If we had to describe Alex in two words, it would be fearless and funny. If we were to add a third, we’d go for inappropriate – but only in the best fearlessly funny way.
Alex kicked off his career at Butler Shine, where he cornered the market on hilarious copy. He went on to put his brilliant wit to good use at Goodby Silverstein before moving to LA to study with the Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade while pursuing a writing and directing career. His first feature film, Hickey, won best directing honors at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival and went on to compete at SXSW. Not too long after, Adweek named his work for Alliance Francaise one of the top fifteen campaigns in the world. The campaign swept every major awards festival making Alex the most awarded comedy director, also IN THE WORLD in 2017/18.
In addition to directing, Alex performs standup comedy around the country. If you haven’t caught him at the world famous Comedy Store, Flappers, or Stand-Up NY, we highly recommend you look for his next shows. We promise he’ll leave you in laughing into your craft beer.
Is ageism in the industry something you thought about in your 30s? Your 40s?
I think a bigger issue for me is straight-ism/white-ism. I directed some commercials for a T.V. writer/producer and we became friendly. When his show got renewed for a second season, I asked if I could direct an episode. He said he’d love that, but the network said he couldn’t hire any more funny, white, straight, male directors. I offered to give him a hand job but I don’t think that’s what he meant.
It’s hard for me to get too upset about this while other voices in T.V. and film are still so underrepresented. It doesn’t mean I won’t have opportunities, just that I’ll have to work a little harder, which seems fair.
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?
I discovered advertising in my early 20s in NYC. I worked in marketing for Sony Theaters and remember a cool-looking, bearded guy in Birkenstocks came into the office, pulled out a bunch of print ads on giant foam boards, made the room laugh, and took everyone out for drinks. I wanted that job.
And so I enrolled in ad school in Atlanta, moved to S.F., and went to work for Butler, Shine & Stern and then Goodby, Silverstein, and Partners. My early days were the late 90s and budgets were big and so were long-running T.V. campaigns. Storytelling still mattered, and so did craft. Today, they matter less. Clients want content churned out daily. Hourly? They’re more concerned with visibility than creating a consistent brand, and I don’t blame them. My teenage kids love Geico spots because they make them laugh, not because they align with Geico’s core beliefs. When it comes time for them to buy car insurance one day, I’m sure that sassy little lizard will be top of mind.
"Advertising is funny in that the more your career advances the less work you make. It’s also about resiliency. You really have to love the process, not just the outcome."
Did the reality of the ad industry contribute to the decisions you made/the path you’ve taken?
Advertising is funny in that the more your career advances the less work you make. It’s also about resiliency. You really have to love the process, not just the outcome. And I struggled with that. If I spent a week coming up with work I loved, I wanted to show it to the client. But there’s a lot of strategic “pivoting” nowadays, and work gets killed internally more times than not. I like making stuff, and directing was a natural progression for me. I might not always win the job I’m bidding, but I know it’s a real project that’s going to get made, and that’s all the carrot I need.
What do you feel creative people over 50 can offer over someone 20 years their junior, things that are unappreciated, or just plain overlooked?
Older creatives got into advertising because they were drawn to story. This still matters. Humans like narratives with beginnings, middles, and endings. We’re hardwired that way. Seasoned creatives were trained to do this, and it still works.
"Older creatives got into advertising because they were drawn to story. This still matters. Humans like narratives with beginnings, middles, and endings."
What is your advice to people who are nearing or over 40 in the ad industry?
I hate to say it, but maybe think about going client-side? Some of my favorite creatives have made the jump from traditional agencies to running internal creative departments, and they’re not only happier, but they’re also making more money and have more control.
Branching out and trying new things is also important. I recently started doing stand-up comedy and in addition to being a lot of fun, it has helped me become a better joke writer and director. Watch any stand up and their jokes almost always fall into four categories — things that are weird, scary, bugs me, or that they hate. This is their premise. In ad speak, it’s the concept. Comedians then go into their bit, the “act out.” In advertising, this is the execution. Finally, both comedians and ads tie up their jokes with a button or tag.
How are you approaching the next 10 years? What does your future hold?
As a commercial director, there’s only so much you can do to look for work. When you’re not busy, you need to have other outlets. I’m writing a movie I want to make next year, and it’s nice to have this creative outlet. I’ve learned to enjoy the process of working on the script every day, and not worrying so much about when I’ll get into production. When the script is ready, it will attract the right people and will get made.
"As far as unions, I’m in the DGA and love it. The health insurance is top-notch, and so is the pension. Freelance creatives would be wise to do the same."
What do you see as potential solutions for ageism in the industry? Any thoughts on possibly unionizing?
The 18-35 demo isn’t as prized as it used to be. People over 60 are spending more, and they’re more faithful. Young viewers are media agnostic. They might get their videos on Instagram today and Tik Tok tomorrow. But when my dad signs up with YouTube T.V. or Hulu, he ain’t going anywhere, and knowing where to find people is extremely valuable for advertisers.
As far as unions, I’m in the DGA and love it. The health insurance is top-notch, and so is the pension. Freelance creatives would be wise to do the same.
What are some positive things you’ve experienced as you’ve grown older in the business?
The highs are lower and the lows are higher. I’ve gotten comfortable riding the waves of this business and have learned to look at the big picture. I’ve also gotten good at resorting to stock cliches like “riding waves” and “looking at the big picture” as a defense mechanism against crying myself to sleep.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
I read as much as possible for inspiration. Great stories feature great characters, and novels are like master classes for creating them.