Childhood is a uniquely magical time (even when dealing with problems like spilled milk or being introduced to yucky broccoli).
“I Am Childhood,” Iconoclast director Laerke Herthoni‘s lyrical work for CHOC (Children’s Hospital Of Orange County), explores the world though a child’s point of view, inviting us to rediscover that same magic. In a series of beautifully framed vignettes, Laerke positions her camera to follow her young subjects’ exploration directly from their perspective – trees feel enormous, nature surrounds us, and the world seems full of possibilities. “I Am Childhood,” shows us that these possibilities can be boundless when kids are kept healthy.
We spoke with Laerke about taking care to ensure that her casting accurately reflected the world around us, her experience in working across different international territories, and how motherhood shaped her approach to directing this commercial.
This spot celebrates the wide-eyed wonder of childhood. What initially appealed to you about the brief? What elements were you most excited to bring to life onscreen?
Laerke Herthoni: I became a mother 6 months before we shot the commercial. My view of my own childhood and thoughts of my daughter’s upbringing had been on my mind since I became pregnant. So when this brief came, it was kind of meant to be. I loved the whole idea of celebrating kids and childhood.
Was the prospect of working with a cast full of children daunting? Exciting?
I love children. Their perspective on life and society is so interesting, and they’re so fun to be around. Working with kids is definitely challenging in other ways. You have to be patient, but their non-awareness of the camera really brings an incredible presence to film. To be honest, this whole process gave me so much energy and inspiration, and I can’t wait to get the opportunity to work with kids again.
Tell us about the casting process for this spot. What qualities were you looking for in your talent?
We casted 150 kids in 2 days. It was a lot, especially because some of the casting situations demanded more care and attention. The first kiss scene was a wonderful experience – I bet that it was many of the kids’ first kiss, or at least I know that that’s the case for the girl sitting on the bed. Besides that, it was really important to have a cast that felt inclusive, in terms of both race and gender. We took great care in this, as it’s always really important to me that the casting feels like it represents our modern society.
Did any aspects of the project push your directorial skills in new ways? How so?
I definitely wasn’t used to working with kids. I learnt a lot of what the necessary trust between director and child actually meant. Of course, every kid needs different things. Some needed comfort, some needed fun, but all of them needed contact and communication between me and them.
How did you get your start as a director? What were some of your earliest influences?
I started out working with researching and treatments 8 years ago. Soon enough, I was working as a director’s assistant. This was all an amazing time where I learnt so much. I was broke, of course – I could barely pay my rent and had to walk, as public transportation was too expensive for me.
I’m trying to keep my influences coming from art, films and photography, but I’ve never had any specific influences besides the icon Kathryn Bigelow, who has been an inspiration in my life in so many indescribable ways.
You’re based in Sweden, but have worked internationally – do you find differences in your experience of working in various global markets?
It’s all so different; not one single country can be compared to one another. In Scandinavia, we are involved in the process from pre-production to online approval, but in the US, you sometimes aren’t even invited into the editing. Working globally always has the charm of giving you new knowledge and helping you become a greater director. It’s impressive how good the crew often is, and I always feel like I learn something new while collaborating with the producer, especially in the bidding process.
The only Swedish thing I try to bring abroad with me is the “mini-team”. We often work in really small teams. The number of crew members always makes the international producers laugh, but I totally love it. It brings people together, and it’s especially great for a director like me who appreciates intimacy on set in order to make the cast relax and feel comfortable in front of the camera.
"Working globally always has the charm of giving you new knowledge and helping you become a greater director."
"In childhood, trees felt taller; the world felt a bit more magical; and sometimes, life felt a bit weird. We wanted to communicate all of this in the images."
What traits would you say distinguish your cinematic vision?
It’s different from job to job. This job was all about seeing things from the kids’ perspective. Being in the same height and world as the kids was super important to both me and the DP. In childhood, trees felt taller; the world felt a bit more magical; and sometimes, life felt a bit weird. We wanted to communicate all of this in the images.
What work can we look forward to from you next?
I’m so excited about an art film I’m shooting in a couple of weeks – a film about motherhood and its struggles. It’s something that’s very close to my heart, so I’m enjoying every moment of it. Otherwise, I’m hopefully shooting a couple of great commercials before the year is done.
Finally, what is your favorite piece of advice that you’ve ever received about pursuing a directorial carer?
Never give up, and make sure to learn something about how the industry works in order to make it work for you. I honestly believe that you need to know the rules in order to play them and in filmmaking, especially within commercials, there’s a lot of social codes and rules that you need to know in order to help yourself.