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The Directors: Lena Beug



After 10 years directing Lena reflects on funny scripts, quirky styles and dealing with weird and wonderful problems

The Directors: Lena Beug

Lena was born and raised in the west of Ireland. After briefly studying both fine art at the National College of Art and Design, and Law at Trinity College Dublin, she moved to New York City in the mid nineties. She worked as a photographer’s assistant, a babysitter and at the prepared foods counter at Dean & Deluca before landing an internship at MTV.

Lena has been directing now for over ten years. She has worked extensively in the US as well as in Canada and Ireland. Her work is recognisable for its quirky yet understated art direction and subtle nuanced performance. She has also directed multiple award winning short films. Lena lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She has two children. When not directing she makes pots and tries to keep her plants alive.

Name: Lena Beug

From:  Kinsale, Ireland

Present Location: Brooklyn, NY

Repped by/in: Red Rage in Ireland, Station Films in the US, Bold Films in the UK, Holiday Films in Canada, Cobblestone films in Germany

Awards: One Show, Sharks, D&AD, Shots, ICAD

Q> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

Lena> I love a funny script. Sometimes you read a script and it jumps off the page – you can immediately see it come to life, that’s always fun.  Sometimes you read a script and you know it needs that something extra – that’s also a challenge because then you get to bring a little bit of yourself to the table. The thing that gets me excited is story and character. I live in New York, I have a deep appreciation for how weird and wonderful we human beings are. I consider it part of my job to go around collecting information about humans because honestly truth is actually stranger than fiction – that’s what makes it fun to be alive and fun to bring it to the screen.


Q> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Lena> I try to find an angle that makes sense to me. Rather than trying to ‘say the right thing to win the job’ which in my experience is a lose lose proposition – I like to get excited about what the project could be – and then take whoever it is, agency and client, with me. If they like it, which occasionally they do, they’ll give me the job ! 


Q> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?

Lena> I think understanding the product – and who we’re talking to is pretty essential. Generally speaking, the agency tend to do a good job boiling that down to a page or two in the pitch doc. Though I confess I once read a 47-page document about a dating app called hinge and why it was different from other apps – I think it all boiled down to one idea, that it was for people wanting a serious relationship rather than just a hookup. I suppose simple is better.


Q> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Lena> Being a director is about having a vision – but it’s also about surrounding yourself with people who care as much as you do. Recently I’ve been thinking about the film business – as sort of like a grown-up version of the circus. I spend most of my childhood dreaming about joining the circus, and I think, as an adult, I found it. The film business is a safe haven for all the misfits, the artists who still need to make a living, the people who can build a world and tear it down again three days later – create magic and effects and wonder – and then do it all again next week.

So all of the relationships are important, the DP, the production designer, wardrobe… it truly is a team effort.  For me though, working with a producer I know and trust though is probably number one.  So much of the behind the scenes work is based on everyone feeling good and taken care of – and that starts with the producer. 


Q> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Lena> I like stories about people and their idiosyncrasies, their passions and their weirdness. I’m also increasingly drawn to longer format.  Commercials seem to be getting shorter and shorter – I cannot even tell you how many fifteen second commercials I’ve shot in the last year, and while there is an art to this, I’m hoping one of these days someone will give me fifteen minutes.

Q> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?

Lena> It’s an old story – but nonetheless worth retelling. I started directing almost fifteen years ago – and I came out of MTV with a comedy reel.  And within minutes I was seeing scripts for laundry detergents and tampons – and stuff with kids in it. And fifteen years ago the perception was still very much that women were not really funny. I am so utterly delighted to reread that sentence and see that that is very much not the case anymore. There is still an upper echelon of dude comedy, a set of scripts that at least in the US, we don’t get to see.  I’d like to see those scripts.

So yes I can direct children, and yes I am a woman, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t do cars and beer and cell-phones.


Q> Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?

Lena> Thank god my producers are the ones that deal with the cost consultants. I only hear rumours.

