Cover and header photo: Tiësto and Becky Hill's“Nothing Really Matters” dir. Aya Tanimura
You'd be very hard-pressed to find anyone who'd say working during the pandemic is cake, let alone directing a whole shoot from lockdown. But living through such troubled times raises the question: What can artists give back to the world when the world feels like it's in shambles? When a project presents itself during a pandemic, how can a director adjust and adapt in order to continue doing what they love?
We were lucky to sit with eight wonderful directors who broke down their remote directing experiences and encapsulated their highs and lows during the process.
Director of Asaf Avidan's music video, "Earth Odyssey"
Adi Halfin is an award winning director and screenwriter. She graduated the Sam Spiegel Film School with honors, and her short films have traveled the world in prestigious festivals such as Cannes and Berlinale and won numerous prizes worldwide. "Home Alone" which she directed for Batsheva Dance Company was a viral hit and has won ten international prizes, including Best Commercial and Best Inspirational at the LA Film Awards, and Best Short at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. Coming from a background of art and music, Adi loves to challenge the borders of filmmaking and get involved in as many disciplines as possible – be it dance, fashion or fine arts. Music and dance are her biggest passions and she strives to showcase this passion in every part of the aesthetic details in her expressive works. Her interpretation to Radiohead's "True Love Waits" featuring world-renowned dancer-choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith, has won seven awards, including Best Unofficial Music Video at the Los Angeles Music Video Festival, 2017. Adi’s enthralling work for Toyota’s Impossible Stories offers an arresting portrayal of athlete Dergin Tokmak and was subsequently shortlisted at Cannes. In addition to directing, Adi teaches production and directing in film schools, and dance film workshops in Europe, the US, China, and Israel. Adi currently divides her time between Tel-Aviv and Berlin, where she's working on her first feature film and directing music videos and commercials.
Adi is signed with Chelsea Pictures (US) and Lief (UK).
Adi also most recently directed another music video shot in isolation, Asaf Avidan's "Lost Horse."
How did this project come to be?
Adi Halfin: It was very unconventional. Around February, I was in touch with Asaf Avidan about directing another music video for his upcoming album. Once we realized the video was not going to happen, Asaf wanted to release a different song with a video that would be dancers filming themselves at home. He’s in Italy which is one of the countries that got hit really hard by COVID. So he just wanted to make a feel-good video to show a beautiful kind of connection, even in the middle of a pandemic.
All the footage was shot remotely, which sounds especially challenging for a dance video. Were dancers in charge of choreographing their own segments? What notes did you give as a director that helped the dancers mesh together in the final video?
Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber cast these phenomenal dancers who are improv geniuses. I love improvised dance, since you get to see the interpretation of the song each one gives with their body. But it’s a very unusual experience receiving footage without being on set. You don’t know what to expect. I would see certain angles that had potential but were unused, or the tone of the movement wasn’t exactly right. Luckily reshoots were easy, since it was all filmed with their phones at home, and I guess no one had anything better to do that day…so I gave notes and received the footage pretty fast.
Some dancers actually had proper cameras and we were concerned about if the different camera qualities would “stick together” in the final edit. But I think the unifying emotions between the dancers helped weave the clips together. I am normally very specific on the aesthetics of my films and this was a good exercise in letting go and just create something that makes people happy and brings them together.
How long did the process take?
It was the shortest process of directing I ever experienced. It was definitely no longer than two weeks, but it might have been even less. We actually didn’t have a crew, since the dancers were filming themselves, so our “crew” were the dancers and their partners who were filming them. Bobbi Jene Smith and Or Schraiber did the casting and I was both director and editor. I was pulling all-nighters since I have an eight -month-old baby, so I have no choice but to work when she’s sleeping.
Did you have any favorite “on set” moments?
My favorite moment was when I showed my partner the first cut. She’s a DOP and my biggest critic. For the first time ever, she said, “It’s really good,” after watching a first cut. I was really surprised. First cuts are never good, and I was shocked to get such a reaction from her. And now that the video is released, the true celebration is seeing people’s messages to me, telling me that this video cheered them up or made them dance during such a tough period.
"[Asaf] is in Italy which is one of the countries that got hit really hard by COVID. So he just wanted to make a feel-good video to show a beautiful kind of connection, even in the middle of a pandemic."
