The advertising and production industry in many parts of the world will be saddened to hear of the passing of well-loved and respected Brisbane-based TVC and film director Mark Toia after a short illness.
Born in New Zealand, Toia’s artistic talents began at a young age, with painting being one of his first hobbies. From the moment he first picked up a camera, Mark knew it was going to be the tool to take his creativity to the next level.
He moved to Brisbane in the 80s where he had a very successful career as an advertising photographer, before being coerced into directing TVCs by his clients. Their desires were to bring his exceptional photographic eye to the small screen, and he went on to become one of the most sort after directors in the advertising world.
Being pursued by advertising agencies and production companies globally he had a lengthy list of repeat business with the world’s largest companies that most could only dream of, being sent more than 300 scripts per year. Toia has worked with Jeep, Mercedes Benz, Ford, Adidas, BMG, Sony Music, Territory Embrace, Uniplan, Jungmut, Fond Of, ZDF, Bertelsmann, Natural Born Explorers, Lucky Strike and more.
Jeep’s ‘More Than Just Words’ commercial, shot and directed by Toia via Dallas-based agency, The Richards Group for the Super Bowl shattered FCA’s expectations by garnering over 106 million views in only three days.
With countless industry awards and accolades to his credit, Toia was without a doubt a director sitting firmly on the “A” list. His ability to deliver a stunningly artistic story full of drama through to shooting a fast and furious action piece, is only a glimpse into what he could deliver.
Where Toia succeeded most was with his clear understanding of visual communication. He knew what visually sells products and this is why clients kept coming back to him again and again.
Toia’s prowess and success was due to his ability to reinvent himself over and over again. He always looked for new inspiration, constantly finding new technologies to aid his work and learning new crafts to help create images that had compelling screen presence, not to mention more on-screen value.
Toia was a quintessential trendsetter that creatives around the world wanted to be a part of.
His passion was to capture an image that compels and speaks without words. His legendary cinematography skills, vast post-production experience, joined with his ever evolving mind and machine like work ethics made him the perfect choice for any job.
He made use of the demanding nature of his projects to broaden the scope of his expertise, moving beyond cameras and shooting on set to include pre-production, directing, and post-production work.
In addition, he was the writer and producer of the successful indie science fiction film Monsters of Man, which was released just before Christmas, 2020. The plot of the film revolves around a fleet of complex, photo-real robots that are let loose in the South-east Asian jungle.
And he, together with wife Carolyn, did it with their own money, which came to around US$2 million. The majority of his approach to the project was experimental, and it started with a question: given his background in film-making and his knowledge of the industry, was it possible for him to make a movie with studio-quality special effects and high production values on an extremely limited budget? The answer was an emphatic yes.
Toia’s motto on his FB page sums up his attitude to a life well lived: Working hard, learning hard, playing hard.
New Zealand based TVC Director Roger Tompkins posted this tribute to Toia on Facebook:
Old mate Mark Toia has departed this mortal coil.
My thoughts are with Carolyn, Brook and Jordon.
Mark was quite unique, a powerhouse to all that knew and worked with him.
He was driven and a perfectionist. He started up his own production company becoming an industry leader in Brisbane with his production house and studios.
The boy from Papakura shot awarding winning short films for leading brands all over the world
An early adopter of digital tech he fell in love with the Red camera system a worked closely with Red to develop the camera, lens and ancillary gear. Mark knew his camera kit and lens like no other, he was a director, DOP & operator. Discovering the Shotover System was a marriage made in heaven.
Mark was a true adopter.
No content with directing, shooting and framing his films he took to Digital editing like a duck to water often cutting the days material back in his hotel room after a long day on location or glued to the laptop on the long flight home from a shoot. He cut his own films, mastered grading & colourising before adding in VFX to his long list of talents.
For many years he’d harboured a burning passion to direct a film that he’d written. After dead-end meetings with numerous studios and with funding options exhausted, he in his own inimitable way, and with Carolyn at his side, they self-funded, produced, directed and distributed his Si-Fi film
It’s with great admiration that we look back at his achievements, his vision, determination and drive.
He will be missed by so many none more the Carolyn who stood by his side through thick or thin, he adored his kids supporting Brook in her musical career and encouraging Jordan a successful and talented film maker to follow in his footsteps
He’s gone to soon, but left us with a legacy that not only can you succeed by you can also excel…
Farewell old bean, I’m sure, that without a doubt he will be wearing his bloody crocs to that big hangi in the sky.
