World : My Portfolio - Maggie Zackheim

A recent stay in London directing UK work - "Monday proof" for BBC3's comedy night and "slugs" for COI Communications' salt-reduction campaign - stoked the New York director Maggie Zackheim's passion for English comedy. The Office was already on her radar - she's an avid BBC America watcher - but her new favourite is Little Britain.

Working with the show's co-creator Matt Lucas on "slugs" (Lucas did the voice of the gastropod) she got a sneak preview of the new series. "Matt's wonderful," she enthuses. "I'm trying to get him in something over here before people find out about him."

The ad was an odd one for a director used to working with actors. "I was curious to work with CGI," she says. "I found it bitter-sweet, because most of the time you're just shooting frames. You need a good imagination to work out what it will look like. It was amazing to watch it all get cobbled together, but I prefer to work with people."

Zackheim started her career as an intern at MTV in New York. She was considering going to film school, but was warned off by her brother, who was a term into his course at NYU. "He sent me his syllabus and it was all books - reading was all he was doing," she explains. "The time you spend over-analysing things, you could be working on a set."

MTV was the perfect springboard. "There, you either fall into the quagmire or you take the initiative and do something," she says. Zackheim opted for the latter, making a series of short comedy sketches for VH1 and MTV, and pricking the interest of ad agencies in the process.

Now represented by Headquarters in the US and Independent in the UK, she is making a name for herself with comedy campaigns. She's been billed as one of the top-ten comedy directors in the US, for work such as her Blockbuster games guru ads and her Coors campaign in the US, through FCB Chicago. None of the 17 beer ads were scripted - instead, Zackheim relied on friends and actors from her MTV days to improvise skits based around the concept of a group of geeks on a boozy night out. Can she explain the huge interest in US comedy directors in the UK at the moment?

"Don't ask me; you guys are funnier than we are," she says. But she thinks comedy ads in the US aren't as good as they were in the past, and directors are starting to look for other ideas. "It's lost a bit of the vivaciouness over here. You know it's getting bad when McDonald's and Burger King are being ironic in their ads."

- Maggie Zackheim was talking to James Hamilton.

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