Director of Tiësto and Becky Hill's music video, “Nothing Really Matters”
Aya Tanimura is a Japaralian (half Japanese, half Australian) director who spent her formative years between Switzerland, Japan and Australia. Today she is based in Los Angeles where in a very short period of time has made a huge splash in the music video world with her highly original, out of the box, beautiful concepts for artists such as Katy Perry, Charlie Puth, Alessia Cara, Julia Michaels and Miguel. With over a billion cumulative views on YouTube, her work really resonates with a large demographic which has now translated to her commercial work too in which she has created content for Staples, Spotify, Sprint, Pepsi, Disney, Final Fantasy, QVC, Vogue, Katy Perry Shoes and Tourism New Zealand. Her show Witness World Wide which she conceptualized and show ran was named one of TIME magazines top 10 TV shows of 2017 and she was the first ever female director to run the Golden Globes Glambot for E! Most recently, she directed the pilot and three additional episodes of Disney Channels new live action show Kim Hushable.
In her spare time, Aya is an avid painter, Adidas tracksuit collector, Taco Bell consumer and animal lover who knits tiny sweaters for oil slicked penguins.
What does the commission process look like now?
Aya Tanimura: As a director, you put a pitch package together and hope that you get picked. That hasn’t changed. With music video directing, you’re doing so much from home anyways. What’s changed is that every unemployed director is writing briefs, so the competition’s a lot harder.
How long did the production process take?
From start to finish, we had two weeks. The edits look really simple, but we had over 500 video submissions. So it was a lot of footage to go through.
"Working during quarantine really shifts the job of the director…We’ll figure it out, but for now it’s just a little bit awkward. I feel like an awkward teenager and it’s bringing back too many memories."
How did you manage to direct hundreds of people at the same time for this video?
My producer would send the participants videos of the dance that Sherrie Silver choreographed. I also self-taped instructions. Then we hired someone to build a website for people to be able to upload their clips and all the clips would be put into a Dropbox for my editor and I to access. Working during quarantine really shifts the job of the director. Adapting comes with growing pains. We’ll figure it out, but for now it’s just a little bit awkward. I feel like an awkward teenager and it’s bringing back too many memories.
With a two week turnaround, did you have to make any big sacrifices to get through post-production ?
For this, there was actually so much footage we brought in a third editor, James. It was about five days of not sleeping. It was a huge team effort and all of us worked in shifts. To share our progress on the edit, we used Skype to share our screens. Sometimes we would just export clips and text them to each other. Afterwards, we all slept for a day.
What are your favorite moments from this experience?
My production team and I never received feedback from the outside world with videos but we got a lot of messages of people just saying things like, “Your video is so fun and so colorful that when I’m having a bad day, I just like to pop it on.” I’m going to start crying just thinking about it. Sometimes just the simplest things make the biggest impact.
Aya would like to thank her Producers and Post Team:
EXEC PRODUCER – Missy Galanida & Isaac Rice
PRODUCER – Jenn Mickelson
EDITOR – Jen Kennedy
COLORIST – Arianna Shining Star Pane
ANIMATOR – Carlos Aldana
Director of commercials for Zalando, E-commerce Company
From the moment Caroline Koning first appeared on our radar, we knew she was one to watch. It’s no surprise that the multi-disciplinary talent has been highly sought after, as her graduation film from the esteemed Amsterdam Fashion Institute, AMFI, added up to her first award. This was the beginning of what would mark a shift in Caroline’s focus, bringing with her a multitude of experience from the world of fashion into the craft of directing. Her first fashion film for Love Stories, ‘Bo’, was featured on Nowness and as Vimeo Staff Pick. The alluring film gained a cult-like following in the northern hemisphere. With a great deal of curiosity, a whole lot of discipline, and a good dose of stubbornness, she quickly grew a portfolio of work, including high-profile jobs for the likes of Loewe and Scotch & Soda. In 2017, Caroline was listed in Adformatie's top ten NL emerging talent – a yearly overview from the leading industry publication in the Netherlands.
Always being fascinated by the world of images, directing came quite natural to Caroline – who is completely self-taught. Caroline’s work is, unsurprisingly, heavily influenced from her background in fashion. Stylized yet toned down, natural but poetic, honest and revealing. Persuaded by her intellect and dictated by her instincts, Caroline has a very personal approach to her craft and enjoys getting involved in every step of the process. Caroline is Free the Bid's Netherlands Ambassador.
