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Unexpected Intros: Matt Blitz


DDB Chicago's head of integrated production on auditioning, living in LA and John Lewis adverts

Unexpected Intros: Matt Blitz

At DDB, we have a simple belief. That Unexpected Works. It means that the best idea is the one you never saw coming. The thing that catches you so off guard that you can‘t look away. And the only path to genuinely unexpected works is through creativity. 

And in order to create awesome works, you need awesome people. Because you can’t make the unexpected if you only work with the usual suspects. In this Unexpected Intros series, we take a peek behind the curtain at some of the diverse thinkers that make up our network, and validate Bill Bernbach’s notion that an idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.

1. Name, Title, Office

Matt Blitz, head of integrated production, DDB Chicago

2. Introduce yourself in three emojis. 

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 💪 🤪

3. What was your very first job? 

It was 1977 and I had just received my headshots in the mail. I remember being in the photographer’s studio, sitting on a stuffed horse with my mom standing behind the camera. I had no idea why I was there and why I was having so many pictures taken of me.  

Next thing I know I am in my mother’s car driving to downtown Chicago and my mother has a letter sized envelope next to her that holds the head shot she chose for me to share with the casting director. I remember sitting in the waiting room, surrounded by other boys my age with the same ‘70s haircut, bangs and a bob. 

It’s my turn to go in and meet the casting director. I sit down on a big couch with a glass coffee table in front of me. My mother sits down next to me and I am handed a piece of paper. The casting director asks my name and age and then asks me to read the script handed to me when I walked in. It is a “glue” ad. I read the ad like I was reading aloud in my third grade class, with a bit more drama. I was then asked to tell a joke.  “What did the Pink Panther say when he stepped on an ant? Dead ant, Dead ant, Dead ant Dead ant Dead ant…”

That was it and obviously, I didn’t get the part because I am writing about it here. I found out later that I was auditioning for the role of “Danny Torrance” in the “Shining.” Turns out the boy they cast was from Illinois, maybe we had been in the waiting room together.

4. How did you wind up in advertising? 

How did I get into advertising, well, you asked. It all started when I graduated from Columbia College in Chicago and moved to LA to break into Hollywood. I started out as a production assistant, working for free or for very little pay to learn production. I eventually worked my way up to 2nd assistant director on a TV show I was working on and continued to work consistently as an AD in film and television for five years.

I didn’t love LA, it was, as I called it, the loneliest place on earth. No matter how many friends I made, it just seemed lonely. I was always competing for the same jobs as my friends, sometimes I would hire them, sometimes they would hire me and sometimes, well, one of us had to look elsewhere. I quickly realised, at the age of 28, that I wanted stability and to move back to Chicago.

So, in 2000, I was working on a show for MTV called “Undressed” and just finished the second season. While on hiatus, I got a job as 2nd AD on a pet food commercial. Actually, I found it quite boring, compared to what my role was as a 2nd on a film or series. As I was running talent to set, I noticed a small group of people under this white tent. They were all sitting in director’s chairs, laughing with the line producer and with a person standing near them with a tray of assorted finger foods. I immediately went up to the production coordinator and asked, who are the people under the white tent?  She replied, “That's the agency.”  The agency, I said to myself, that’s what I want to do.

I immediately called my LA roommate’s father, Glant Cohen, who was the deputy director of broadcast at Leo Burnett. I told Glant that I wanted to get into advertising and come home to Chicago. Glant was gracious enough to get me an interview with Jonathan Davis, the HOP at Leo.  

A couple weeks later, I flew to Chicago to meet with Jonathan. I remember going up to the production floor and walking into his ridiculously big corner office, where he offered me a cigarette and we smoked and talked for a while. At the end of the meeting, Jonathan told me he wanted to bring me on but that the title would be “production assistant.” 

I was psyched, I immediately told MTV I wasn’t coming back for the third season and packed up and headed to Chicago. It took me a few weeks, but I was back home, living with my aunt and uncle. I called Jonathan and told him I was back and ready to start my next chapter.  What came out the other end of the phone was like a dagger in my heart.  Jonathan told me that he was sorry, but Leo was going through a buyout and a hiring freeze was put in place. Jonathan told me to keep in touch and as soon as he could, he would bring me on board.  

