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Selling Out

Thriving in a fledging business is tough on new talent

By Michelle Dipardo

Ikea AdThe Perlorian Brothers – who are not actually brothers – are true rising stars in the world of commercial directing. Comprised of Ian and Michael Perlorian, the duo is behind some of the quirkiest, most original ads on television. Remember the Dose ad in which the spokesman says, “At Dose, we only hire smart young people. Then we suck the youthful vitality out of them and put it all on the page.” The camera pans over to a young pigtailed blonde weeping at her desk, and back to him exclaiming, “That’s fantastic!”? That’s one of theirs.

The Brothers’ recent success is unique in Toronto’s shaky commercial scene. “The industry is certainly not thriving,” says Michael Stevenson, a casting director with Toronto’s Fade to Black Casting. “It’s steady – it’s still a solid business – but it’s the American business we’re not seeing.”

Last year, $120.6 million worth of commercials were shot in Toronto. That number is low when compared with early 2000 when, during the U.S. actor’s union strike against advertisers, figures were easily 30 to 40 times that. The strike resulted in a huge boom in Toronto’s commercial production because all the work came here.

“It just exploded,” says Trevor Juras, studio manager and head camera operator at Powerhouse Casting, one of the biggest commercial casting agencies in Toronto. “Commercials are still a mainstay in the industry, but with the strong [Canadian] dollar and the SARS scare, things are not what they used to be. “Despite the benefits of shooting in Canada – actors and expenses are cheaper – many American directors are opting to stay in the U.S. or take their jobs overseas.

“There definitely isn’t enough work to go around. You’re getting A-list directors all fighting for B-list spots. It’s a case of too many directors, not enough material,” Juras adds.

On the brighter side, the lack of American production has given some local directors, like the Perlorian Brothers, the chance to step up to the plate, proving that even in hard times, the cream somehow manages to rise to the top.

The Brothers started out on the advertising agency side of things, and broke into directing two years ago. Since then, they’ve won a Gold Lion (the Oscar of commercials) for their “Prison Break” Vim ad, and helped start the production company Reginald Pike, an off-shoot of Untitled Films. Word of their talent has spread and, as a result, they have enjoyed success in the U.S. and U.K. directing wildly popular spots for Ikea, Virgin Mobile and Old Navy.

Though advertising is big business, the Brothers aren’t interested in simply being a liaison for bringing an idea to fruition. That’s why they get their hands dirty from start to finish.

“We get a lot of scripts from companies. We like to be as involved as possible in the whole process, from the casting to location. We’re attracted to smart, clever ideas,” says Ian.

Places to showcase such ideas are becoming as varied as the ads themselves. With the advent of newer and more advanced technology, satellite TV and the ever-expanding Internet, companies can no longer rely solely on TV advertising to sell their product. This is changing the entire commercial industry.

“Now there’s the Internet and 500 channels,” says Juras. “When there were just networks, McCain, for example, would know their are a certain number of people they would reach for sure. Now you can watch Survivor on TiVo, four hours after it airs, and skip the commercials. The return on the investment isn’t nearly what it used to be.”

Still, Stevenson and Juras both agree that commercials remain one of the best ways beginning Canadian actors and directors can get experience, and hone their craft. Stevenson says nearly all the actors he works with use commercials as a stepping stone to film and television. He points to Torontonian Scott Speedman as one Canadian success story with roots in commercials.

Too much celebrity in TV spots sometimes has a negative effect. Juras has seen it happen, particularly in the case of the poor guy with a sore throat in the “Halls” ads who can barely yell “fore!” before popping a lozenge.

His image became so synonymous with the brand that, for a while, he couldn’t even catch a cold. “The next thing you know, you’re over-exposed and no one wants to touch you.”

Though fame and fortune are elusive, Juras points out there are always exceptions.

“I know some people who might have a six-figure year.”