Derek Cianfrance Paid His Dues Before 'Blue Valentine'

Blue Valentine Director Derek CianfranceThink you had an unusual day job to pay the bills while you pursued your passion?

Derek Cianfrance, right, the director of Blue Valentine (opening Dec. 31), made a genital warts commercial.

Let us explain. It took him 12 years and dozens of script rewrites to finally shoot Blue Valentine, an indie drama that packs in unusually frank scenes of a marriage unraveling. During that time, the unemployment checks stopped coming. He and his wife started a family. He had to take a long hard look at his personal finances.

"I had a purist's sense that I would only make my films," he told WalletPop. "And all of a sudden, I got a job to do a genital warts commercial. You know, I had to put food on the table. I think it was an incredibly humbling learning experience."

Cianfrance's work on a 2007 campaign for Gardasil, a vaccine to prevent genital warts and cervical cancer, will probably never top his resume. He's collected critical huzzahs from Sundance to Cannes for Blue Valentine while his stars, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, have earned Golden Globe nominations for best actress and actor. The $4 million movie also has a fighting chance at the box office now that its distributor, Harvey Weinstein, persuaded the MPAA to downgrade its rating from a theater-unfriendly NC-17 because of an oral-sex scene to a tamer R.

Cianfrance, also a documentary maker, premiered his first feature, Brother Untied, at Sundance in 1998. But as years passed and he couldn't make Blue Valentine, he began investing the same heart into the advertisements that he did into his film projects -- until he said he "felt betrayed" on a shoot for a mortgage company. "When I do a commercial it's like a one-night stand," he said. "I do a good job and then it's done. I don't think about it again."

Paying his dues by doing commercials prepared him in a way that film school couldn't when the cameras began rolling on Blue Valentine. "It can make you a better filmmaker," he said. "I was very rusty until I started working."

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