WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE YOUR FIRST BREAK?
As part of our Inaugural Director Mentorship Program, we invited a diverse group of film and advertising industry experts to give us invaluable insight into the elusive topic of landing commercial work for emerging filmmakers. The panel also helped select our first winner for the program which will be announced opening night of the festival.
The panel includes film producer Lisa Muskat (The Sitter, Compliance), Julian Katz (Head of Production, Mother USA), Meghan Oretsky (Curator, Vimeo/Ladies with Lenses), Stephanie Baptist (Curator, Medium Tings), Danielle Earle (Writer/Director), along with Johnny Fego and Jacqueline Thompson from Picture Farm.
Finalists from our Inaugural Commercial Director Mentorship Program L-R: Lorena Alvarado, Tamar Glezerman, Francesca Mirabella, Julia Ngeow
What's the best way for a director to break into the commercial world? (ie. social media presence, creating own content, aligning with agency, etc.)
“Establishing a voice for yourself is key”
SB: A defined vision and aesthetic is very important, so creating your own content is the best place to start. I would also recommend researching agencies to see if they are in alignment with the type of work that you would like to be producing. For example, if you are a social conscious director look for agencies that are producing work that resonates with you and your brand.
JT: Establishing a voice for yourself is key. I would also say it’s important to continually be in the state of creation. Through the process, you further refine your vision, you meet people, you keep your work relevant.
JK: Just produce the best content you can, with a unique voice or POV or technique which makes it special. If someone shoots an incredible music video, skate or fashion film or makes something special which I see on Nowness or is a Vimeo Staff Pick, that will get my attention.
JF: The best way to break in is to make films. Make film that you love. Make films that you would wanna watch. And then put them out in the world to be seen.
DE: The best way to break into the commercial world is through networking and social media. Nowadays, social media is at the forefront for marketing and promotion, especially media platforms such as, vimeo instagram and YouTube.Networking is all a part of the process for exposure and growth in the industry.How and where do you find directing talent?
“It’s important to continually be in the state of creation”
MO: My team and I attend multiple film festivals around the world every month of the year, as well as immediately follow all filmmakers who have earned a Staff Pick badge. One way that I find female filmmakers to curate for Ladies With Lenses is attend festivals showing all female-created work such as the Athena Film Festival and Citizen Jane Festival, as well as checking out the women creators that filmmakers I admire follow and like on Vimeo.
JK: Through reps and production companies, or industry news, or more and more often when a remarkable film is shared with me on social media.
What is the first thing that agencies look for when reviewing my portfolio? How can I shape it to become 'marketable' as a commercial director?
JK: Ad agencies and clients still look to see that a director can tell a story in a short form, but it’s less important than it used to be for aspiring commercial directors to shoot spec spots; spec often comes across as cheesy or off, and a few great short films or videos are probably a better way to convey fresh director talent than spec would be. It is also important to align with a production partner that agencies trust and have a relationship with.
SB: I don’t think you should shape your work to make it more ‘marketable’ as brands/ agencies are looking for your unique point of view, but I do think it is important to remember that commercial projects have an end goal in mind. Your reel should show that have an ability to craft and execute a narrative. (If you can tell the story in less than xyz minutes, you should do so)
I feel that sometimes you need the 'proof' before you are hirable, yet until you get the money, it's hard to make high end 'proof'. How can I break through the cycle?
“It is important to operate exactly where you are but to not let that discourage you from producing”
SB: People are producing movies on iphones! (eg, the movie Tangerine) So in this day and age, I think it is hard to say that you need to produce high end proof. I think it is important to operate exactly where you are but to not let that discourage you from producing.
DE: Not necessary. When I was 27 years old, I started in the film industry as a young filmmaker. I created my film production company in 2010, and eventually produced a series called, “Brooklyn Is In Love.” The series launched, around the same time YouTube became an online platform for writers. I was immediately approached by the WGAE in 2011. The production for my series was all out of pocket. What matters is how you promote yourself, by creating content that is new, unique and different.
What captures your interest when the market seems so saturated with content creators?
MO: Original stories told in a thoughtful and creative way. High production values and realistic dialogue. I’ve found that the things that turn me off while watching a short are a corny/cheesy tone (bad music being my biggest pet-peeve), poor acting and stories without a sharp hook.
JF: Great characters, emotional storytelling, and content that has flair, charm or original humor
JT: A thoughtful perspective. For me, I want content to have more than just entertainment value. I want to see, understand, or experience something in a different way.
After you work with a director, what makes you want to work with them again?
SB: Professionalism and good energy.
JK: Every project comes with its own set of challenges and personalities on the agency and client sides, so what I’m looking for in a director will vary every time. It really comes down to who is the best choice for each project. If I have a great experience with a director, I’ll remember them fondly and will keep them in mind when the next appropriate project comes along. What makes me want to work with them again might be that they are super collaborative, or are geniuses with technique or storytelling, or great with actors and dialogue, or have great comedic timing, or a combination of these factors and many others…
JF: The energy and POV they bring to a project and the ability to spread the energy to key members of their team and execute a solid, beautiful project.
Are there any narrative based commercial work you like? What is the role of dialogue in advertising anyway?
“We don’t need to tell you that our clothing will make you more attractive in order to convince you to buy it. We just want to tell you a story that will entertain you.”
MO: Yes! Here are some examples of narrative-based commercial work that I’ve loved recently:
- “Sister Hearts” by Even/Odd
- “Free People Presents: Dream Girl” by Lauren Cohan
- “The End of History Illusion – Miu Miu Women’s Tales” by Celia Rowlson-Hall
Each of these pieces portray badass women in an incredibly vibrant, unique and compelling way, whether the narrative of their main subject(s) was true or totally made up. Personally, I find it admirable when brands go out of their way to shine a light on stories of adversity, to put forward a person who is doing real good in the world. This is the case in “Sister Hearts,” where the central subject is Maryam Henderson-Uloho, a woman who spent 13 years in a Louisiana prison and has dedicated her life to helping formerly incarcerated women build a new life immediately after their release. The branding in this piece is incredibly subtle if not invisible, and I appreciated that Square chose not to plug their logo in quick flashes in this piece. Of course, this was a decision on Square’s part and not all brands will choose to do it this way. “Sister Hearts” is part of a campaign from Even/Odd that celebrates people who were formerly unable to start their own business worked from the ground up to make their own way.
In the case of the Free People and Miu Miu pieces, both of their stories are exceptionally imaginative visually and narratively. I love that these films stand as a testament to the creativity of the women who made them, and in turn I think these brands are saying “We see that our customers are smart, artistic and capable women, and we don’t need to tell you that our clothing will make you more attractive in order to convince you to buy it. We just want to tell you a story that will entertain you.”
I really like this quote - "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time", by Blaise Pascal. How do you tell a story in such short increments, and what works do you think did it well?
MO: I think the difference between a film that is too long and a film that is just right is the willingness of a filmmaker to kill their darlings. I recommend asking around the film community you’re apart of and asking for editor recommendations, or browsing around Vimeo and finding shorts that you think were well-edited so that you can reach out directly to the person who cut them. Some examples of narrative films made by ladies that I could watch over and over, with no fat o their bones that I can think of are:
I’d also recommend seeking anonymous feedback from artists whose work you admire. You can set up a 1-question poll asking them to submit their thoughts so they can feel comfortable giving you honest advice. If you only ask people directly what they think of your work, you’re going to receive a lot of sugar-coated answers.