Lauren Greenfield (center) and the Institute team
Portrait by photographer/director Thandiwe Muriu
The Queen of Versailles
Lauren Greenfield has always enjoyed working in multiple media, from film to photography to commercials and even educational spaces.
After her "#LikeAGirl" spot for Always hygiene products went viral and won numerous awards, including the Emmy for Outstanding Commercial in 2015, AdAge named her that year's Most Awarded Director. "I was super-excited to be on the list," she recalls, "but I was the only woman on the list."
That spurred Greenfield — best known for helming the documentaries Generation Wealth and The Queen of Versailles — and her husband, Frank Evers — a producer on those projects — to create Girl Culture Films in 2019. She says the production company "exclusively represents female and nonbinary directors" to bring more diverse voices into the commercials pipeline.
As changes in advertising began blurring the boundaries of commercials and documentaries, they integrated Girl Culture with their photo agency, Institute Artist — which Evers says brings a "documentary approach and deep dive into subjects, but with a fine-art aesthetic." The two divisions are now part of one company they call Institute.
The goal is not just to manage artists; they want to mentor and help those artists navigate multiple worlds — television, film, advertising, print, book publishing — so their work "blows through the culture and actually makes an impact."
Greenfield says Institute looks for artists who have "a voice that is singular, that is their own." The roster features newcomers like Sandra Winther, whose 2019 documentary short Lowland Kids is in feature development at Darren Aronofsky's Protozoa Pictures, and Ro Haber, who directed the final episode of the 2021 FX docuseries Pride and is now developing a documentary about trans comedians.
Institute also represents established creators who are just now breaking into advertising work, such as Yellowjackets executive producer-director Karyn Kusama. Last year the agency produced her spot for Planned Parenthood. Greenfield says it was "really exciting because she brought a horror-film aesthetic to the horror of not being able to have your right to choose."
She adds, "One thing that's really lacking in commercials is female comedic voices." So when Better Things cocreator and star Pamela Adlon wanted to try her hand at directing commercials, Institute helped her land her first assignment.
Although Evers and Greenfield created Institute to diversify talent within the commercials medium, they're also developing a handful of series for streamers. As with Greenfield's own career, the aim is to create work that lives in many forms, whether festivals or museums or other ways the work can, as she says, "connect with the audience to make some noise in a very distracted world."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #5, 2023, under the title "Spot On."