Joe Pytka

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Joe Pytka
Joe Pytka
Born (1938-11-04) November 4, 1938 (age 79)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation Film director
Years active 1959–present

Joe Pytka (born November 4, 1938) is an American film, television, commercial and music video director born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[1][2] He holds the record for the most nominations for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Commercials.[3]

Early life[edit]

Pytka studied fine arts at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon), and chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He began his film career at WRS Motion Pictures while still in college. He moved to New York as a post-production supervisor at MGM Telestudios but returned to Pittsburgh to make documentaries at WQED, a flagship production center of the then National Educational Television Network, now PBS.[4] His work there for NET Playhouse garnered many awards and the film A View of the Sky was the official United States Government film at the Expo '67 World's Fair in Montreal.[citation needed]

He left to form his own production company with Rift Fournier and produced and directed many short films, documentaries and commercials. As a part of his documentary Maggie's Farm, Richie Havens and Bob Dylan allowed him to use their music. It was a precursor to the current music video form. Through motorcycle racing, he met Steve McQueen, and they began to collaborate on a documentary on off-road desert racing. The project never came about but Pytka finished the short film High Flying Bird, featuring McQueen driving an off-road desert vehicle, again, to Richie Havens' music.[5]

Through his love of jazz, Pytka began to use the music in much of his work, using Gary McFarland, Don Elliot, and Chico Hamilton during this period.[citation needed]

Professional life[edit]

Pytka adapted the documentary form into his work in commercials and eventually moved to New York, then to Los Angeles. To date he has directed many commercials,[6] several films, documentaries and music videos. He has been acclaimed for his work with celebrities and athletes ranging from Michael Jackson to Michael Jordan, doing extensive work with each.[citation needed] He's done many of Tiger Woods' commercials, including the acclaimed I Am Tiger Woods.[7]

Pytka has over fifty pieces of his work in the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art.[citation needed]

Pytka has directed over eighty Super Bowl commercials and won the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter Poll seven times.[citation needed] His commercial for Pepsi, Security Camera, was chosen as the best ever in the history of the poll.[citation needed] Another commercial for Nike, Hare Jordan, was developed into the hit film Space Jam.[8]

Notable music videos[edit]

  • 1987: Music video for "The Way You Make Me Feel", almost 7 minutes long. The music video was released on October 31, 1987, and received one nomination at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards Ceremony. The video, alongside Jackson's '"Bad" video, was nominated for Best Choreography, but lost to Jackson's younger sister Janet's video "The Pleasure Principle".[citation needed]
  • 1989: A five-minute music video for the song "Dirty Diana" by Michael Jackson. This music video won the "Number One Video In The World" at the 2nd World Music Awards held on April 14, 1989.[citation needed]
  • 1991: "Heal the World" from Michael Jackson.[citation needed]
  • 1997: "Free as a Bird" was produced by Vincent Joliet and directed by Joe Pytka and depicts, from the point of view of a bird in flight, many references to Beatles songs. The video won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 1997.[9]

Music video for "Free as a Bird"[edit]

The music video for "Free as a Bird" was produced by Vincent Joliet and directed by Joe Pytka and depicts, from the point of view of a bird in flight, many references to Beatles songs, such as "Penny Lane", "Paperback Writer", "A Day in the Life", "Eleanor Rigby", "Helter Skelter", "Piggies", "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Doctor Robert", and "The Fool on The Hill". Between 80 and 100 allusions to the Beatles' story, music and lyrics in the video have been estimated.[10] Although the bird can be heard at the beginning of the video, it is never seen. Neil Aspinall (Apple Records executive at the time) said that this was because no-one could agree on what kind of bird it should be.[11] Pytka had to send his ideas to McCartney, Harrison and Starr, as well as Ono, to make sure they all agreed before he could proceed with the filming of the video. Derek Taylor (ex-Apple Records executive) sent a two-page letter to Pytka confirming that he could proceed, and personally encouraged and supported Pytka's ideas.[12] The video was filmed in as many authentic locations as possible: Penny Lane was made by Pytka's art department to look as it was in the 1950s, and other locations filmed were The Liver Building, and Liverpool Docks (as a reference to Lennon's father Alfred Lennon).[13] Although Pytka fixed the ideas on a storyboard, he abandoned it as soon as filming began, and followed ideas based on what angles and perspectives the steadycamera produced. One instance was the filming of the car crash, which Pytka filmed for hours from above, but realised that a steadycam shot on the ground was a much better idea.[14] Archive footage was used by imposing it on scenes shot by Pytka, who utilized a greenscreen stage to digitally blend it into the finished film, such as Paul's Old English Sheepdog in the graveyard, and the elephant in the ballroom procession scene.[15] The elephant was put in last, as Aspinall phoned Pytka and said that Starr liked the scene, but insisted an elephant be put in it, which Pytka later did, as he had already put a sitar in at the request of Harrison.[16] Apart from the steadycam shots, Pytka used a Russian-made Akil-crane for sweeping overhead shots, such as the Abbey Road zebra crossing shot at the end, as well as a remote-controlled toy helicopter with a camera added to it for intricate aerial shots.[17] To make it more interesting, two Blue Meanies make cameos. Harrison played the ukulele in the studio for the song, and asked to appear as the ukulele player seen only from behind at the very end of the video. Pytka resisted this, as he felt it would be wrong for any contemporary members of the Beatles to appear on screen. Pytka later stated that it was "heartbreaking" that Harrison had not played the role, particularly after Harrison's death in 2001 and upon discovering that the ukulele was not a sample of an old song as Pytka had assumed.[18] The video won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 1997.

