Director-photographer Mike Piscitelli is calling from Ventura, where he’s scouting a location, stuck in traffic, and talking about his past. Born in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, he moved around a lot: Calabasas, Woodland Hills, Tarzana. “I grew up skateboarding and made my first music zine when I was 14,” he says. “I took photos of hardcore bands at shows. That’s where I first learned about photography and design.”
Piscitelli didn’t take art classes, though. Instead, he made things: little books of his photos and drawings, keepsakes he gave to girls. “I was inspired by other kids,” he says. “A lot of it came from music, from seeing my peers in bands, but also from seeing other people do things and saying, ‘I can do that too!’”
His path was serpentine. He dropped out of ninth grade, took odd jobs (including one with a porn director), and circulated a bogus résumé claiming that he had assisted legendary fashion photographer Herb Ritts, which scored him his first photo-assisting gigs. “Three years later, Herb’s production company signed me,” he chuckles. “Herb took me out to dinner, and I told him he had no idea how much he’d helped me.” Later, Piscitelli worked for Academy Award–winning director Michel Gondry’s production company and, in 2002, he was hired by the New York creative agency Trooper.
Along the way, Piscitelli compiled a killer résumé—a real one—that includes shoots for Hurley and DVS clothing, Dazed & Confused and Stop Smiling magazines, Quiksilver and Comcast commercials, and videos for The Bronx, Linkin Park, Iggy Pop, and others. In 2002, he won an MTV Art Directors Award and, in 2005, Pitchfork’s Best Video for his stunning, single-take “I Gave You” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Piscitelli’s flicks display a rough and casual style, catching people seemingly unaware of his presence. Inside his frames, subjects look entirely at ease, singing or skating or chilling as if in a photo taken by a friend.
“I didn’t become a DP to be able to say I was—to have that lifestyle,” Piscitelli explains, somewhat scornfully. “I work a lot, but I’m happy. This is fun for me.” In his spare time he manages his clothing line (Fucking Awesome) and his record label (Record Collection) and looks over proofs for his first large-format book of original photographs, to be published this year by Kill Your Idols. And he still makes zines for girls.
“We call him our Renaissance Man,” grins Trooper co-principal Jen Roddie. “He exudes pure creativity and raw talent in any medium, whether it’s photography, design, motion, painting, fashion, or music.”
For his part, Piscitelli worries folks may not know what to think of him, with all his assembled aspects. “But for me it all ties together, and I’m surr-ounding myself with people that inspire me, who can help to make projects happen,” he says. As he considers the nearby traffic—and his unfolding life—he says, “I don’t like sitting around. I don’t like waiting.”