Legendary Commercial Director Joe Pytka to Receive DGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Television

Joe Pytka

November 23, 2015

Los Angeles – Directors Guild of America President Paris Barclay today announced that renowned commercial director Joe Pytka will be the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television Direction, honoring his trailblazing commercial-directing career.

“Since the debut of television, commercials have played a critical role in shaping the trajectory of the medium. And when it comes to commercials, there is no higher bar than the one set by the incomparable Joe Pytka,” said Barclay. “So many of his over 5,000 projects – which include more than 80 Super Bowl commercials – are part of the nation’s zeitgeist, from his iconic, generation-defining Pepsi ads to Nike’s ‘Bo Knows’ and Budweiser’s ‘Clydesdales’ to the unforgettable ‘Your Brain on Drugs’ PSA. For these reasons and so many more, we’re thrilled to present this top Guild honor to Joe.”

The Award will be presented at the 68th Annual DGA Awards on Saturday, February 6, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

The DGA Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television Direction was created by the Board of Directors last year, joining the Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Motion Picture Direction as the two highest honors bestowed by the DGA. Winners are nominated by a blue ribbon committee of prominent television directors and approved by the present and past presidents of the Guild. Last year, television-directing icons James Burrows and Robert Butler received the inaugural honor.

Joe Pytka

Joe Pytka is the creator of some of the world's most memorable television commercials. He has directed more than 5,000 commercials that have earned him every award and nomination ever conceived for such endeavors including three DGA Commercial Direction Awards and 14 nominations — the most for that category – and a CLIO Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the only director to be awarded the Cannes Lion of St. Marks, and admitted into the prestigious The One Club, which recognizes excellence in advertising. His John Hancock Insurance commercials – which earned him a Cannes Grand Prix – were called breakthrough emotional advertising by judge and legendary advertising executive Stephen Frankfurt.

Over the past three decades, his masterful storytelling and stylized images have crossed over into the collective consciousness, from “Bo Knows” for Nike; and Ray Charles’ “Uh-huh” for Pepsi; to the “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA which jumpstarted the Partnership For a Drug Free America campaign. Pytka has directed more than 80 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 legendary “Make a Wish” spot featuring Madonna which blended pop culture, music and controversy – it was the first-ever commercial to have a special global satellite premiere, and was seen by an estimated 250 million people worldwide.

Pytka is well-known for his commercials that have featured such A-list athletes and celebrities as The Beatles, Madonna, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Tom Hanks, George C. Scott, Marlon Brando, Wayne Gretzky, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and President Obama, among many others. These spots represent top brands including UPS, State Farm, McDonald’s, Hallmark, IBM, Gatorade, Johnson & Johnson, NFL, American Express, and many more.

Also on his long directorial resume are two feature films: the screwball comedy Let It Ride (1989), and the cult classic half-animation/half-live action sports comedy Space Jam (1996) – the first film to use digital ink and paint – which was inspired by his Nike ad “Hare Jordan” featuring Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan and McDonald’s “Nothing But Net” with Jordan and Larry Bird. Pytka has also directed music videos including The Beatles’ “Free as a Bird,” as well as “Dirty Diana,” “Heal the World,” and “The Way You Make Me Feel” for Michael Jackson. More than 50 of his works are in the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. In 2003, Pytka was awarded the DGA Honor for his distinguished contributions to the art and craft of commercials as well as his post-9/11 “New York City Miracle” spots featuring Woody Allen skating, Henry Kissinger sliding into home plate and Yogi Berra conducting the New York Philharmonic.

Born in Pennsylvania, Pytka always had 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. Pytka joined the DGA in 1969.

Nominations for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film will be announced on January 12, 2016.  Nominations for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television, Commercials, and Documentary will be announced on January 13, 2016.  For more information about the DGA Awards including past winners, CLICK HERE.

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DGA Communications Department (310) 289-5333
Joe Pytka

Iconic commercial director Joe Pytka discusses his long and varied career, directing advertising spots, music videos, documentaries and feature films for over 40 years.