How have you been able to stay positive while working during the pandemic?
Caroline Koning: The quantity of commissions is a lot less now, but I try not to be stressed about it because I’ve realized that so many people and companies are in such deep trouble. I would feel very selfish to say, “Oh I’m not getting any projects.” When COVID first started spreading, I just said to myself that I probably wouldn’t be working for half a year and anything that did come along was a gift.
How did you set up shots?
It was all trial and error. We didn’t have a DP. When I had a suggestion for the angle, they’d send a photo of the angle that they were going to shoot to our WhatsApp production chat and then I was the only one who responded to them. I even drew arrows on their photos to say things like, “Go a bit more towards the window.” Then I would tell them to shoot three takes, and usually within one of those takes there was something good.
Was directing remotely challenging when working with an animation team?
Not really. It was like a train: shoot, edit, animate. I worked with the illustrator through Zoom, where I would draw pictures to explain my thoughts. The communication was actually very fast and I would like to continue this way of communicating in the new world.
What were your favorite moments of this production?
I think you just have to embrace the simple, unexpected moments. Usually I’m a bit anxious when I have a shoot and have sleepless nights. But here I didn’t know what to expect so I didn’t have the same kind of stress that I usually have. It felt simple and joyful to do. Of course everything is very impersonal and not ideal. When we had a wrap drink, it was nice because we could virtually toast with a glass of wine or water…but we all wish it could be in person.
"When COVID first started spreading, I just said to myself that I probably wouldn’t be working for half a year and anything that did come along was a gift."
Fiona Jane Burgess
Director of Shards & Isolation Choir's music video, "Inside I'll Sing"
Fiona Jane Burgess is an emerging young film director specialising in music videos, commercials, documentaries and fashion films. She began directing films for her band Woman’s Hour and has since directed music videos, commercial and narrative films for acclaimed artists, brands and editorial platforms. Recent work includes "A Community of Movement" for Nike, "The Dreamers" for Nowness and Burberry and "Synchronised Swimming" for Adidas and Fiorruci. Burgess has quickly established herself as one-to-watch, receiving a Silver Young Director Award at Cannes Lions 2019 and receiving Campaign's 'Pick of the Week' for her first ever commercial for fem-tech brand Elvie. Burgess currently lives in London.
Fiona is signed with Chelsea Pictures (US).
With this project, footage from an older shoot was repurposed for a song that was written during quarantine. Can you tell me more about how you became involved and how the idea of recycling footage came about?
Fiona Jane Burgess: My friend Kieran Brunt is a composer and he impulsively wrote this amazing piece of music to bring the music community together. I was originally just supposed to sing the song with a bunch of other musicians. He'd asked everyone involved to film themselves singing along to the song. I sent a clip to him and he said, "To be honest, most people haven't sent me a video and I'm not sure if it's going to work. Do you have any thoughts about what we can use for visuals?" Suddenly I just thought, and I was like, "Oh my God, I've got this hard drive sitting in my house with this footage I filmed last year."
"I do think that creatives can play a role in responding to the world in a thoughtful, hopeful, and human way."
—Fiona Jane Burgess
It also seems like the footage was made for this time in that it's in an empty house and the dance itself was between two people who are separated for the majority of the video. What was the footage originally intended for?
The footage was originally made for a music video of a very new artist. After filming, she decided not to release the song. It's funny how now it's almost like the footage finally found its real purpose. And all proceeds from the video goes towards helping musicians, through the charity Help Musicians UK.
How was the editing process and what software helped you?
Jo Lewandowska at Cut and Run was our editor and we used Evercast, which made it feel like we were really editing together. I think it probably helps that we've worked together before, but at the same time it was quite a smooth process really. And the same goes for working with Richard Fearon at Black Kite Studios, who graded it on Baselight and used ClearView Flex Pro from Sohonet.
How has working from home impacted your outlook on the creative work that you do?
Being with kids 24/7 is incredibly demanding. But it has actually also positively impacted my creative work because childcare reignited the passion, drive, and curiosity for my work. This is a deeply unsettling, and worrying, and devastating time for everyone. But I do think that creatives can play a role in responding to the world in a thoughtful, hopeful, and human way.