Q> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

Lena> Excellent question. Sometimes I think doing what I do is basically just dealing with weird and wonderful problems. I’m going to bullet point it.

Problem: I cast an actress – and story boarded a shot where she was running around barefoot. Turned out she had six toes, not joking.

Solution: She wore socks

Problem: We cast an actress for what will remain an unnameable product, she had to eat a bun. Turned out she was celiac

Solution: I convinced the agency how much cuter it would be if she just licked the frosting off the top of it.

Problem: I got attacked by fleas on set – twice

Solution: No solution, except, deal with it.

Problem: My actor (who was six, peed in his pants in the middle of a shot – and we didn’t have wardrobe doubles).

Solution:  I put my Mom hat on, and just dealt with it in a very matter of fact way that didn’t embarrass him. We dried the jeans with a hairdryer, I told him no big deal, happens all the time and off we went.

Problem: Client wanted a pretty famous celeb talent to say a line she didn’t want to say and suddenly I was the middleman/woman. I was terrified.

Solution: I said to her, listen – I know it’s not a good line, and I get that you don’t want to say it, but if we get it in the can we can all go home – so, what do you think?

She said the line.

There’s weather…subzero temperatures, thunderstorms, rainstorms and pandemics. There is sickness. There are uncooperative neighbours and animals that won’t do what you need them to do, there are babies who won’t sleep or won’t cry or won’t smile or won’t do the one thing you need them to do. But somehow we figure it out and because, to steal another circus analogy, the show must go on.

Q> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Lena> This is the part of being a director that’s most akin to being a hostage negotiator or a UN peacekeeper. Occasionally you end up walking into what is already a sticky situation between client and agency – so somehow it becomes my job to make everyone feel heard and respected and then also make something good. It’s not easy but patience and a bit of a sense of humour certainly help. 


Q> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?

Lena> Yes, yes and yes. It’s totally ridiculous how un-diverse the pool of talent in production is. It’s so white and it’s so male and there is no longer any excuse for this. Until about last year I would arrive on set and someone would undoubtedly ask me if I was the Art PA. I was giving an actor on set direction in LA a couple of week ago – and at some point he leaned towards me and said “I’m sorry, but what is your role here” – it sounds strange but it was like his brain couldn’t comprehend that I was the director. Probably because he’s only ever come across directors who are men?? 

I would love to mentor. Once this Covid situation is resolved it’s something I’m going to try and do on all my jobs. I would have so loved the opportunity to watch another director at work (frankly I still would) so I am absolutely interested in creating more opportunities for people to learn on the job.


Q> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time? 

Lena> I think there will probably always be some part of video village that is now remote – whether it’s just the client or some of the agency – it’s sort of like a, now that we know it’s possible scenario, it’s here to stay.  Having said that, I hope people will come back to set, it’s such a fundamentally different experience.


Q> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)? 

Lena> Every job I shoot now we shoot multiple formats. 16:9 and 1:1 and 9:16. My feeling is that you compromise everything by trying to do it all at once. I like to treat them separately.  It’s perfectly possible to frame something gorgeous for 9:16, also 16:9 – doing both of those simultaneously is just impossible, and it makes my head hurt. The fact is that people see a ton of content now on social media – so our job is to make that content amazing for the platform it’s meant to live on. Sure, we can be dinosaurs and lament the past, or we can just embrace the future. I’m going for the latter.


Q> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?

Lena> I have a deep appreciation for new technology – a bit of a black mirror fascination with it, but I’m not a serious tech head. I still find myself endlessly fascinated by old fashioned analogue life. I love having the opportunity to play in new worlds, whether it’s in actual or post production but would always want there to be a reason for it, a narrative, story driven reason if at all possible.

Q> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why? 

I’m on this next.

GM - Granny

Ebay - Emma

RSA - Seatbelts

Chanel - Harper's Bazaar 

view more - The Directors
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Ponder, Thu, 07 Jan 2021 15:52:25 GMT