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Marshall Cook: “Preparing for rain”

“Direct commercials.” I met Bob Odenkirk in my early 20s and he was kind enough to meet me for lunch a few times over the years. After my first indie film, he finally told me I need to seriously pursue directing commercials as well. He said something to the effect of, “you can’t make a […]

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“Direct commercials.” I met Bob Odenkirk in my early 20s and he was kind enough to meet me for lunch a few times over the years. After my first indie film, he finally told me I need to seriously pursue directing commercials as well. He said something to the effect of, “you can’t make a living by directing an indie film every seven years. You need to direct commercials. I do it. The directors of Little Miss Sunshine do it…” After that, I entered around 30 commercial competitions on Tongal.com, which lead to directing broadcast commercials for major brands. Literally life-changing.


As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Marshall Cook.

Marshall Cook is an award-winning writer, director, and filmmaker. Marshall’s crowd-pleasing indie comedy, FILM FEST, premiered at the Austin Film Fest in 2020 and will be available on iTunes and Amazon on March 2nd. Marshall has directed, written, and produced over fifty commercials (for broadcast and digital distribution) with producing partner Tyler A. Hawes, through their production company, Convoy Entertainment. He recently developed a comedy series with Will Sasso for eOne Entertainment (based off the short, Follow Me). Marshall continues to write/develop features and series while working directly with brands on broadcast and digital campaigns.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Thank you for having me. I grew up in Santa Rosa, CA. Wine country. I had a pretty active upbringing, spending a lot of time outside. My sister and I split time between my parents, which undoubtedly led to my split personality, with dual interests in football and filmmaking/theater. That continued through Occidental College in LA, where I played football and majored in film. However, the real education began after college. I was auditioning, working on sets, freelance editing, and making shorts for film festivals. I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to a lot of different things to discover my interests.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I can’t remember the singular “aha” moment, like you see in movies. I just remember really taking an interest in my dad’s hi-8 camcorder. I would make video sketches with friends and edit on the VCR, hitting play/record, stop, play/record. If there was a video project option in school, I would always do it. I would do my friend’s videos for their classes too. At one point, I was making sketches for our school’s “news” program, but half of them got shelved because they were considered “inappropriate.” I’ve feel like I’ve always had an affinity for irreverent comedy, which could probably be traced to Mel Brooks, John Hughes, the Farrelly Brothers, Seinfeld, and SNL, to name a few.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I remember this vividly. A year after my first feature, “Division III: Football’s Finest,” came out, it was on Netflix and Showtime. I could tell from online reviews and social media it was getting a lot of views, but I was broke. My friend, Taymour Ghazi, who played my rival in the movie, got me a job as background wait staff on “Hell’s Kitchen.” I remember approaching a table with a plate of salmon in each hand when a kid almost jumped out of his seat and said, “hey, you’re the quarterback in Division III.” I told him I was and he went on telling me it was one of his favorite movies. He then asked, “so, how’s it going?” I look at this kid, holding two plates of salmon, wanting to explain the reality of my situation and everything I’ve learned in the 10 years I’ve been here until finally choking on my tongue and offering a mumbled “grea-fine,” or something, before serving him and retreating to the wings. The kid destroyed me. That story is only really funny to me now.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

To be honest, the most interesting people (in my opinion) are usually writers most people haven’t heard of. For example, Chad Kultgen, who I consider a good friend, is one of the most interesting people I know because he’s not only super intelligent, but he’s infinitely curious. Just the other night, it’s 10:00pm and I’m winding down while he’s practicing cardistry, writing a book, going for a 2 mile jog, providing analysis of “The Bachelor” through his @bachelorclues Instagram account and podcast, and then (sincerely) trying to communicate with aliens through meditation.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

No one has helped me achieve success more than my wife, Michelle. And by “success,” I mean growth as a person, which has also helped my career. She’s a talent manager, so she understands the business, but more than that, she’s just a quality human being who has always known who she is and what she stands for. She commands respect with her honesty and strength and she has definitely helped me mature over the years.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.” I learn by doing, and most of my education came the hard way. Try going into a shoot underprepared and you’ll understand the value of storyboards, shot-lists, or doing 50 drafts of a script, if not on set, in editorial. Easier said than done, relabeling “mistakes” or “failures” as “lessons” is a great way to grow without beating yourself up.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

