2 Minutes With … Brendan Gibbons, Director at Station Film

On Jonathan Glazer, Red vs. Blue America, and crafting the Flo campaign for Progressive

Brendan Gibbons is perhaps best known as the filmmaker behind Progressive Insurance's popular campaign featuring iconic spokesperson Flo, and the quirky cast of characters on her team. Brendan's style of striking visuals, honest performances and smart humor has been a driving force behind countless commercial campaigns—and a body of work brimming with vivid characters and unexpected twists.

In his 10+ years working with Arnold on Progressive, Brendan has captured every imaginable genre—perfume ads, '80s sitcoms, soap operas, horror films, '50s black and white, after-school specials and romantic comedies. He's even helped actress Stephanie Courtney inhabit not just Flo, but her entire extended family.

Brendan first worked as a political writer and screenwriter and began his career in advertising as an award-winning copywriter and creative director. Outside of directing, Brendan is a musician whose songs have appeared in commercials and films.

We spent two minutes with Brendan to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.


Brendan, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Summit, New Jersey. Now I live a slippery life between Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Palm Springs. 

How you first realized you were creative.

I'm the youngest of six kids. Had to go to bed first. One of my sisters told me a story every night. They'd say, "What kind of story?" I'd say, "A story about a bad little boy." They'd ask, "What did the bad little boy do?" Then I'd make up the story.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

7th grade, read Slaughterhouse-Five for school. I'd never been a reader. Finished it in one sit-down in the den. Kurt Vonnegut became my north star.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

I was one of those guys who played acoustic guitar and sang in bars. At an early show, I made up a funny song about the people who were there. Something that had been impossible suddenly became possible.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

There isn't a single thing about Willie Nelson that I don't adore. For this reason, I'm afraid to meet him.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

Boiling Point. It's a full-length feature in one take. Not a fake single take. One take. It's a magical symbiosis between the actors, director and DP. Real nice human story set in a restaurant in London.

Your favorite fictional character.

Paul Newman's fictionalized portrayal of Butch Cassidy. As Sundance said, "You just keep thinking, Butch. That's what you're good at."

Someone or something worth following in social media.

@Kidsgettinghurt

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

I was lucky to spend the lockdown at my place in the desert with some good friends who are all creative people. We tried to be proactive with the experience and made a lot of cool stuff. I suppose what Covid did more than anything for me was to reinforce the idea that if making things is what makes me happy, I shouldn't spend a single day not doing it.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.

"The American Counselor" is a web series I created a few years back. Red and Blue America are each represented by a single person. They're locked in battle in couples counseling. With every passing the week, the idea seems more prescient.

A recent project you're proud of.

We recently did some spots for Progressive where Jon Hamm plays an ex of Flo, trying to win her back. At the end of day two, we improvised a scene where Jon gets dating advice from Jamie (played by Jim Cashman). To me, that's where the magic is. The light's fading. We've got one shot to come up with something funny. It either works or it doesn't. What could be better than that?

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast. It came out right around the time I started the push to try and become a director. The visual concept of the film, the way he used music, titles, pacing ... not to mention Ben Kingsley's performance as Don Logan. Stunning. That film solidified my need to do this. It also made me fall in love with the desert—a place I still can't get enough of.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

Kenneth Branagh's Belfast. Maybe because I watched it while quarantining away from my family on Christmas. But the sweetness of the film touched me. As a comedy writer and director, it's tempting to drift toward darker, more ironic things. But sometimes all you need is the honesty of innocence.

Your main strength as a creative person.

Maybe this comes from being the youngest in a big family where you get used to making people laugh on cue, but I thrive under pressure. I had a creative director named Chris Wall when I was a writer. He used to say, "Never forget how lucky you are to make your living off your wits." He was right.

Your biggest weakness.

My impatience with details. I'm not sure if I've ever finished reading the instructions for anything. My dad and I built a house together over two summers in college. Our motto was "Measure once, cut twice."

One thing that always makes you happy.

A dog putting his or her paw on my leg. 

One thing that always makes you sad.

An elderly person alone at a diner. I hate the way our society regards old people. Youth and beauty is great. But it ain't the only thing.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

I'd be a pretty mediocre singer/songwriter. Or I'd be a decent second fiddle to a good one. I'd be Art Garfunkel, but better at guitar and much, much worse at singing. 

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards, editor of Muse by Clio, and host of the podcast Tagline. He is the former creative editor of Adweek.

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