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The Directors: Paul Constantakis


The Deli director on '80s films, problem solving and supporting talent from marginalised communities

The Directors: Paul Constantakis

Paul is a Toronto-based filmmaker and commercial director whose entire ethos of storytelling is to take viewers on a joyride. 

With a childlike imagination, he’s constantly pushing his craft to shape visually entertaining worlds, discover unfamiliar locations, deliver authentic performances, and have fun the entire way.

Speaking of his imagination, Paul often pretends to be a giant robot monster that his toddler defeats on a regular basis. 

Name: Paul Constantakis

Location: Toronto

Repped by/in: The Deli (Canada)


Epica Awards – Bronze, Special Effects | Finalist, Self-Promo

Advertising & Design Club of Canada (ADCC) - Bronze, Special Effects

Toronto Shorts International Film Festival – Winner, Best Sci-Fi

Venice Short Film Awards - Winner, Best Comedy 

Tokyo Film Awards – Winner, Best VFX

Le Festival de Film Fantastique de France - Winner, Best Action

Atlanta Comedy Film Festival - Nominee, Best Micro Film

Santa Monica Film Festival - Official Selection

One Screen Film Festival - Finalist, Emerging Directors 

LBB> How did you get into directing? 

Paul> Funny enough, I started my creative career as a copywriter. Filmmaking was something I always loved and toyed with in my teens and early twenties, yet for some reason I didn’t think I could ever become a director. But being on the agency side and getting the opportunity to go into productions and be on sets, advertising quickly became my de facto film school. I started studying every director we would hire, their approaches, their demeanour, their interactions with actors, etc. until I finally made the transition. Even though it took longer, I consider myself fortunate to have gone through this route.

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

Paul> I’m sure this varies from one director to the next, but I get excited when a script is imaginative, entertaining, can make me laugh out loud or feel all the feelings. The bonus is when stories can transport me to unfamiliar places. This can be as simple as a unique-looking kitchen or something more elaborate like a period piece set in the ‘70s. 

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

Paul> I may be in my own head here, but if I say a script has a tiger in it and I don’t have a tiger in my reel, then it’s assumed I can’t direct the script with the tiger in it. It’s not that it’s wrong, but it is the nature of how one looks at reels. What people might not realise though, is that I’m a tiger whisperer and also, I’d hire a tiger wrangler.

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

Paul> No matter what, I look to build on the script within all its little details. Even if the script is incredible, my filter is how do I make it better – can I improve the dialogue? Is there a better ending? Is there a more interesting opening scene? What if we tried a different location? – To mess with creative can sometimes be the kiss of death, but fuck it, you’re not hiring me to be status quo so I’m going to swing for the fences.

LBB> Is there a treatment you are most proud of?

Paul> The one I did for the Butterfinger Investigators. I designed the hell out of that deck, spent late nights photoshopping tons of images, presented new ways at the scripts, listened to the brooding The Batman soundtrack a bit too much, and even hid thematically cryptic messages throughout it. Don’t think the creative team noticed that last part, but I had a lot of fun doing it.

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

Paul> I just love the whole concept of playing pretend, no matter the genre or the style. Escapism is always at the forefront of the type of commercials and films I want to bring to life. I’m an ‘80s kid and so much of my influence comes from movies like E.T., Back to the Future, The Empire Strikes Back, The Goonies; anything that takes the viewer on a little escape, even for thirty seconds, is right up my alley.

LBB> 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?

Paul> Yeah, it’s absolutely important. I’ll go through all the documents the agency provides. I’ll go through the brand website. Whenever possible, I’ll go buy the product to interact with it and get an understanding of it. It’s a normal part of my process.

LBB> What is it like to be on your sets?

Paul> This is a cliché-city answer, but I love what I do and the creative people I get to work with, and I feel that kind of energy transcends into all the departments. Even when challenges arise, and they always do, my brain immediately goes into solution-mode. We figure it out fast because the clock is always ticking. It’s part of the fun and what makes this job challenging, and you want that. 

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

Paul> Our production design team built a large-scale background wall for a police press conference scene. When the client saw it on set, he absolutely despised it, to the point of wanting to tear it all down. 

I could envision what it was going to look like once it was dressed, lit, hazed and all the extras were in place. But seeing this bare wall, in all its beige glory, under the shitty auditorium lights, I get where he was coming from.

