There are comedy directors and there are visual directors. But once in a great while, there is a director who truly places equal weight on both. And somewhere between the improvised, character-driven small towns of Christopher Guest and the stylized, storybook vignettes of Wes Anderson lives the work of Alan William Harris.
Growing up in Northern California’s Silicon Valley, Alan spent his formative years exploring the arts – whether it be painting his high school crush in oils, writing music in a handful of god-awful indie rock bands, or obsessively memorizing John Hughes movies. But it wasn’t until years later that Alan discovered his misspent youth was actually a solid foundation for a career as a director.
It was in early 2002, that filmmaking first landed on Alan’s radar quite by accident. He had just moved to New York City (via Portland, OR) and based on a friend’s recommendation, Alan found himself taking classes at The Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade theaters. Soon, Alan was fully immersed in New York City’s thriving improv scene, where he befriended several talented actors and comedians who were looking for a way to share their quick-witted, on-stage banter with more than just the handful of people filling a black-box theater on a Friday night. So, long before YouTube became a household name, Alan and his friends began shooting completely improvised short films with Alan at the directing helm.
With absolutely no script, a pre-determined free location, a borrowed DV camera, and an occasional prop or two, Alan learned how to direct and tell visual stories the really old fashion way – by winging it. It wasn’t long before Alan had co-founded the film collective, Collars Up, launched a website featuring dozens of improvised shorts, and began garnering attention from film festivals across the country for this unique style of filmmaking.
Back in New York, the improvised shorts that Alan was directing (and editing) were also getting noticed. This time, by Alan’s bosses at MTV where he was working as a producer. After winning a few written pitches, Alan was made a staff writer and director in MTV’s coveted on-air promos department. Soon, his MTV commercials, with their fresh take on comedy along with an almost timeless visual style, began winning award after award including several Creativity Annual Golds, Cable POPP, Beacon and Prism wins, and even two EMMY nominations for his PSAs.
Today, Alan’s days of shooting improvised shorts are mostly behind him, but his love for strong character-based comedy, quirky dialog, and visual storytelling continues to thrive in the professional arena. To date, he has directed such talent as Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Rob Corddry, Chris Parnell, and Justin Timberlake, and directed commercials for clients ranging from Burger King and Paramount Studios to the American Legacy Foundation (The Truth) and MTV. Alan is also currently in pre-production on his first feature film, an indie teen drama/comedy titled LOTUS, set to shoot next year.