REMEMBERING ALBERT (1926 - 2015)
By Loretta Jeneski, Exec Producer
I first met Albert Maysles about 10 years ago. He had his own long-standing documentary company with a division for commercial work that he called Maysles Shorts, which was the inspiration for my company, Nonfiction Unlimited. It made so much sense to me that there should be a company devoted exclusively to “authentic” documentary work for commercials. I loved that Albert’s company was about genuine documentary filmmakers bringing their skills to spots.
I remember the first time Albert called me. It was a sweet call. He modestly introduced himself over the phone and began to explain who he was. I immediately told him I knew exactly, and how much respect I had for him and his documentaries like Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens. He explained that he really wanted his company to concentrate exclusively on his ongoing documentary film projects. He then surprised me by saying he would like to be on the Nonfiction roster. I said, “Of course, I’d be honored.” And I was.
We met in New York at his office shortly afterwards. Albert was an incredibly great storyteller. His personal style was very similar to his documentary style – he was all about establishing rapport and empathy. He told me about films that he’d shot, people he’d met, experiences he had. He talked about how his documentary approach could be wonderful and engaging for brands. His enthusiasm was infectious. He said documentary advertising should be like documentary features, capturing real moments as they happened, un-varnished. He wanted the audience to feel the moment that you captured in this “little film.”
Albert had an idea for a lovely project that he really wanted to do, for Kleenex. His idea was to capture how people use tissues. When they have a cold, of course, but far more important for Albert was capturing them when they used tissues for something emotional; when people cried. He had this idea to film people crying in the moment, not from sadness, but from happiness. His plan was to shoot in one of the happiest places he could think of – a hospital maternity ward. He wanted to film babies being born, new mothers and fathers reaching for tissues, witnessing the miracle of childbirth. It was a wonderful, authentic, sweet idea that would touch anyone and everyone. Albert spelled out his idea with such warmth and feeling, I was captivated by him, as was everyone who had ever met him.
Albert wasn’t one of Nonfiction’s original directors, but he was always the first in my mind. He and his brother David inspired the company. When David passed away in 1987, Albert continued what they had started together and he brought in young filmmakers, mentored them, collaborated with them. Albert was a pioneer storyteller who was driven by empathy and compassion above all else, and he brought that approach to the world of advertising. While the rest of the ad world pushed the obvious hard sell, Albert focused on authenticity. He believed spots (he called them short films) should be about connecting not just people and products, but connecting people with other people, in a very human way, through storytelling.
“There’s gonna be a market soon for short films, there’s no market right now for short films but there will be,” Albert said in an interview in the 1980s. “So I would like to make little poetic moments… maybe even something spontaneously.”
As usual, Albert was way ahead of his time. He anticipated and, in a way, predicted the phenomena of viral online videos, little documentary stories captured spontaneously. He knew the power of telling a real story and capturing emotion.
I really wish he had directed his Kleenex spot.