“A Day in the Life” with local Film Director Robert Lieberman

Robert Lieberman was born in Buffalo, New York, just sixty or so miles south of Toronto. He grew up in a blue-collar family, his father a door-to-door salesman whose long days caused him to wear right through his shoes. Rob was a curious kid and was excited by art from a young age. He explored the more cosmopolitan elements of Buffalo, like the well-regarded Albright-Knox Gallery, and taught himself guitar. He fell in love with theatre as a young man, and ended up at SUNY Buffalo, a school, in that era, where many smart kids of modest means congregated. On a trip to New York he became enthralled by the experimental film scene and his ambition for filmmaking took root. He virtually started the film program at University at Buffalo, cobbling together a curriculum that suited his needs, even making practice film for the Buffalo Bills as an internship.

His dreams of directing necessitated a move westward, but he didn’t know anyone who had been to Los Angeles, much less lived there. With nothing but his confidence and, presumably, some of his mother’s famous cooking, he packed up a car and hopped on the I-80 towards California. His enthusiasm and tenacity of spirit, still often on display, allowed him to quickly move up the ranks from an assistant editor of commercials to an editor to a director by the age of twenty-two. From there ensued a well-lauded career making spots for some of the world’s largest brands. Within the constraints of his medium, Rob became known as a master storyteller, able to present tales of emotion with committed performances and narrative ingenuity—all within thirty seconds. Ever a student of the cinema, Rob’s greatest achievements came in marrying the scale and inventiveness of the greats with the ethic of a true professional. His humanity manifested itself in choices from his casting, especially of children, to his particular blend of sentimentality and documentary realism. It was this humanity that made him successful tackling larger projects, directing feature films and being one of the groundbreakers in the introduction of cinematic technique to television. It’s these same qualities of generosity and observation that made him the great father I have been so fortunate to have. Ultimately, his work in television brought him back so near to where it all began, now primarily working and residing in Toronto, home of his always beloved Maple Leafs.

-by Nicholas Lieberman, Robert’s son

Setting a shot of James Garner for Fire in The Sky
Setting a shot of James Garner for Fire in The Sky
On the ice at the Air Canada Center laying out a shot for Breakaway.
On the ice at the Air Canada Center laying out a shot for Breakaway.
Myself, my producer Diana Young with Yao Ming the famous basketball player on set in Shanghai, China
Myself, my producer Diana Young with Yao Ming the famous basketball player on set in Shanghai, China
Young me on the set of a commercial
Young me on the set of a commercial
My title card from Houdini & Doyle
My title card from Houdini & Doyle
Me with James Earl Jones. I was the EP and director of his ABC series Gabriel's Fire
Me with James Earl Jones. I was the EP and director of his ABC series Gabriel’s Fire
My grand kids
Me with Vinay Virmani star of Breakaway
Me with Vinay Virmani star of Breakaway
Robert Lieberman
Me with Lavar Burton (Kunte Kinte from the famous mini-series Roots.

What is your favourite ‘hood?

Theatre District

What do you do?

I have been a film director for many years and have traveled comfortably between film forms and milieus. I feel equally at home directing, dramas, comedies, sci-fi/fantasy, westerns, horror and period. I started as a Cannes Film Festival Award winning editor of commercials which soon turned into a lengthy career as a commercial director. I was honoured to receive the very first DGA Award ever given for Best Commercial director and was nominated three more times receiving that honour a second time. I then directed a number of Movies of the Week which led to directing my first feature film Table For Five starring Jon Voight right off his Academy Award for Coming Home. I then moved into a twenty year run as a top tier pilot director sixteen of my nineteen pilots selling through to series. During that time I directed Fire in the Sky, D3:The Mighty Duck as well as three other features including my Bollywood/hockey mashup Breakaway which was Canada’s number one grossing English speaking film in 2011. I now primarily do episodic television and have the honour of currently being nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Direction of a Drama by the Director’s Guild Canada (DGC) for one of my episodes of The Expanse (Space).

What are you currently working on?

I am currently prepping to shoot a large package of Toyota RAV4 commercials while writing a comedic film, a semi-autobiographical play and a YA novel.

Where can we find your work?

All my films are available on all the streaming services and on my website www.rlieberman.com

 

 

Joel Levy
About Joel Levy 1721 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography