“You could see the eyes of the people getting liquid,” says CERN experimental physicist Maria Spiropulu of the crowd for a Jesse Dylan short film. The audience? Google’s Larry Page, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and elite scientists in the fields of astro-particle physics, cosmology, and dark matter. The film? Six minutes on the Large Hadron Collider, the massive particle accelerator designed to replicate the big bang and address core questions of physics. “The language of the microcosm we are exploring can be described very well with mathematics,” Spiropulu says. “It is very difficult to make a picture or a poem of what we do. The film captured an adventure to discover the unknown. It is haunting and it sticks with you.”
Dylan, 44, went to film school at New York University and got his start making music videos for, among others, the Replacements, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, and the Wallflowers, his brother Jakob’s band. As cofounder of the commercial production company Form, Dylan has created award-winning ads for Nike, Motorola, Nintendo, and American Express. He has directed feature films including American Wedding and Kicking and Screaming. But lately, he has been spending more time doing short films for the likes of the Clinton Global Initiative, TED, the Council on Foreign Relations, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Reconciliation Forum, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and MIT’s Media Lab. “I want to work with people who want to change the world,” he says.
To Dylan, the collider is an “artistic expression that represents the best of mankind.” He explains: “Oftentimes, really powerful ideas are presented in very clinical language. But people connect with emotional storytelling, and these ideas need to be humanized so they can reach the most people possible.”
The son of musician Bob Dylan describes himself as a visual communicator, a thread that runs through both his cause-related projects (via the company FreeForm) and his more commercial work (via Form). Increasingly the two intertwine. In 2006, Dylan and TBWA\Chiat\Day creative director Jimmy Smith, then at BBDO, did a Motorola ad featuring Madonna, Iggy Pop, and a slew of other celebrities. “Jesse didn’t have anything like that on his reel, but he’s like a soul brother,” says Smith. “He shot the hell out of it.” Later that year, they did a Snickers Web campaign featuring the Black Eyed Peas, which led to the 2008 collaboration with Peas singer Will.i.am on “Yes We Can,” the homage to Barack Obama that was viewed by more than 25 million people.
Three years ago, Dylan created the not-for-profit Lybba. Inspired by his son’s medical problems and his own frustration with finding accurate information, Dylan designed an open-source platform that combines the latest verified medical data with social networking to allow patients and health-care professionals to make informed decisions. Not surprisingly, the work has pushed Dylan’s film emphasis further into science, including projects for the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School. “What I’m trying to do in all my work is to highlight a process for innovation, where ideas are made better and more efficient,” says Dylan. “The question to answer is, ‘What is wrong in the system?’ not ‘Can you make a cool film?’ I’m really curious about these kinds of things, and I will go as far as I need to go to make the idea as clear as possible.”