Director of the horror short film series, "Nadie" (Available to view on Gigi's FTW profile)
Gigi Romero is a Venezuelan writer and director, settled in Spain for over 20 years. She has directed various horror short films and music videos for Grammy-winning bands in her homeland, as well as for local Spanish indie artists. Her short film “Together” traveled around more than 20 countries and was broadcasted on Spanish national TV, and her work was represented and distributed by Shannon Lark’s, Chain “Viscera”, a platform and film festival dedicated to women in horror from Los Angeles, California. Her latest short film “Norman” premiered in Sitges, at the 52th International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalunya. The cultural American web Flavorwire, selected her as one of the 50 women horror “must see” directors.
She is currently creating online content focused on art and fashion, as well as developing exciting narrative horror projects.
What inspired you to film horror shorts while in quarantine?
Gigi Romero: The story for the films were based on real life experiences. I did wake up to see silhouettes surrounding me in the dark that were gone once I turned on the light. I also heard a kid call my name at a house another time…yikes! But in order to shoot these stories, I tried to adapt them to my home. I would just get the camera and think to myself, Okay what corner works for this phrase? Each one-minute short would take a whole week.
How did you conduct remote rehearsals with the actors?
I Facetimed the actors and they would send me all their voice recordings through iMessage. They would send me takes with different tones and emotions. And then I’d give them notes, like “I need more tension.” And the process would repeat.
Did anyone help you shoot?
I’m quarantining by myself, so I shot everything myself. The first short for the "Nadie" series had to be shot within a period of 10-15 minutes during twilight, when I had the right natural lighting. All the silhouettes in the film were also myself, I just change my hair to seem like different shadows. Overall, all I had was a single lamp, my shadow, and the full moon. I waited with my camera and when the time came, I thought, OKAY NOW! [laughs]
How did these series of short films help you through this tough time?
The films are about how even when we can't see our fears, they impact our intimate life. Being by myself at home during this quarantine made me realize that the virus worked the same way: we know it's there but we can't see it. I felt it came to mess up not only with our health but with our private lives, forcing us to face that internal chaos every single day in our most intimate spaces. It was very emotional when I finished, but it ended up being a very positive form of creative therapy.
"The first short for the 'Nadie' series had to be shot within a period of 10-15 minutes during twilight, when I had the right natural lighting…all I had was a single lamp, my shadow, and the full moon."
Director of video, "SOLEADO," and commercials for PAMI and TELECOM
Luján Islas was born in Neuquén, Argentina, and when she was 17 years old she moved to Buenos Aires to study Image and Sound Design at the Universidad de Palermo (UP). In 2008, Luján got her degree and the following year she was already editing work of her own and also other people's projects. From the age of 22 she worked as a freelance editor in several production companies and as an assistant art director in ‘100 Bares’ (Juan José Campanella). In 2013, she started editing and assembling moods at ‘Cronos’, which were later shot by an outside director. Until it appear the offer to direct and she said “Yes!”. Her first work in this new role was a commercial for YPF Elaion Moto, in Epecuén. Since then Luján become a director(a) and works for the company ‘Rebolution’ in Buenos Aires (Armando Bó), and ‘Filmeikers’ in Ecuador. She also enjoys filming musical videos for local artists in Argentina, and doing her own music as well. Whenever she starts thinking about a project, she needs a sound to match with the image in her head. This is how Luján learned to visualize what she sees, to put music in what she hears and to be able to show it to others.
Luján is signed with production company Rebolucion.
Click here if you want to watch Luján's short video, "SOLEADO," which was partly filmed using a telescope from her balcony.
For this interview, Luján discusses her commercial work for PAMI and TELECOM during lockdown (she directed seven spots!).
Did you have a crew to help you frame the shots and choose “costumes”?
Luján Islas: We couldn't work with a DOP because of COVID. We had a mix of non-actors from Argentina and Uruguay who lived with other people that could help us film them. We did have an art director who called the actors the day before shooting and sent me different possibilities of backgrounds.
How did you make sure that all the videos had the same video quality?
We sent an iPhone to the actors in a Ziplock bag. I directed them over a WhatsApp video call first. I sent low quality versions of the best takes to the editor through WhatsApp so he could edit right away. After all filming was done, he received the iPhone the actors used and replaced the low-quality takes with the videos directly from the phone.
