CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CAMPAIGN SCREEN AWARDS - Rinsch: from cleaning sewers to Best New Director. The winner's life reads like a script from a Hollywood film, Lisa Campbell writes

"As soon as someone tells me I can't do something, I immediately

want to do it," the Los Angeles-born young film-maker Carl Erik Rinsch


You'd be forgiven for thinking that Rinsch, who made his first film aged

14 with funding from his parents, was just another spoiled American rich

kid. Nothing could be further from the truth. He may be just 23 but

Rinsch's life already reads like a film script with the requisite fame,

fortune, determination and tragedy.

Rinsch, who has just been awarded Best New Director 2001 in the first

annual D&AD/Campaign Screen New Director's Competition, grew up in L.A.

on a diet of Lucas and Spielberg films. At 14 he took a summer short

film course at USC Film School and, with his best friend Tim Crane (who

later became his producer), made his first film.

Made with dollars 1,000 borrowed from "liberal" parents, The Quizz was a

commentary on Rinsch and Crane's lives. "Like most kids that age, we

felt a sense of isolation. It was us against the world," Rinsch says.

The film, in which a young boy's doodle characters come to life and

eventually kill each other, was an entry at film festivals around the

world, including the New York Film Festival, the Malta Film Festival and

the Telluride Film Festival.

Three years later, the pair were ready for more but their desire for

cranes and 35mm film meant they had to find their own funds. They went

to work for Crane's father and, in glamorous L.A., found themselves in

the unlikely profession of sewer cleaning.

"We needed the money and wanted to make movies so much that we agreed to

help out," Rinsch recalls. The pair mucked in but managed to keep their

hands clean by taking on a marketing role, selling a new camera that

could pinpoint the cause of blockages. Their sales technique was a hit

and the FlexiCAM became a multimillion-dollar product used by plumbers


After that, the question was whether to continue making independent

films or to attend university. "All I knew is that I wanted to do this

for the rest of my life - for as long as I'm strong enough to hold a

camera," Rinsch says.

In the end, he opted for a literature and art course, rather than a film

course at Brown's University, believing that filmmakers should be

rounded individuals drawing on influences from Rothko to Wagner. His

belief is borne more out of morality than pretention.

"Growing up in L.A., it's easy to embrace the trade. I knew about

T-stops, Panavision and the difference between 28mm and 150mm lenses by

the time I was 16. But the danger is that you live in a vacuum and don't

realise the impact of movies on the lives of real people. Because you

can have such influence as a film-maker, you have to be responsible,

which is why I wanted to become an educated individual."

During his studies, Rinsch also pursued his love of photography and

became a part-time photojournalist for Rolling Stone magazine - at 21 he

was one of its youngest ever photographers.

He completed his course with a thesis comprising three test films.

Again, he worked with his lifelong friend and producer, Crane.

The films for Pepsi, Calvin Klein and Tampax, which Rinsch entered into

the D&AD/Campaign Screen competition, demonstrate a strong visual

aesthetic combined with a gift for storytelling.

One of the judges, the director Jeff Stark, says: "There were a lot of

really good craftsmen in the competition and Carl was one. But he also

has a fresh eye; originality combined with laid-back, improvised-style


"His technique is incredible - in the Pepsi ad, for example, he uses

little editing quirks that keep the narrative bubbling along. He's an

incredibly capable director. He's not breaking new ground when it comes

to the look, but if you'd said Ridley (Scott) had made it, I would have

believed you."

Key to Rinsch's character and work is a need for challenge and a desire

to achieve the impossible. He wanted to make a test commercial for

Calvin Klein perfume because he has no sense of smell.

"Smell is amazing to me, like a superpower, and I was excited by the

idea of conveying it. What does a smell look like? How do you depict

something so abstract?"

The look of the ad was also inspired by the desire to prove someone

wrong, on this occasion, Kodak.

The company introduced new film and claimed that, for the first time,

the grain would be invisible. "We took it upon ourselves to destroy this

notion," Rinsch says.

Combining old-fashioned optical printing with digital effects, the pair

managed to break the film down so the grain was visible. As well as

proving a point, the result is a visually-arresting film.

Rinsch chose to direct the Tampax ad for similar reasons. "It's treated

as a delicate subject and all we ever see are girls on the beach and

blue liquid. They don't tackle the issue," he says.

Rinsch's execution (the ad was written by a woman) is decidedly


It features a woman wearing only a pair of white knickers. She puts on a

pair of goggles as hoses spray her with blood. As her face and body

become drenched, the camera pans down to her still bright white pants,

and the Tampax logo.

Armed with a reel of three ads, Rinsch had an approach from a local

commercials production company - a career he had never really


The company subsequently turned him down, claiming that he would never

make an ad director.

That was like a red rag to a bull for Rinsch. He immediately asked who

was the best ad director and production company in the world and was

told Ridley Scott and RSA.

He packed his bags, saw a rep, a week later saw Jules Daly, the managing

director and, a week later, Ridley Scott. He was in.

However there was a tragic turn of events to come. Returning to L.A.

after completing his first ad for McDonald's (Rinsch had been told that

fast food was career suicide so had to prove otherwise), he learned that

Crane, his best friend and producer, had been hit by a drunk-driver and

was paralysed from the chest down.

"We've been working together ever since we were young kids, and just

when things are taking off, this accident happens," Rinsch says. He is

working with Matt Reeves, whose father, the actor Christopher Reeves, is

also quadraplegic, to find out about the latest research and treatment

for his friend's condition.

"When I found out that our work had won the award I immediately phoned

him at the hospital to tell him," he adds. "He loved it. I'm optimistic

and have told Tim that when he's ready, we'll work together again."

In the meantime, Rinsch is keen to work in the UK, due to its high

standard of creativity. He is reluctant however, to define his look: "I

hope to bring something different every time. I don't think I can pander

to a certain style. I provide me. I provide Carl Erik Rinsch."

It's a name to watch out for and you saw it here first.

The runners-up in the Campaign Screen competition proved to be equally

competent filmmakers. Animation was particularly impressive thanks to

the French duo, Loic and Aurelien. Also aged 23, the pair spent four

months on their Macs creating an extremely assured debut film, AP2000.

The film was selected for its level of detail and inventive effects,

including clever crane-imitating changes of camera angle. The directors

were recently signed to Partizan Midi Minuit, Paris.

Ed Gill's reel was among the strangest on the shortlist. The former

illustrator and photographer defies categorisation with surreal vigour,

and is likely to shake up the advertising industry as much as the

peculiar characters in the innovative Skeleton Artist, hilarious Crooked

Cop and eery Geisha.

Stunning cinematography came from the former DP Peter Thwaites, who is

now on Gorgeous's roster of directors. Thwaites also has a great sense

of timing, as indicated by his Lexus and Aristoc spots.

Assured comedy direction was displayed by the Australian duo Daddy,

which comprises the ex-creative and TV director Jeff Ford and the

ex-broadcast producer, Jake Knowles. Somewhat Traktoresque in style,

they specialise in absurdist humour, as revealed by their hilarious

"Chuck Norris" spot for Ford Ka.

The former HHCL creative Jim Hosking was another contender for the


His manic MTV spots demonstrate his versatility incorporating humour,

desperation and sheer lunacy.

Last but not least, Sam Cadman. As the man who brought Dom Joly's

madness to life in Trigger Happy TV, Cadman has already achieved

considerable success. But his reel shows that his humour, sense of comic

timing and originality could apply equally well to ads.

A selection of the winners' work can be viewed in the latest issue of

Campaign Screen and on the D&AD website