Noteworthy commercials[edit]

Feature films[edit]

  • Let It Ride (1989) - His first film as director starring Richard Dreyfuss, Robbie Coltrane, David Johansen, Jennifer Tilly and Teri Garr. While not acclaimed by critics, it has developed into a cult classic [citation?]. His innovative camera work, smart styling, and fast pacing created an original, memorable film [opinion]. The intertwined story, set at a horse race track, and nearby dive bar, creates a style so rich in tone and grit [opinion--no citation].
  • Space Jam (1996) - His second feature film starring Michael Jordan, Bill Murray and the animated cast from Looney Tunes. A fantasy tale with Michael Jordan recruited to help save the Looney Tunes in an epic basketball showdown. Features many cameos of stars from the NBA.


  • DGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Television 2016.[23]
  • Cannes Lion of St. Mark 2014.[24]
  • Advertising Hall of Fame, Inducted 2014.[25]
  • Director's Guild of America: three DGA Awards and fifteen nominations.[26] He was also given DGA Honors Award that "celebrates individuals and institutions that have made distinguished contributions to America culture."[27]
  • Art Directors Club Hall of Fame: admitted in 2011.[28]
  • One Club Hall of Fame.[29]
  • Emmy: commercial for HBO, "Chimps."[30]
  • Grammy: for Free as a Bird.[31]
  • Western Heritage Museum's The Wrangler Award: for his short film, "The Dream."[32]


  1. ^ "Clios". Clios.
  2. ^ "Joe Pytka".
  3. ^ "Meet the Nominees: Commercials".
  4. ^ "Commercials director Joe Pytka and Wieden + Kennedy's John C. Jay join ADC Hall of Fame".
  5. ^ "".
  6. ^ H. Dougherty, Philip (June 17, 1986). "ADVERTISING; Joe Pytka Wins Five Clio Awards". The New York Times.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "His Airness vs. air: The making of 'Space Jam' Jordan conquers another challenge: the movies".
  9. ^ "Free As A Bird by The Beatles Songfacts".
  10. ^ Ingham, Chris (2003). The Rough Guide To the Beatles. Rough Guides. p. 93. ISBN 1-84353-140-2.
  11. ^ "The Beatles Anthology" DVD 2003 (Special Features: Making the Free as a Bird video - 0:00:17) Pytka and Aspinall talking about the idea of a bird and song titles on the "Free as a Bird" video.
  12. ^ "The Beatles Anthology" DVD 2003 (Special Features: Making the Free as a Bird video - 0:01:06) Pytka talking about the agreement for his ideas.
  13. ^ "The Beatles Anthology" DVD 2003 (Special Features: Making the Free as a Bird video - 0:02:01) Pytka talking about the locations.
  14. ^ "The Beatles Anthology" DVD 2003 (Special Features: Making the Free as a Bird video - 0:04:44) Pytka talking about the storyboard.
  15. ^ "The Beatles Anthology" DVD 2003 (Special Features: Making the Free as a Bird video - 0:05:50) Pytka talking about the greenscreen.
  16. ^ "The Beatles Anthology" DVD 2003 (Special Features: Making the Free as a Bird video - 0:07:06) Pytka talking about the elephant and the sitar.
  17. ^ "The Beatles Anthology" DVD 2003 (Special Features: Making the Free as a Bird video - 0:07:38) Pytka talking about the Akila crane and the remote-controlled toy helicopter.
  18. ^ "The Beatles Anthology" DVD 2003 (Special Features: Making the Free as a Bird video - 0:10:16) Pytka talking about Harrison and the ukulele player.
  19. ^ "Jobs in Advertising - AgencySpy".
  20. ^ Taraborrelli 2002, p. 172[citation not found]
  21. ^ Bignell 2007, p. 123[citation not found]
  22. ^ Metz & Benson 1999, p. 131[citation not found]
  23. ^ "Legendary Commercial Director Joe Pytka to Receive DGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Television -".
  24. ^ "".
  25. ^ "Members".
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Celebrating Game Changing Commercial Direction - A DGA 75th Anniversary Event".
  28. ^ "The One Club / Home".
  29. ^ "One Club Creative Hall Of Fame To Induct Steve Jobs, Paula Green, Joe Pytka And Inaugural Educator's Hall Of Fame Member Robert Lawton".
  30. ^ "Research - Articles - Journals - Research better, faster at HighBeam Research".
  31. ^ "The Beatles give dir. Joe Pytka his first-ever Grammy".
  32. ^ "Western Heritage Awards - National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum".

External links[edit]