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Mike Mills: California Kewl, Page 1

Mike Mills: California Kewl, Page 1

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Published by Terry Kattleman
From Terry Kattleman's journalism archive.
From Terry Kattleman's journalism archive.

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Published by: Terry Kattleman on Jun 23, 2012
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11/08/2014

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CALIFORNIA KEWL

By Terry Kattleman

For the multitalented Mike Mills,life is more than a boom boom ad jam.

Mike Mills is not your average California kid who grew up on a skateboard. “I’m from Santa Barbara,” he says. “I’m like the suburban brat that all the guys in Dog Town and Z-Boys hated. But I still idolized them.”That’s hardly what makes him atypical, though; at the age of 36, the dude is a veritable Renaissance skate rat. As a graphic designer, this Cooper Union grad has worked for hot shops like Bureau and the late Tibor Kalman’s M&Co. He’s done album covers and promotional items for the likes of Sonic Youth,the Beastie Boys,the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Beck. He’s designed scarves and fabrics for Marc Jacobs, and just about everything for the X-Girl clothing company. He’s had gallery shows of art and photography in New York and Paris. As a director, his distinctly offbeat short films and music videos have garnered plenty of acclaim, and he’s developing his first feature, Thumbsucker, based on a Walter Kirn novel. He’s a co-founder, with Roman Coppola, of The Directors Bureau, which opened in 1995. He even played bass on records with those Japanese downtown chicks who once made a splash with a group called Cibo Matto. As if that weren’t enough, he seems to be looking at an awesomely A-list commercials career, just sitting there for the taking — he’s on just about everyone’s hot directors list — but Mills doesn’t really want it.“Commercials are one part of my life,” he says.“I like doing them, I get a lot out of doing them, but I don’t think of myself as a commercials director.” His output certainly reflects this.His career reel includes a pair of great Gap production numbers,the gor-

geously designed Nike “Boing”campaign and that memorable VW spot in which a car is stuck in a tree, among others, but his videos probably outnumber his spots. After a late-2001 wryly twisted Nascar campaign for Y&R/Chicago, all he shot in 2002 were some slightly amusing American Express U.S. Open spots with female tennis stars, and two gems for VW and Arnold Worldwide — the one-take wonder called “Chain Reaction”and the split-screen stunner called “Bubble.” The latter is sure to be a big awards winner, and many directors would die for either of these jobs. “They just went over well,” Mills shrugs. But he’s not about to capitalize on this momentum with a blazing barrage of boards in 2003. Three or four jobs a year is his speed. Right now,he’s finishing his first campaign of the year for,of all clients,Time Warner — Mills insists these boards are really funny and allow him to fabricate ususual sets. “I don’t plot these things out.This is the way it’s been going and I’m pretty happy with that.”Any clients he’d like to work for? “I don’t know.” Any commercials he’s seen lately that excite him? “To be honest, I don’t have a TV. I’m kind of a TV addict,so if I have a TV I get screwed,I stay up till 5 in the morning.I see things in hotels sometimes but I don’t really stay on top of what’s hot.I just deal with the boards that come in and, luckily, I get some things that are interesting, so I’m satisfied.” As Arnold senior copywriter Joe Fallon, who’s worked with Mills on several spots, notes,“Mike’s the kind of director that’s as much an artist as anything else. He’s just got this incredible design sense that filters through everything he touches. If he devoted himself to commercials work, his future would be limitless. But I really think Mike’s talents are destined for a bigger forum. If he gets to make the movies he wants, people out there who may be unfamiliar with his work will certainly know his name in the future.” The feature situation remains uncertain.“I get every kind of weird, funky, bad Hollywood skateboard script you can think of,”Mills groans.“ I tend to get associated with whatever teenoutsider, youth culture stuff is going on. Nothing’s really got to me.” Thumbsucker is an indie film,“but there really isn’t ‘indie film’anymore,”he laments. “One of the key characteristics of a Hollywood film is it’s financed based on the people who are in it. And continued on page 56

CREATIVITY APRIL 2003

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PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS CASSIDY

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