Born in Pennsylvania, Joe Pytka grew up a strong affinity for art and attended Carnegie Mellon to pursue his passion while he simultaneously worked at WRS Motion Pictures. He then returned to his native Pittsburgh, directing documentaries for WQED (an affiliate of what would become PBS) as well as the official U.S. film entry at the 1967 World’s Fair Expo in Montreal, A View of the Sky. While in Pittsburgh, Pytka began filming commercials for a local brewery—his first exposure to the craft of commercial filmmaking for which he has become a legend, directing some of the most well-known and recognizable advertising spots in history. This includes over eighty Super Bowl ads—seven winning the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter—the most famous of which feature the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales. Pytka also directed Pepsi’s “Make a Wish” spot featuring Madonna which aired during the Grammy telecast in 1989 and was seen by an estimated 250 million people worldwide.
Pytka is well-known for his commercials that have featured A-list athletes and celebrities including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Marlon Brando, Madonna, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Tom Hanks, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, John McEnroe, Michael J. Fox and The Beatles. These spots represent such products and brands like IBM, UPS, State Farm, McDonald’s, Hallmark, Gatorade, Johnson & Johnson, NFL, American Express, and many more. In addition to his commercial ads, Pytka is also known for directing and creating the “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA for the Partnership For a Drug Free America.
Also on his long directorial resume are two feature films; the screwball comedy Let It Ride (1989), as well as the half-animation/half-live action Looney Tunes sports comedy Space Jam (1996) which was inspired by his Nike ad “Hare Jordan” featuring Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. Pytka has also directed music videos like The Beatles’ “Free as a Bird,” and “Dirty Diana,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and “Heal the World” for Michael Jackson.
For his long and varied career, Pytka has won a large variety of awards, winning three DGA Awards for Commercial Direction (1983, 1987, 1992) and has been nominated a total of 15 times. He has also won two Grand Prix and seven Palme d‘Ors at the Cannes Commercial Festival, an Emmy for his commercial for the HBO documentary Chimps, a Grammy for his Beatles music video, as well as numerous Clio advertising awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.