Long-time friend Emma Daines, founder and CEO of Fin Design + Effects in Sydney emailed CB this tribute to Toia:
With extraordinary grief, I acknowledge (and treasure) my friendship with Mark Toia and the incredible loss I feel with him not any longer being by my side. Mark was my biggest supporter, my biggest fan and I felt it every time. I post produced some of his biggest achievements and this work cemented our unfailing and mutually giving friendship. We admired each other, we challenged each other. We were totally opposite personalities…. and it worked. This giant of a man had the softest heart ever. Mark Toia, I will miss our midnight talks, but in truth, I will not stop talking to you at midnight.
Another long-time friend, photographer and director Gary Sheppard, posted on Facebook:
Terribly sad news.
My dear friend of 30 years and total legend, Mark Toia passed away last night after a relatively short illness.
If ever anyone embodied the expression “ten feet tall and bulletproof” it was him.
So having him pass so unexpectedly comes as an awful shock.
The world will be a much emptier place with him gone. Such an amazing talent and with so much future potential gone far too early.
Mark’s energy, drive, generosity, creativity and sheer, astounding talent propelled him on a life’s journey that was unequalled of anyone I’ve ever known.
He lived 5 lifetime’s worth and accomplished things that most of us could only dream of.
All from humble beginnings and all of it at 100mph.
But through it all he never lost his humility
I remember complimenting him years ago on his amazing accomplishments and he replied “Nah mate. I’m just a bloke giving it an go” He was always super generous in imparting his knowledge to anyone who wanted a hand and always had time to mentor and nurture young people coming up through the ranks.
If the aim in life is to live the fullest life possible, achieve a brilliant, world-spanning career, defy expectations, time after time after time do what everyone said was “impossible”, while raising a lovely family and being the best mate one could hope for then Mark ticked all those boxes.
Mission accomplished mate.
You will be deeply missed.
And this tribute from director Kriv Stenders on his Facebook page:
Woke up this morning to the shocking and devastating news that my friend, Mark Toia has passed away.
Full disclosure here … Mark and I never met in person, rather, over the last five years we developed a long distance friendship across a series of long, involved and wonderfully inspiring phone conversations. In fact it was Mark who first reached out to me just after I had made my film, Danger Close and wanted to chew the fat.
I had known of Mark and his work for years and when I was making TV commercials. I was always pitching against him (and he was always winning the jobs btw). When I first spoke to Mark he was just about to finish his first self-financed film, MONSTERS OF MAN which he had made for around $2mil.
When he asked me if I wanted to see it, I kind of gritted my teeth and said “yeah… sure” … having no idea just how incredible that film turned out to be. I was expecting some kind of low budget indulgent vanity job, the kind I had seen TVC directors make before in the past.
Instead it was a remarkable accomplishment, a balls to the wall Sci-Fi action movie that looked like Micheal Bay on steroids on steroids. It totally blew me away.
Mark had pulled off a miracle and not only that he was going to self-distribute it ! He was appalled by the deals he was being offered by the streamers and Hollywood studios and simply decided to do it himself.
He released the film globally on digital platforms everywhere and as far as I know he is the only self-financied filmmaker I know of who has made his money back and gone into profit.
The financing model he built with MONSTERS OF MAN is an incredible example of a filmmaker taking control of their destiny and proving that you can beat the bastards.
He was incredibly generous with all his knowledge and all the fine deatils of his process. He even sent me his spreadsheets to show me how the money was flowing back to him.
Mark was a true maverick, an extraordinary guy, a one man studio who wrote, shot, edited, graded and posted his films all from his own office in Brisbane.
And boy he sure knew how to use a camera – his images were stunning.
In my mind he is a real hero and I will now miss seeing his name come up on my phone and the fun, informative, supportive and galvanising conversation that followed.
I’m still in shock as I was going to call him this week to rave about a low-budget Aussie film I had just seen, which I know he would have loved.
My heart and thoughts reach out to his family at this very painful and sad time.
Mark … I’m going to miss you so much. Wish we got to meet face to face and have that lunch we always said we would have.
I’ll never forget you mate.