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Martin Dix: From Pair to Pack with Robber's Dog

Robber's Dog - Auckland, 2 months, 1 week ago

Director Martin Dix of Peter Martin talks about backward social skills, ‘forbidden love’ and becoming a collective with partner-in-crime Peter Livolsi

Martin Dix: From Pair to Pack with Robber's Dog

Martin Dix is one half of commercials directing collective, Peter Martin. The duo, who are as brilliantly funny in person as they are in their films, have been working together for over a decade; directing award-winning commercials for the likes of the BBC, Daily Juice, Priceline, Dentyne, McDonald’s, MTV and FedEx, to name but a few. Looking to expand the reach of their commercial work, the pair are following the model of directing teams like Traktor and The Glue Society and operating more as a collective. Still operating under the banner of Peter Martin the pair have just signed with Robber’s Dog for Australasian representation to go along with their global alliances with Rogue films in Europe, Imperial Woodpecker in the US and Ad Hoc in Canada.

We get the low down from Martin as he explains the fateful night he met partner Peter, what being a collective will mean for the pair, and what he’ll be bringing to the table in Australasia.

Q > How long have you been working with Peter and how did you meet?

Martin Dix> We’ve been working together for a little over ten years now. 

When we first met I was working on the agency side as a creative director (former writer and closet art director) at Deutsch in Los Angeles and Peter was in film school.

Peter and I met at a going away party for a girl who had produced the short film that helped him get into the American Film Institute. Coincidentally, that girl also used to work with my wife, Carey. 

Peter and I both suffer from a mild case of social awkwardness, and are probably the world’s worst minglers, which means we both just happened to sit next to each other and barely moved for the rest of the party. We ended up chatting for ages about movies, directors and our shared love of all things cinematic. 

One thing lead to another and after a night of passionate love-making - my wife still doesn’t know - we ended up making plans to shoot some spec commercials. For the first four years, directing was more of a side job as we built our reel. Peter finished film school and I kept my day job in advertising. We finally got the courage to make the leap into full-time directing about six years ago and have never looked back - apart from wistful thoughts about that one night of making forbidden music together but we try to keep that buried deep in the closet under all of our other skeletons. 

Martin & Peter after a minor cosmetic procedure. 

Q > When and why did you decide to turn your duo into a collective which directs separately?

MD> It’s just been a natural evolution of our partnership. We’ve always admired the way guys like Traktor and The Glue Society do their thing. No matter which director(s) you end up with they always deliver, and because they can split up and offer different iterations of themselves, they’re able to tackle multiple projects at once. The selfish part of us will always like working together because we have so much fun that way, but we do love the idea of not missing out on a great script just because of a schedule conflict. Having the ability to split up and operate more as a collective at times will just mean more opportunities to add awesomeness to the Peter Martin reel.

Q > What made you choose Robber’s Dog as your reps in Australasia?

MD> We’ve known George since our shared time at The Sweet Shop and have kept in vague contact over the years. He’s funny, refreshingly straight-forward and extremely tall which are our three favourite qualities in an EP. We love the carefully curated roster he and the guys at Robber’s Dog have assembled. They’re all brilliant filmmakers and we’ll do our best not to embarrass them too much. 

Q > Am I right in saying that you’re originally from Australia? - Are you looking forward to coming back and working with people there?

MD > Yep, born and bred in Blackburn South, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. It’s way less bogan now than when I was growing up. I’ve still got a massive family and a pile of old friends in Oz so I love any chance to come back and catch up. And even though Peter and I haven’t shot there in a few years, we’ve always loved the talent and can-do attitude of the Aussie/Kiwi crews. 

Martin & Peter on set with their good friend Abraham. 

Q > Your commercials are always brilliantly comedic and funny, will this continue to be your preferred genre?

MD > Well, thanks. We try. We love comedy and always will but it’s not so much our preferred genre as the one we tend to get the most opportunities to play in. We both have feature film projects we’re developing and while they each have comedic moments, we wouldn’t classify them as comedies. First and foremost we respond to great stories, good scripts and/or brilliant concepts. If they happen to be funny, well, we like to laugh as much as the next guy. 

As for inspiration, we try to let the idea influence our style, rather than the other way round. 

If it’s a comedic idea we have a general rule we like to apply to making things funny: “Characters in a comedy are funniest when they don’t know they’re in a comedy.” We stole that from Steve Carrell and it’s basically a fancy way of saying we like to play things straight and understated. That said, a kick to the crotch is always funny and if that’s what the script calls for, we’re not afraid to put our protective cups on and go there. 

Q > Which of your films did you both most enjoy directing?

MD > That’s a tough one but some of our faves would probably include the Daily Juice ‘Squeeze to Please’, Priceline ‘I know a guy’, Dentyne ‘Safe Breath’ and FedEx ‘Gimmicks’. Despite being wildly different projects, they all were all the result of some really fun and satisfying collaborations between us, the agency, our crew and various friends in post. 

One that really sticks out to me though was a mock music promo called “Endless Dove” that we directed for BBC Digital Radio. The whole campaign was a brilliantly fun collaboration between us, Al & Algy (two creatives who were working for RCKR Y&R at the time), Millenium FX in London (who we worked with to design and built the D Love animatronic puppet) from scratch, David Webber (a British actor we coached to sound like Barry White), our incredible sound engineer, Munzie, a couple great DP’s and countless other talented folk who worked to bring it all to life.

It was a completely silly last minute idea the creatives had, “Hey, would it be stupid but funny if we made a music video where D Love sang Lionel Richie and Diana Ross’s duet Endless Love but it turned out he was serenading a dove instead of a girl? We could call it Endless Dove.”

Our answer of course, was, "Yes, that would be stupid but funny. Let’s do it.”

So, we came up with the idea to make it look like an early 80s music video, to echo the year Lionel and Diana first released the song. The 70s lens flares and romantic halo lighting are spot on. The song is actually also really well done for a spoof. It was such a joy being in the studio with a couple of session musicians with such amazing pipes. They belted out the song over and over again until we felt like we had it in the can. Munzie mixed it perfectly and it’s a really beautiful tribute to the original - despite the silly lyrics that slowly unfold.

We then came up with a bunch of dumb romance tropes for D Love to make fun of as he serenaded the live pigeon.  The capper was having him play his tiny piano on top of a real grand piano being played by the woman you think he’s serenading. We shot it all at the famous SARM studios where Bob Marley, The Clash and tons of other legendary musicians have laid down tracks we all know and love.

We played it straight, despite the inherent silliness, and managed to get a great raw performance from Ms. Phebe Edwards (the female singer in the spot, who’s not an actress but should be!) that emotionally grounds the piece and almost brings a tear to the eye, as the song comes to a close.

Q> What will be different about yours and Peter’s films now you are a collective?

MD> Whether we decide to tackle a film solo or together our process won’t change that much. We'll still chat and brainstorm about every project that comes in as that’s always been one of the funnest parts of the job for us. As for the actual shooting we were never one of those “okay, you talk to the actors while I deal with the technical stuff” kind of teams. We both do it all and our inspirations are so similar at this point in terms of the directors and films we admire we’ll probably end up gravitating to the same kind of work whether we’re shooting together or solo. 

The biggest difference will probably be a lot more “table for one” requests on travel jobs.