To make matters worse, we weren’t shooting that scene until later in the afternoon so that wall was just a looming presence that entire morning. 

When the time came, we were already prepping the medium shot (as per schedule) but I ended up stopping that and switching to the wide shot. It cost us time but at least we could all see the full scene in frame. After that, the wall was never discussed again. I’m hopeful he ended up liking it and not settling for it. It’s still one of my favourite scenes in my reel.

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

Paul> Man, it’s so hard to single out one person or department because of the value they all bring to the table, but once the project is greenlit, the line producer is my right arm. They’re the ones putting the whole production together and if I’m in the mood for a doughnut they’ll make sure I get one. They’re the best. 

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

Paul> First rule of cost consultants is we don’t talk about cost consultants.

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

Paul> Pretty easy, to be honest. Having been in the creatives’ shoes for a long time, I have an appreciation of where they’re coming from and how long it’s taken to greenlight their script. The communication airwaves are always open with me. 

That said, I also stick to my guns if I believe in something and if we have to hash things out, we hash things out and it’s never personal. Worst case scenario, you shoot it both ways. I’m not precious.

LBB> 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?

Paul> It’s a must. A diverse pool of talent means a diverse pool of storytelling so it’s win-win for all. My production company The Deli has a partnership with Hire Higher where they pair directors on their roster with aspiring filmmakers from marginalised communities. The fact that I get to help anyone who has an interest in filmmaking and show the behind the scenes - from the pitch process to the pre-production stage to the shoot day – I’m always game. 

LBB> 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? 

Paul> I’m going to say not much influence. Personally, I’d like to leave everything the pandemic influenced in the rear view. I didn’t enjoy having the agency or client tuning in to the shoot via remote video. It lacked the human aspect that I love about what we do. I much prefer having face-to-face conversations and building relationships and trust. Don’t get me started on all the coffee-smuggling I had to do on indoor sets.

LBB> 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)? 

Paul> The various formats are always a tricky task. Sometimes, your frame is set as wide as it can go in your location because it also hides areas you can’t dress; or you’re shooting in a tight space and you can’t go wider to accommodate the vertical format; or you’re shooting a closeup shot that in vertical would look obnoxiously zoomed-in. It’s always considered but once on set, we all realise the challenges.

LBB> 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)?

Paul> I have a love/hate relationship with new tech. It’s all incredible and I find myself in awe of it, but I’m also a stickler for authenticity in my stories. 

This may be a dumb example, but I don’t like my actors ‘driving’ in a studio. They always look like they’re pretending to drive and it, um, drives me crazy! I’d rather put them in a car on a trailer and off we go, even if it takes hours to set up.

I’ll always keep my eye out on all the latest innovations, but I won’t use them just because it’s the trendy thing to do. I’ll only incorporate the tech if it makes sense to the story. 

LBB> Is there any award or recognition you’ve received that you’re most proud of?

Paul> It’s always nice to be recognised in award shows but my proudest recognition came in an email. A few years ago I wrote and directed an homage film to Star Wars. When I received a note from the VP at Lucasfilm to tell me that everyone at the company watched it and loved it, for me there’s no award that could top that.

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

Butterfinger Investigators (The BFI) for Butterfinger

The opportunity to craft a Gotham-like world where Butterfinger theft is an actual crime, and two FBI-type detectives out to prevent these criminals was just so much fun. I love when comedic stories are juxtaposed with a serious undertone.

Monster Mayhem for The Vanity

What I love about this story is what you never see - A bunch of rebellious visual effects artists who’ve hijacked a film for their own benefit - and the real time consequences it has on the characters of the film. And we got to make a giant donut in visual effects.

How To Other Food Stuff digital series for Loblaws

This is just one of four episodes, but this concept allowed us to take the perfectly polished how-to cooking videos and completely go in the opposite direction, and for the sole purpose of entertainment (yes, please!). The aftermath was a series of colourful characters, ridiculous foods, outrageous attire, and unusual locations, all blended with some educational tips.

Money, Money, Money, for eCapital

I loved this concept from the get-go because of its ability to transport viewers into a slightly altered universe. Getting to create and capture authentic moments in the everyday lives of truck drivers, and then have them speak a language these drivers can relate to, was a perfect balance of the straight-meets-weird worlds I love to play in.


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The Deli, Thu, 02 Feb 2023 12:43:00 GMT