I figured with my experience; I would be able to work in the film industry in Chicago. I wasn’t wrong. I was able to freelance on different shows and movies, while calling Jonathan every month. Nothing. I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere so I flew to Miami for a while and decided I was going to move in with my grandparents in Boca and join a gym, where my manager was a high school student, I am 28.

It’s now Spring of 2001, I had spent all my savings and quickly realised I couldn’t afford the gym anymore. So, I asked for a job there to freeze my account and have a little, very little, spending money. I figured if Jonathan was going to take a chance on me, why not other ad agencies. I was able to get interviews at Zimmerman and Alma. However, neither panned out. What was I going to do?  So, I called Jonathan. Still not ready.

Every night I argued with my grandmother. “Go into Sales” she would tell me. I submitted my application to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. I quickly got cold feet.  

Time goes by and I still reach out to Jonathan every month. In August of 2001, I get a call that it’s happening. Nope.  

It’s now February of 2002, I am 30 years old and confused. I decide to move back to LA but, before I go, I ask Jonathan if he would meet with me. He obliges so I fly to Chicago. The office is the same as the one I interviewed in 18 months prior. I tell Jonathan, “I know you were interested in me but it’s not working out in Florida and I am going to move back to LA where I can work.” He hears me out and puts up a finger to tell me to wait. He spins around, picks up his phone and mumbles something with his English accent and then spins right back around to me. “Would you be willing to work in Leo Video for $10 an hour? If you are in the building, it may be easier to move you upstairs.” Wow, is this really happening? Am I about to agree to this? I sure was. He then asked me how long was I in Chicago? I told him 2 weeks and he asked if I was willing to spend the rest of my days learning the machines to create ¾ and ½ inch reels. I, of course, said yes.

After my trip, I flew back to Boca and packed my bags, kissed my girlfriend goodbye, she is now my wife, and headed back to Chicago. My mom flew in from California to drive with me. Nope, not over quite yet. As we were driving though Murfreesboro, TN, my red razor flip phone rang. I answered it and it was Glant Cohen. He told me that I didn’t have to work in the basement and that they had a position for me on the 24th floor. And that’s how I got into advertising, at 30.

5. Piece of creative that inspires you? 

The work that inspires me is anything John Lewis. Every year I get excited to see what Adam&EveDDB has created. I remember when “Man on the Moon” came out. The Aurora song, “Half the World Away,” married to the beautiful story of a child trying to make a lonely old man feel like he mattered, just hit me. I shared it with my 4-year-old daughter, Catalina, at the time and she cried so hard and then would ask me to watch it again and again. She now sings that song as if she wrote it.

6. What are you currently reading, watching, and listening to? 

I love to read mystery novels. Right now I am reading “In the Woods” by Tana French. It’s her first novel and my wife, Anna, recommended it to me. She is already on her third French book.

I am a big fan of horror and suspense shows. The more absurd the better. I just finished a short series called “Midnight Mass” on Netflix but highly recommend a show called “Dark” that is also on Netflix that is set in a small German town and has a time travel theme that will keep you on the edge of your seat, every episode. It’s only three seasons and easily bingeable, leaving you wanting more when it’s over.

Music, well, I am a Deadhead. I am what was called the “Touch of Grey” generation. I was fortunate enough to catch 26 shows in the short five years leading up to Jerry’s death in 1995. I still listen to the Dead, a lot, on Sirius XM but am also a huge fan of Yacht Rock, the genre of rock that is as smooth as a baby’s behind.

7. What’s a goal/hope/dream of yours?

“Where’s production?” This is the question I want everyone to ask when work is being briefed, reviewed, shared. Production is invaluable to the agency’s success. We make the impossible possible. We are the lone wolves on every project, having to make teams of people with different priorities happy while executing at the highest level. If we do our jobs great, we are forgotten but if we fail, no one forgets. What I want my legacy to be, is to be the champion of the future of production by ensuring the producer’s role in the creative process. By making producers feel respected, heard, and considered a true extension of the creative department. The third creative, that is “in the room” rather than “on the sideline.”

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DDB Chicago, Wed, 07 Dec 2022 09:40:22 GMT