Filmmaker Adam Pesapane (Col ’95), who goes by “PES,” studied a little film history at UVA, but didn’t pick up a camera until after college, when he worked at a large New York City advertising agency.

“Commercials are really just good short films,” explains PES, an Echols Scholar with a degree in English literature who also studied printmaking. “[Printmaking] was where I really started to become confident to make my own ideas,” he says.

Creative ideas have become the lifeblood of his filmmaking career. While still working at the ad agency, he stole the notion of brevity from advertising and created his first short film. Soon after, PES became obsessed with short films that used animated inanimate objects.

“Stop-motion is fantastic, because you can make a film simply by photographing things and moving them,” says PES.

He filmed his first stop-motion animation, Roof Sex—a minute-and-ten-seconds-long film of two stuffed chairs engaged in a steamy city rooftop tryst—in three months and then emailed it to 50 people.

“Two weeks later, I overheard people in a bar talking about it,” he says. “That was the moment when I thought, I can make films and put them out there and millions of people can see them.”

"PES" at the 2013 Academy Awards Ceremony where Fresh Guacamole was nominated for best short film. Photo by Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times
After he left the ad agency, PES continued to create films as well as commercials. In 2008, animator and producer Mike Judge asked PES to make a short film for his theatrical animation show. PES created Western Spaghetti, in which he used common objects (red pin cushions for tomatoes, Bubble Wrap for boiling water, pick-up sticks for pasta) to simulate cooking spaghetti. Online, “it went through the roof and got millions of hits,” PES says.

On the heels of Western Spaghetti’s success, PES’s second cooking flick capitalized on avocadoes’ resemblance to grenades. Fresh Guacamole, financed by Showtime, became at the 85th Academy Awards the shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar.

“It’s a great honor, because I don’t think that Fresh Guacamole is the kind of film that typically gets recognized by the Academy,” says PES.

With creative commercials and successful films under his belt, networks now approach PES to finance his film ideas.

Next, PES is developing a couple of feature films, including one based on the Garbage Pail Kids. He’s also working on a collaboration with jewelry designer Delfina Delettrez and dreaming up a third cooking film.

“I believe whole-heartedly in the power of the short film,” says PES, who lives in Santa Monica, Calif., with wife, Sarah (who produces and manages the business side of his films) and their two kids. “For a work of art to connect with 10 or 20 million people is an amazing thing of our time.”