Joe Pytka

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Film Director Joe Pytka

Joe Pytka (born November 4, 1938)[1] is a popular American television commercial director and restaurateur. He has directed over 5,000 TV commercials and owned a French Bistro called Bastide that was in operation for over 9 years in the West Hollywood area. Several of the commercial’s Pytka has directed over his 30 year career have aired on the Super bowl and he’s maintained advertising partnerships with Nike, McDonald’s and Pepsi, among many others.


Life and career

Early life

Pytka began his career at WRS Motion Picture and Video Lab in Pittsburgh, where he trained in editing, shooting, and recording techniques for the fledgling Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) in the 1960s and 70s.[2] He then started shooting shows for WQED and working on documentaries including a documentary on air pollution narrated by Orson Welles and a forerunner to music videos called High Flying Bird, featuring Steve McQueen in a four-wheel-drive truck traveling Mexican landscapes. Soon, he began shooting commercials to finance the documentaries.[2]

Professional life

To date, Pytka has directed over 5,000 commercials and since his 1990 Nike commercial which featured superstar athletes like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretsky, he has directed some 30 Super Bowl ads as well as numerous documentaries.[2] Pytka made his first foreign speaking engagement in 1987 when he flew to Sweden to speak at the Nordic Commercial Film Festival, on his way to Sweden, Pytka got engaged to his wife, Emmanuelle.[1]

Super Bowl

The Super Bowl of football is also the Super Bowl of Advertising, known for extremely high profile ads that air during the broadcast; the commercials are highly anticipated generating buzz even before the game. Pytka has directed over eighty Super Bowl commercials and won the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter Poll seven times. His commercial for Pepsi, "Security Camera" was chosen as the best ever in the history of the poll. Another commercial for Nike, "Hare Jordan" was developed into the hit film Space Jam.

Music Videos

The Beatles "Free As A Bird"

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. 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. 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. 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). 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 steadycam camera 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. Archive footage was used by imposing it on scenes shot by Pytka, who utilised a greenscreen stage to digitally blend it into the finished film, such as the Paul's Old English Sheepdog in the graveyard, and the elephant in the ballroom procession scene. 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. 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. 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. The video won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 1997.

Michael Jackson "Dirty Diana"

The five minute music video for the song Dirty Diana by Michael Jackson was directed by Joe Pytka. This music video won the "Number One Video In The World" at the 2nd World Music Awards held on April 14, 1989. It is featured on the DVD albums Number Ones and Michael Jackson's Vision.

Michael Jackson "The Way You Make Me Feel"

The music video for "The Way You Make Me Feel" was directed by Joe Pytka. Almost seven minutes long, the video begins with a female walking down streets alone, with a clip being intercut that shows a male (Jackson) talking with other people. Shortly after the male walks out of an alley and stands in front of the female while she's walking down the street, although she ignores him and keeps walking. He gets her attention by shouting, and then begins singing "The Way You Make Me Feel" to her while also dancing. Uninterested, she walks away. He follows her, having been cheered on by his friends to pursue her. Another dance routine begins, involving the males friends, which leads to the male pursing the female throughout the neighborhood. The video ends with the male eventually winning the female over, and embraces her, while a fire hydrant is spraying out water. Jackson's love interest was played by Tatiana Thumbtzen, and the videoclip also features an appearance by his sister La Toya as one of Thumbtzen's friends. Some releases of the video have an extended beginning, making the video almost 10 minutes in length. 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". The music video was included on the video albums: Video Greatest Hits - HIStory (long version on DVD and short version on VHS), Number Ones (short version) and Michael Jackson's Vision (long version.)

Michael Jackson "Heal the World"

"Heal the World" is a song from Michael Jackson's hit album, Dangerous, released in 1991. The music video (directed by Joe Pytka) features children living in countries suffering from unrest, especially Burundi. It is also one of only a handful of Michael Jackson's videos not to feature Jackson himself, the others being "Cry", "HIStory" and "Man in the Mirror". (The clips for "HIStory" and "Man in the Mirror" only feature Michael Jackson in archival footage).[1] The version of the video included on Dangerous - The Short Films and Michael Jackson's Vision contains an introductory video that features a speech from Jackson taken from the special "spoken word" version of the track.

Pepsi Commercial

Madonna "Make A Wish"

"I consider it a challenge to make a commercial that has some sort of artistic value. I like the challenge of merging art and commerce. As far as I'm concerned, making a video is also a commercial. The Pepsi spot is a different and great way to expose the record. Record companies just don't have that kind of money to finance this kind of publicity.

—Madonna talking about why she chose to do the commercial.[3]

In January 1989, while the music video was still being filmed, Pepsi-Cola announced that they had signed Madonna to a US$5 million deal to use her and "Like a Prayer" in a television commercial for them.[3] The agreement also called for Pepsi to financially sponsor Madonna's next world tour.[4] Madonna would use the commercial to launch the "Like a Prayer" single globally before its actual release—the first time something like this was being done in the music industry—thereby creating promotion for the single and the album to come.[3] Pepsi, on the other hand, would have their product associated with Madonna, thereby creating promotion for the soft drink.[3] According to the company's advertising head, Alan Pottasch, "the global media buy and unprecedented debut of this long awaited single will put Pepsi first and foremost in consumer's minds".[5] Problems started when Madonna refused to dance, "I ain't dancing and I ain't singing." Joe Pytka introduced her to choreographer Vince Paterson (from Michael Jackson days) and she agreed to dance. She and Paterson continued their professional relationship for a number of years. [3]Pepsi ran the expensive television commercial during the global telecast of the 31st Grammy Awards in February 1989. A week later, the ad was premiered during The Cosby Show.[6]