We work in a creative industry, and nothing promotes creativity like different ideas and perspectives. Also, as storytellers, we shouldn’t ignore the world we live in, or the audience that’s watching. And to that, I think it’s important for every kind of person watching the screen to have the opportunity to see some version of themselves in the story. Not just for the viewing experience, but to show them opportunities exist. Bluntly, exposure to different kinds of people and perspectives is a great way to not be ignorant.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am most excited about what will hopefully be my third feature — a comedy I wrote with my pal, Will Sasso called, “Champions of the Universe.” It’s basically about middle-aged guys in a flag-football league. I have already seen the movie in my head and it’s fantastic. Hopefully that’s happening later this year. In the meantime, during quarantine, I’ve been making 1–2 minute shorts and putting them on Instagram as a creative outlet, and as silly as it sounds, I’m really proud of them.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

I’m most proud of my ability to collaborate; to put my ego aside and do what is best for the movie. Now, as the director, I am ultimately doing what I think is best for the movie, but my decisions are always informed. The cast and crew of “Film Fest” was packed with creative people, who all had ideas. By creating an environment where they felt empowered to bring ideas to the table, it ultimately helped the movie. For example, we were extremely pressed for time, finishing up a scene in downtown Idyllwild, when my co-writer, Paul Alan Cope, raced over to me and suggested a specific shot that I’ll probably want later. I quickly pivoted to get the shot, and I’m so glad I did because it was not only important for the characters’ relationship, but it also got a big laugh. If he were worried about me flipping out, that shot wouldn’t exist and the movie would be 1% worse. Now, sometimes I just don’t agree with an idea, but I encourage people to not take it personally and keep them coming.

Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

“You only get one first impression.” Too many times, I’ve finished a draft of a script or a cut of a video and wanted to share it before it was “done.” Very few people actually want to read your script, let alone multiple times. If you need feedback, share within your circle, but make sure whatever you’re sharing is great before you give it to someone who could potentially hire you.

“Invest. Don’t invent.” This was a note given to me when I was taking improv classes at iO West. I would be in my head a lot, trying to write the scene I was in, instead of investing emotionally in the scene. When writing, I would put more energy into high concept scenarios, rather than simple, primal, wants and needs that the audience can relate to and care about.

“Direct commercials.” I met Bob Odenkirk in my early 20s and he was kind enough to meet me for lunch a few times over the years. After my first indie film, he finally told me I need to seriously pursue directing commercials as well. He said something to the effect of, “you can’t make a living by directing an indie film every seven years. You need to direct commercials. I do it. The directors of Little Miss Sunshine do it…” After that, I entered around 30 commercial competitions on Tongal.com, which lead to directing broadcast commercials for major brands. Literally life-changing.

“Shadow.” Shadowing a director is basically being a director’s shadow. You follow them around and watch them work. Quietly. You can learn a lot by watching a pro if they’re kind enough to let you. I didn’t shadow any directors in my twenties, and I wish I had. You can always learn something from someone.

“Preparing for rain.” This is actually from the bible. I’m not religious but it’s a good lesson, to not just believe something is going to happen, but literally prepare for it. My version of “preparing crops” is writing, scouting, making notes, storyboards, animatics, shot-lists. It can go from a long drought to a flash flood, so you better be ready.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

It’s not my idea, but I do think removing follower/view/like counts on all social media would make a whole lot of people less depressed. When I hear kids say they wish they had more followers, it makes me sad. They want “fame,” but fame is an illusion. They want to know how to brand themselves before knowing who they are. I personally know people who just buy followers and act like they’re famous influencers. And whatever number they have, it’s never enough. I don’t think it’s healthy or productive. So I say we either take the number part out of it completely, or just give everyone a million views and followers when they create an account.

Like TikTok does, right? That was a joke, unless it’s true. Who knows…

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.

Julia Louise Dreyfus. I was 7 when Seinfeld came on the air so it’s entirely possible I was programmed to like her. 31 years later she can still make me scream-laugh or bring me to tears. Beyond her talent, she just seems like a solid person. I would love to buy her a meal and get to know her better.

How can our readers further follow you online?

I’m on Instagram @thismarshallcook and some of my work is on Marshallcook.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


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