What’s up with Optimus’ new director Sam Macon?

New ONE at Optimus director Sam Macon

It may seem odd that an accomplished indie film director like Sam Macon would enjoy taking orders from commercial clients, but that’s part of the reason he signed on with ONE at Optimus.

“With commercials, there is a limit to how much creative there is in a job,” he explains. “They are concepted from on high and my job is to execute the vision. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that. You’re freed up a little bit to explore when you’re executing someone else’s idea.”

Macon officially joined ONE at Optimus last week. He considers it to be the “perfect hybrid” to satisfy his passion for commercial production and feed his jones for indie filmmaking.

“Optimus is the place to really shake things up and work with people I know well,” he says. “I couldn’t wrap my head around going to a company that didn’t have in-house editorial.”

A graduate of the UW Milwaukee Film School, Macon broke into the Chicago production scene years ago with support from his high school buddy and former “shooting partner in crime,” Jonah Mueller, who introduced him to Lisa Masseur. At the time, Mueller and Masseur were coworkers at Radar Studios. Today, they are executive producer and managing director at Optimus.

“It was like 2008,” Macon recalls. “Lisa was trying to expand Radar’s roster. Eventually, I shot enough stuff to put my name in the hat.”

Among the stuff that got his name in the hat were music videos featuring his signature animation and an entry for the Dorito’s 2007 “Crash the Super Bowl” contest. The 30-second spot plays like an episode of COPS. It scored well with online audiences, but didn’t take first place. That doesn’t bother Macon.

“We replaced drugs with Doritos,” he says. “They get flushed down the toilet. I’m not surprised it didn’t win.”

It did, however, help him get noticed.

Macon and Levine's feature doc, "Sign Painters"“Not only is Sam great at comedy, documentary and lifestyle shooting for brands,” explains Masseur, who worked with Macon for years at Radar before bringing him into Optimus, “but he’s also a noted long form filmmaker whose documentary feature Sign Painters has been widely acclaimed.”

Sign Painters is a film about the glory, downfall and resurrection of the sign painting industry that Macon co-wrote and co-directed with Faythe Levine in 2014. Radar handled production. The Boston Glob’s Mark Feeny described it as “fresh, passionate and unexpected.”

In 2015, Macon relocated to LA. Although production takes him “back in Chicago all the time,” his new home offers the opportunity “to take a step back and focus on larger projects.”

“The commercial aspects (of the two cities) are relatively similar,” he says. “But in LA, the majority of my off-time is spent writing and getting projects up and going.”

One of the projects he’s currently pursuing is a music video for the song, “Spiritual America,” which he describes as a “dark, pop rock tune” by musician and artist Arjan Miranda.

“The central premise is that four ghosts come around this table floating in darkness and they draw a six-foot by six-foot picture,” he says. “Within the picture is a narrative of humanity praying to false idols and giving in to greed. When the ghosts step back and observe what they’ve done wrong, there is a rebuilding of positivity.”

Most of the footage has already been shot. It will be edited by Carl Schumacher, who works at Optimus, of course.