your career?
My mindset is exactly the same as it has always been: make great stuff.
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Not really. I pretty much killed myself and got all the way to the tippy top: I was ECD of Wieden. But I was miserable. I missed making things. When I went freelance (not entirely by choice – he-hem), it took me a while to realize that I could actually step away and do other things. A friend suggested I go to NYU film school. I loved every minute of being humiliated by a bunch of 19-year-olds and I made my first short in a few months. I got hooked on the process of making documentaries. That’s how I started directing. It was just a different way to make things.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
When I go to the Apple store to get help with something, I inevitably get someone who looks at me like, “C’mon, granny, how can you possibly be this crabby about the modern world?” Well, I like to point out to the children who work there that I am not annoyed with new fangled things like the wheel, it’s just that I have lived through (and had to learn and relearn) every iteration of every scrap of technology, especially all things Apple. Starting with the little ugly beige box we used to write scripts on that took floppy discs. Remember when computers crashed? I do. Remember when everyone learned texting language so they could communicate with flip phones and all the media companies SWORE they were going to put advertising on mobile phones therefore changing the world? I do. Remember selling your records and buying CD racks at an actual brick and mortar store? Dragging your giant imac tower to get it fixed at Teckserve on 23rd street? Going running with your new ipod with 1,000 whole songs? Experiencing the first-time thrill of Amazon telling you what some other schmuck buys? I do. I’ve lived through every conceivable file format, seen social sites from MySpace to Google+ come and go, I have a wake of bad headshots and profiles that desperately need updating out there somewhere. I can recall when VICE was a bad magazine and not a media conglomerate. I suffered through AOL, stumbled through internet 1.0, and watched the mailman ruin the DVDs that came from Netflix. I mourned the loss of websites made with Flash and I sat through many meetings where everyone in the room insisted that ALL ads would be interactive. I have uprezed my work a million times from 480p to 4K (thank God I shot my films on real film), and I’ve had every single version of a smart phone (but never a Blackberry – now that would be embarrassing!) I’ve belonged to a boatload of on-line clubs that don’t even exist anymore. I also happen to know that Podcasts are actually just Radio. And all of this has happened since I put a book together with marker comps.
So what I have to offer along with the other old goats is some pretty amazing perspective. Today’s newest latest thingamabob or platform is tomorrow’s Snapchat. And what you realize over time is that human beings are weird and stinky and lazy and insecure and we all want basically the same things. Just calm down.
By the way, I just bought a 4K camera.
"What you realize over time is that human beings are weird and stinky and lazy and insecure and we all want basically the same things."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
Fuck ‘em. Keep going.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
If I am very lucky, I will figure out a way to make a living as a commercial director and filmmaker. And advertising will still need big ideas.
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
Nah, I am way too busy. I’ll leave that up to some young whippersnapper to figure out.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
From time to time I still get hired as a creative because I understand how to tell a story, which is super positive!!!! Ha ha ha ha. I hope that never goes away. In my filmmaking work, I now have other filmmakers asking me for advice and I have been invited to judge at film festivals. It’s really nice to be at that point even though I know I have so much more to learn. But I am young, so there’s time.
"From time to time I still get hired as a creative because I understand how to tell a story."
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Errol Morris. He is my hero.
Anyone who is unapologetically still doing their thing.
See first question.GALLERY