February 13, 2014

SCA Family Story: Drue Metz, '14

Drue Metz, an MFA Film and TV Production Candidate, recently sat down with us to discuss how his SCA education helped prepare him for his dream job- Pitching, directing and managing film content for Apple's marketing and communications group.

SCA: Let’s start with your name and grad year DM: My name is Drue Metz, I’m an MFA Film and TV Production Candidate graduating this May.

Tell me about your Apple project.  My story working with Apple really started after graduating with my B.A. in Film and Video Production at Cal State Long Beach.  I was an unemployed writer/director working in retail while at the same time attending UCLA’s Professional Program in Screenwriting Program and also managing my production company and trying to create steady work.  Basically, I was working 7 days a week and it was one of the most challenging times of my life. However, the skills I learned as a businessman and as a director during my time at Apple retail were monumental.  Working with people and training them was just another form of directing to me. I ended up becoming a “creative” trainer at Apple, teaching employees and customers how to use their hardware and software such as Final Cut Pro, Aperture and so on.  What made me leave that position was the timing of having just finished my one year at the UCLA screenwriting program and being offered a spot in the SCA’s MFA Film and Television Production program.

Then, after my first full year at USC, a Marketing and Communications Video Production internship at Apple popped up.  It was described as a full-time 90 day internship working at the Apple headquarters (AKA the “Mothership”) in the Bay Area assisting in their Marketing and Communications (MarCom) video productions. I instantly jumped on it.  I had already been to Cupertino before when I did Apple’s “creative training” to become one of their retail instructors and it was one of the best experiences of my entire life.

Drue Metz, '14

It seemed like a dream come true to work with the company again.  Being a writer/director and knowing and loving the culture of Apple, I thought that this could be a stepping-stone to one of my lifelong goals to direct Apple commercials and videos.   So, I called everyone I knew in the Apple family and created an entire campaign to apply for this internship. 

They brought me up there in mid-May and I immediately jumped head first into production work, collaborating on several videos Apple was producing for its internal communications as well as online and in-store marketing. The MarCom Film and Video group is basically the sole chapter that focuses on online content, media device content, and all the images, stills and video, shown in the products and in retail stores.  From day one on the job I realized that Apple basically has their own production company within this department to produce and facilitate this content. While I came in as an “intern” I immediately began developing, pitching, producing, shooting and serving as Assistant Art Director on a huge Apple production and then personally writing/directing a variety of videos.

Apple has an amazing culture of exploring new and innovative ideas.  Creation and ideas are important on every level within the company, so I was immediately given the opportunity to help develop and collaborate on several projects.  This is where my personal video came into play: the goal of the internship was to eventually develop my own project to personally direct.  What ended up happening was that I had fully developed and presented probably 10 visual and oral pitches for Apple MarCom executives.  Apple’s hierarchy is very minimal, there are only a few people at the top and it trickles down pretty quickly, so within the first few weeks, I’m pitching to these brilliant executives my ideas for videos that would be fun for marketing or campaign ideas.  It was exhilarating to be given the honor to pitch to many important and creative people.

Over the course of my time there I was constantly developing and setting meetings to pitch to them while also assisting on projects — shooting, consulting, observing, whatever they needed.  I wanted to work hard and show them what I could bring to the table as a filmmaker and as as a creative collaborator, so by the time I pitched the last few of many concepts and had directed a behind-the-scenes mini documentary video for the World Wide Developers Conference (vimeo.com/druemetz), they knew me and my work and they gave me the greenlight to pick one of 2 ideas and then gave me free reign to develop it with my manager, a senior art director.  But this wasn’t a homework assignment, this was a full blown production and the company gave us a substantial budget to work with-- more than I’ve ever had before as a director. We hired a production company to help facilitate the project and I was also able to personally hire another SCA Trojan, Crissy Kikkawa, to serve as the Casting Director on the project.

