After working as an assistant art professor at USF from 2000 to 2006, Ryan Berg moved to Los Angeles and entered the world of television, movies and music videos.
Berg has since worked as an art director on everything from “Children’s Hospital” – an absurdist, guest-packed Web series since picked up by Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim – to Ke$ha’s “Take It Off” music video, which has more than 20 million views on YouTube.
Now he will return to campus March 31 to give a lecture on his career experiences at 8 p.m. in Fine Arts Hall Room 290.
Berg spoke with The Oracle before his upcoming appearance.
The Oracle: How did you go from being an assistant professor at USF to an art director in Los Angeles?
Ryan Berg: I started to write and make a couple little films of my own. Basically, I just decided that if I didn’t go out to learn how to make movies at that point, I probably would never go. I had wanted to be in L.A. for a long time, so I just made the decision to give it a shot.
I didn’t really intend to be an art director, but just wanted to learn how it all worked, and just because of my background it was easy to go into production design. So that’s where I landed.
O: How was directing your first music videos for Japancakes and Azure Ray?
RB: They’re real close to me because I grew up in Atlanta and went to school in Athens, so it was a nice, easy thing. It was great because directing music videos is a lot more visual than it is storytelling in a traditional sense. I’m trying to work more on directing anyways, so it was a nice transition for someone like me who’s a picture maker, rather than a storyteller.
(Japancakes) was great. They allowed me to do mildly strange visuals of the girls creating this video sculpture that I think really fit that song really well. They gave me total freedom to make things happen. It was also one of the first times out here I could pool my friends in the business of makeup, hair and wardrobe together to pool our talents together in making this video – trying to get it done and running out of time like we always do. It was kind of like playing around with friends and it was really great.
O: What was your experience working on Ke$ha’s “Take It Off” music video?
RB: It was interesting. Let’s put it this way: it’s not my favorite experience, but also not my worst. It was kind of comical. I’ll just leave it at comical.
The producer of the video I had worked with multiple times on mostly commercials and also a small little experiment we’d done for TNT a couple of years ago, so I was just really close to him. We had done a Lykke Li video (“Possibility”) as well that wasn’t able to be aired because it was linked with “Twilight” and there was some contract issue there. That was a really great video, but it’ll never be seen, unfortunately.
Oftentimes with a smaller project, I’m going to get them from a producer faster than a director, but my newer world is working more in television and a lot more closely with directors than in the past.
O: Have you gotten close with the crew and cast of comedians that contribute to “Children’s Hospital,” “NTSF:SD:SUV” and “Wainy Days”?
RB: Definitely, we’ve all become really close. They’re great dudes and “Children’s Hospital,” we basically built that as a Web show and it was a really small crew. Everybody was totally in it to win it, not knowing what we were going to get, and when we got picked up, we brought that over to a much larger scale. We went from a three-person art department crew to 20-plus at any time. So it really jumped.
Those guys, particularly Rob Corddry and David Wain, are two of the nicest men out there. They’re not in any way jerks; they’re not in any way throwing the Hollywood B.S. around. They’re total solid guys that are really funny and really great. They work with me and don’t expect the impossible.
O: What would you consider the most exciting moment of your career so far?
RB: I’m going to say probably just the whole “Children’s Hospital” experience – not only just from the creators of it giving me a huge amount of responsibility and they respect my opinion, but that’s just a really great working environment. They’re also really funny people in general.
I’d say meeting Henry Winkler was probably one of the coolest things. I’m a kid of the ’70s, so meeting the Fonz was cool.
(“Children’s Hospital”) is the one that’s probably the most dear to myself right now and I just love those guys. They make it worth the ridiculously long hours and sometimes ridiculous requests we get. The art department is particularly one of the more
abstract departments when someone’s asking me for … a tulip in the non-tulip time season … it becomes my challenge.
O: What should people who come to your USF lecture expect?
RB: It’s an educational venue, so what I’m going to try to do is talk about my transitions through going from a traditional visual artist and teacher to moving to movies, television and performance art things.
There may be a couple of surprises there and there may be a couple of guests, but I’m not sure about that. Basically, I’ll be talking about that and mostly about my work as it relates to the context of television.