Titled "Make a Wish", the two-minute commercial portrayed Madonna back in time to revisit her childhood memories.[5] It starts as Madonna watches a video of her childhood birthday party. As she reminisces, she interchanges places with her childhood self. The young Madonna roams aimlessly around the grown-up Madonna's room, while the latter dances with her childhood friends on the street and inside a bar. The commercial continues as Madonna dances inside a church, surrounded by a choir and her child self discovering her old play doll. As both of their lives are interchanged again, the grown-up Madonna looks towards the TV and says, "Go ahead, make a wish". Both depictions of Madonna raise their cans of Pepsi towards each other, and the young Madonna blows out the candles on her birthday cake.[5] An estimated 250 million people around the world saw the commercial, which was directed by Joe Pytka. Pepsi-Cola Company spokesman Todd MacKenzie said that the ad was planned to be aired simultaneously in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America.[5] Bob Garfield from the Advertising Age observed that from "Turkey to El Salvador to anytown USA, around 500 million eyes [were] glued to the screen.[7] Leslie Savan from The Village Voice noted that the ad qualified as a "hymn to the global capabilities of the age of electronic reproductions; it celebrates the pan-cultural ambitions of both soda pop and pop star."[8]


Pytka has won numerous awards and nominations including three Directors Guild of America Commercial Direction Awards and 15 nominations, the most for that category. Over the past three decades his commercials for clients such as Budweiser, Pepsi, McDonald’s and NFL have aired more than 30 times during the Super Bowl.[2]

Famous work

Pytka work includes Madonna's infamous Pepsi commercial, “Make a Wish,” which was subsequently pulled after a fuss over a Madonna music video, a frying egg demonstrating “This is your brain on drugs”; Ray Charles’ “Uh-huh” for Pepsi; an archaeology dig discovering a Coke bottle for Pepsi; Larry Bird and Michael Jordan doing “Nothing but Net” for McDonald’s; Bo Jackson’s “Bo knows” for Nike; chimpanzees yelling out famous movie lines, like, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” for HBO, and Ed and Frank of Bartles & James saying, “thank you for your support.” As a filmmaker, Pytka directed Let It Ride starring Richard Dreyfuss, and the hit Space Jam with Jordan and Bugs Bunny. He’s also made music videos such as The Beatles' “Free as a Bird”, John Lennon's “(Just Like) Starting Over”, and Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” and “The Way You Make Me Feel”.[2]

Following September 11

To encourage economic redevelopment of New York City following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Pytka directed four of the NYC Miracle spots including Woody Allen skating, Henry Kissinger sliding into home plate, and Yogi Berra conducting the Philharmonic. His influential branding encompasses Ray Charles’ “Uh-huh” for Pepsi; “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA and superstar athletes Larry Bird and Michael Jordan in “Nothing but Net” for McDonald’s. He has earned three of the Director’s Guild of America’s Commercial Direction Awards and 14 nominations, the most for the category.[9]


Out of Pittsburgh with a blue-collar background, Pytka mastered cinema's documentary style before taking on commercial work. Applying his documentary techniques to the :30 and :60 TV discipline, Pytka's award-winning spots include TV treasures for Nike, Hallmark, Infiniti, Apple, AT&T, Pepsi-Cola, Bartles & Jaymes, Polaroid, HBO (an Emmy winner), ESPN and Snickers, plus the movie "Space Jam" and the Beatles' "Free as a Bird" video. Pytka's uses of lighting, music, warm humor and emotional relationships won worldwide acclaim and established him as the most consistent master of the best in American TV commercial work.[10]

Restaurant business

Bastide was a fine dining restaurant that Pytka opened in West Hollywood in the infamous Melrose Place. Andree Putman designed both the restaurant and the details, the silver, the china, and the linens. The restaurant opened to unparalleled acclaim. Irene S. Virbila, food editor of the Los Angeles Times, gave it a then unprecedented four stars, writing that "Los Angeles has never seen anything like it. It has an indefinable magic. Bastide feels more like an art installation than a commercial enterprise." [11] Soon after, the Mobil Travel Guide gave it it's highest rating, five stars, the only restaurant in Los Angeles with that rating. [12] Gayot named it a top forty restaurant in the United States and it then became a Michelin starred restaurant. The gourmet website, Opinionated About Dining, said, "there is no better restaurant in the United States than Bastide." In response to the decline in the United States economy, the restaurant closed in 2011..[13]


  1. ^ a b Biography
  2. ^ a b c d e More about advertising
  3. ^ a b c d e Taraborrelli 2002, p. 172
  4. ^ Bignell 2007, p. 123
  5. ^ a b c d Metz & Benson 1999, p. 131
  6. ^ Grant & Neupert 2003, p. 5
  7. ^ Garfield, Bob (1989-03-06). "Pepsi Should Offer Prayer to Madonna". Advertising Age (Crain Communications) 231: 76. 
  8. ^ Savan, Leslie (1989-03-14). "Desperately Selling Soda". The Village Voice (Village Voice Media) 1309: 47. ISSN 0042-6180. 
  9. ^ Charlie Rose
  10. ^ AdAge
  11. ^ Virbila, S. Irene (March 31, 2010). "The Review: Latest Bastide is simply a joy". Los Angeles Times.,0,6758153.story. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ [2]

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