All of the Apple executives and creatives supported and nurtured me in the growth of this project from beginning to end. Especially my manager, a Senior Art Director for Apple’s MarCom Video group.  Under his guidance and collaboration I was able to develop, write and direct the video, a “lifestyle” shoot as they called it, to create original content for potential marketing and to be considered for use in various campaigns. The video you see in the iPhone iMovie application is one way they’ve used the content that I directed thus far.

What are some of the insights you can offer about the pitching process? The thing that made me successful in the pitch process is that I observed my senior art director and how he developed and pitched his own projects.  He showed me briefs from Apple and prepared me on what Apple’s attitude, style and vision is for their products and marketing campaigns.  This was something already in my blood from retail and as a consumer, but my manager, a genius in design and marketing, showed me how he created a visual presentation, using sample images to create a storyboard or “moodboard” to communicate tone, style and show examples of scene content.

Did you have to be conscious of the established Apple vibe? Absolutely. Through the entire process I had to be aware of the tone, style and visuals that they expect at Apple.  For example, there’s a very specific palette for color, lighting and costuming that Apple gravitates to in their designs.  So every image I picked to share in my “moodboards” had to feel like Apple while also telling the story. 

The premise for the video they greenlit was about four recent high school graduates who were all going their own separate ways at the end of summer and how they spent their last day together at their local State Fair.  Because I had shot at carnivals before I knew that if we were given permission, the rights and the access, a State Fair would be a beautiful opportunity for a content shoot and inherently add such great production value.  I knew there would be a plethora of cinematic and fun scene opportunities that we could generate just from that one premise. The video they released is only a fraction of the content I directed and that we generated as a team. I’m hoping Apple will use more our footage for other campaigns and platforms!  

What are some lessons you learned here at USC that you go back to?  It’s always stressful when you present a film or pitch an idea you’ve developed because you want to be open and receptive but it’s still the feeling that you're putting your babies out there.  Before this amazing opportunity was given the go, I had pitched 10 different ideas and got feedback on every single one.  However, Apple has such a great culture of giving feedback -- positive and negative, and learning to communicate specifically on what’s strong and what isn’t.  Knowing that language both from Apple retail but also from my training at USC has been something fundamental in my growth and success  in this project and with every project I’ve ever been a part of.  Reason being, feedback is critical.  Giving and receiving feedback was something that I got to really hone at USC and it allowed me to grow as team player.  That’s something I brought to the table from the get-go at Apple,  that I was hardworking and that I was open to developing ideas based on the notes I got.

When you work for a client or a production company and you’re hired to direct or shoot something, you need to be a strong listener. It’s always important to have a vision and be passionate—because they want to feel that—but it’s just as important to listen to notes and extrapolate what the person, the company or the client is looking for.  As Rick Parks, one of the writing division instructors recently told me, “always look for the spirit of the note.”  To be able to truly listen and incorporate the feedback and notes into the story I was developing was what really made me successful in my shoot.

Now that I’m about to graduate and have a couple opportunities to direct and produce other content, I think it’s something that both employers and collaborators have come to recognize about me.  I’m a team leader when I need to be and a team player when I need to be, based on our story and our goals.  Collaboration and being able to give and receive feedback is something that can’t be understated when you go through the program here at USC.  Your ability to collaborate is single handedly a reason for someone to want to hire you or not, nonetheless recommend you.  If you’re known as a great person to work with, and someone who can really listen and consider their collaborators, people are going to remember that.  And that’s something indispensable and will set you apart from so many others trying to do exactly what we all want to do.  I came into USC with that attitude, but developing that here at the SCA has been just as important as the connections or the content I have created.  

Where is the video you directed being shown?  What’s amazing is that Apple is using the content I directed as a movie trailer sample for their iMovie application.  It’s currently being seen on millions of Apple devices all around the world.  Anyone who has an Apple computer can see it inside the iMovie application.  Once you open up iMovie, go to “Trailers” then click on “TEEN”.  If you have iMovie on your iPhone or iPad, you can do the same just like the sample video posted on this page.