Joe Pytka was born in Braddock, Pennsylvania. He studied fine arts at Carnegie Institute, Carnegie Tech, (now Carnegie Mellon University), then, briefly, Chemical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. During this period he began working evenings at WRS Motion Pictures, a small industrial film company. After a brief sojourn to New York, running a post production department for MGM Telestudios, he returned to Pittsburgh to film a number of documentary and dramatic films for WQED, a National Educational Network (this was pre PBS).
Disenchanted with the lack of formality of the pure documentary form, Pytka’s attention turned more to commercials. At the same time, he experimented with an early music video format in his documentary, MAGGIE’S FARM, and a short film with Steve McQueen, music by Richie Havens. Pytka brought documentary realism to his work, especially for Iron City Beer, in his hometown. This brought him to the attention of Ed McCabe and Hal Riney who were also interested in this form.
Pytka then began working extensively with Phil Dusenberry for Pepsi, General Electric, DuPont and FedEx. Most notably, his work with Pepsi is considered historic and has garnered many awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
In addition to commercials, Pytka has done two films, LET IT RIDE and SPACE JAM, a hugely profitable movie based on his commercials for Nike and McDonald’s. This movie was the first successful animated film not done by Disney. Jim Riswold called it the longest commercial ever made. Pytka has also done videos for Michael Jackson, The Beatles, and John Lennon.
In addition to scores of Lions, Pytka has won two Cannes Grands Prix and seven Palmes d’Or. He also was given two special Lions for best directing and best production for the first fifty years of Cannes. He also received the prestigious Director’s Guild of America’s Honors Award for work of cultural significance.
He has been called a ‘genius’ (by Ad Age), and likened to Wolf Larson, the monstrous villain of Jack London’s THE SEA WOLF by Steve Hayden. Pytka scoffs at the genius observations and points out that he and Hayden have worked together for twenty five years. In that time their work for IBM took that brand from a negative worth of fifty million to a positive brand value north of a hundred billion today and isn’t that what advertising is all about?