Madison spot house signs L.A. director

Spot FilmWorks’ signing of Chris Neil for Midwest representation gives the Madison-based company its second Hollywood marquee name director.

Neil, a nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, who lives in Venice, California, joins Spot FilmWorks’ small but elite roster of president/director Michael Graf and L.A.-based Jay Torres, award-winning commercial director, who also directs prime-time TV episodes (“Desperate Housewives,” “Aliens”).

Said Neil, “I was keen to branch out into the Midwest market and I was immediately drawn to Spot FilmWorks. I was impressed with the overall aesthetic and high level of Michael and Jay’s work.”

Neil was signed a couple of weeks ago, said Graf, who moved to Madison from Los Angeles and founded his company 14 years ago.

“Chris has got a lot of potential,” Graf said. “His reel is excellent and he’s very eager to build a body of commercial work. Right now he’s making that hard transition from working exclusively in features to commercials.”

“The timing was right for our signing him now. In a couple of years Chris will be too big for us.”

Neil spent 12 years as a dialog and acting coach and rehearsal advisor on his cousins’ films, “Marie Antoinette,” “The Virgin Suicides,” and “CQ;” also “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” “Star Wars: Episode III ? Revenge of the Sith” and other films and commercials.

Working with his cousin Roman Coppola’s Directors Bureau, as well as production companies Spot Runner and HKM, Neil has directed spots for Volkswagen, Levi’s, Canon, Ricoh, and

Since the late ?90s, he has been an acting coach for commercial directors, including his cousin Roman Coppola, Mike Mills and Melody McDaniel.

Neil’s first spec commercial as director was named to AICP’s Ten Best Spec Spots list in 2001. “I love commercials because the form forces an economy of storytelling where you shoot just what you need and you cut it together for maximum impact,” he said.

Spot FilmWorks, incidentally, is the only Wisconsin spot house to belong to AICP; a member since 2000. Graf and Neil connected through a posting on the AICP site.

L.A.-based director Jay Torres, an award-winning spot director who also directs prime-time shows (“Desperate Housewives,” “Aliens”) is a friend of Graf. They met in L.A. when they both worked on music videos, when Graf was an editor with the Post House.

Graf, a native of New York, arrived in Madison in pursuit of a girlfriend, whom he lost, but in the meantime he fell in love with Madison and stayed.

Spot FilmWorks specializes in regional commercials -? “a lot of health care and some pharmaceuticals” — for largely Milwaukee agencies and other moderate-sized agencies throughout the Midwest.

Some of its clients have included Jimmy John’s, a lot of health care such as Alzheimer’s Association, Brain Injury Association of America and Mycogen, a division of Dow AgriSciences. Also the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Travel Wisconsin and the International Peace Council.

The company has a staff of four working out of an office on Capitol Square and hires freelancers as needed.

Spot Filmworks is at 104 King St., Madison; phone, 608/256-7768. See