"I guess it wasn’t clear that our break was actually 10 minutes. So we had to wait for [the actor] to finish showering."
What unexpected challenges did you run into during the process?
Well, you can't have everything under control when you’re directing through the screen. One day, we were recording a grandfather and we had a short break during filming. Afterwards, I called them again and the grandmother told me, "Oh, he went to take a shower.” And I said that we needed to continue and she said, "You told us it was a break.” I guess it wasn’t clear that our break was actually 10 minutes. So we had to wait for him to finish showering.
Did you have any favorite moments from the time that you were shooting the commercials?
The doctor in one of the commercials wasn’t an actress. She was actually working at a hospital. We needed to get her emotional for the take so I thanked her for what she and her co-workers were doing for the country. That took her by surprise and she started getting emotional. It was a beautiful moment.
How do you separate your home life from your work life now that you have to work indoors?
Look at this. [Points to makeup on face] I put makeup on myself today to talk with you. That's so much.
Director of Facebook and W+K's commercial for the Bundesliga, Germany's Professional Football League
After graduating in Film from the University of Westminster, Sara was soon named one of the Top 25 Directors to Watch by Creativity Magazine. Through her work, she demonstrates a particular affinity with cinematic realism, full of authenticity and beauty. She has a gift for narrative storytelling, with inspired casting and performances across her work.
Sara has chalked up an impressive array of brands and productions on her reel. From Levis, Virgin Trains, Vodafone, Sky and TFL, Sara brings an effortless quality to her films and shows a real flair for big ideas. Sara’s work continues to gather industry recognition, evident through the awards that she has accumulated since starting her career. Her commercial work has been awarded and shortlisted at LIA, British Arrows, D&AD, Creative Film Festival, Cannes Lions and A-List Hollywood Craft. Sara’s content driven work has been equally well received with the three films she co-wrote and directed for Burberry and GQ’s ‘Mr Burberry – The Night Before’ series, being featured by the Hollywood Report, HypeBeast and the Huffington Post. She has also created award-winning films for The Big Issue, Plan, The Havens Crisis Centre and shoe designer Jonathan Kelsey. Her most recent short, ‘Dreamlands’, was the only UK short film to be ‘In Competition’ at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, selected out of 5008 films globally entered. The film also won ‘Best Narrative Short’ at the 2016 Brooklyn Film Festival.
What inspired you to take on this project while in lockdown?
Sara Dunlop: The challenge of shooting a diverse cast of German football fans singing a famous football chant from their homes and all filmed and performed by themselves. I couldn’t say no, I was too intrigued to see if I could pull it off.
What logistics were involved in making sure that every cast member was able to film themselves and perform?
We cast the project and chose the best locations in their houses to shoot all through Zoom/Face Time. That's how I got to know all these wonderful people. We then sent all of the cast an iPhone. On the shoot days we used an application called Team Viewer to mirror their phone camera so I could check the framing. I was communicating with them live the whole time. Only problem is you are relying on people's Internet connection so occasionally we ended up only seeing (how do I say this) a more ‘impressionistic' picture of what was happening! Also on the zoom calls were the DOP, Art Director and the all important Musical Director who helped the cast get the right pitch and make sure they were all in time. The agency creative team were on the zoom too. Nuts.
"One day I washed the kitchen floor during a break, which is a really weird thing to have done on a shoot day."
What were onset moments that you'll always remember from this experience?
One day I washed the kitchen floor during a break, which is a really weird thing to have done on a shoot day. I think I just felt it might be some stress release or something. In general, people did funny things to try to keep the process enjoyable. One time, the DOP suddenly started playing along to the actors' singing with his guitar. We also had a running joke that our partners' cooking was our catering.
How was your collaboration with the editor?
We used Evercast, which is similar to Zoom, but more real-time. In Evercast, you're basically watching the edit suite without lags.
Did you celebrate the completion of the project with your team in any way, like a virtual wrap party?
Yeah. We had a 'bring-your-own' drinks wrap party on Zoom (obvs)…and ended up having a laugh about the whole thing, going over what we thought was funny, interesting, frustrating and the quirks of it all. That was a nice way to end the shoot. I got a bit drunk!
I'm glad you did! We all deserve to have some fun, especially nowadays.