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The Directors: Paul Nevison on Finding the Art in Advertising


The 13CO Talent speaks to LBB's Delmar Terblanche about why he loves his job, and how he shows that love

The Directors: Paul Nevison on Finding the Art in Advertising

I love telling stories…big stories, small stories, true stories, but most importantly, stories with heart and soul.  Stories grounded in purpose that champion the underdog, the unlikely and the overlooked. In an age of social, political and ecological discord - stories that connect and remind us of what it means to be human are more important than ever.

Filmmaking has taken me to over 40 countries where I’ve developed a film style steeped in the complexities of human emotion, utilising intimate cinematic portraits that blur the lines between fact and fiction, yet are firmly anchored to a human-centric soul.

I make commercials, documentaries and am currently developing a slate of film and TV projects with industry partners.

My work has been recognised and awarded at YDA Cannes, Ciclope, Kinsale Sharks, 1.4, GZDOC.

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 love a good story, memorable characters, brimming with heart and soul, chuck in an unexpected twist and you’re all set!  I think about this quote from playwright Eugene Ionesco, ”Over explanation separates us from astonishment”, I love scripts that invite the audience to be active participants in joining their own dots, it creates engagement and helps viewers invest more fully in your story. This coupled with a cinematic visual hook is directorial heaven.

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

Paul> What I don’t see in the black and white on a page that arrives in my inbox are all the unseen hours of thought, contemplation, word wrestling, hand-ringing, revision, frustration, Red Bulls, more revisions, followed by an angel choir accompanied epiphany - then finally a deadline.  A creative team has already poured so much into this idea that a healthy dose of respect for the mountains already climbed is the place I start with, then it’s about looking for the emotional core of the idea and how I can relate and respond to that personally.  As directors, we are hired to make the film that only we could individually make, so a treatment is a way to excite my creative collaborators from the client and agency to every member of the crew about the film that we will collaboratively bring into being.

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> The more you have an understanding of the goals and aims of the project, the better placed you are to help solve problems in a creative and artistic way.  Clients always have really specific goals they are trying to achieve and often many stakeholders to appease….I ask a lot of questions so I can be equipped to understand the tensions and find creative solutions that serve the client’s needs while preserving the artistic integrity that everyone goes into the production process wanting to achieve.  Always want to try and inject some poetry into the pragmatism.  Knowledge is power!

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> I’m always super grateful for the person bringing hot coffee to a shivering cast and crew waiting in the gloom of a winters morning for magic hour - those coffees are life-saving!  It might seem like a silly example, but filmmaking is the ultimate team sport…success and failure rest on the quality of the relationships up and down the chain…as a director it’s my responsibility for the tone on set and for me that has to look like mutual respect regardless of role.  When there is a lot of gratitude flowing, I feel like people bring their best work and are willing to go the extra mile to see a creative vision realised.  Massive egos bring down the vibes.

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?

I’ve done a lot of work for NGOs throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East…through which I’ve met some incredibly resilient people…true heroes often in the face of terrible trauma and seemingly insurmountable odds.  This I think draws me to stories of the misunderstood and overlooked.  It also informs a more grounded feeling to my work, my documentary background informs how I direct narrative…it has to feel effortless, as if life is unfolding uninterrupted in front of the lens.

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

Paul> “His longer form work is great, but can he tell a story in 30secs?”.  Of course I bloody well can!  The craft skills of storytelling and filmmaking are fairly universal…If the story is written to be told in 30 or 60 seconds, that’s what informs the filmmaking approach.  Trying to shoehorn a 5min idea into a 30 or 60 is going to be painful….let’s not do that.

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

Paul> You mean there’s a level beyond a producer armed with a spreadsheet and a razor blade? Terrifying!!

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

Paul> We were shooting a story for an NGO about a coconut farmer.  We really needed the camera up with our subject in the treetops rather than stuck on the ground.  An easy enough shot in regular production circumstance, except we were on a remote Indonesian island with not a crane to be found for thousands of kilometres and our drone was impounded in customs.  With some ingenious thinking,  our AC Caleb Ware and DP Bjorn Amundsen took a quick trip to the local market for two 50 cent pulleys and some lengths of rope. We attached the camera to a remote head and a makeshift rope and pulley system and employed the collective brawn of a dozen or so stand-in grips from the local village to hoist the camera into the heavens.  The local kids built us a smokey fire to send thick clouds into our frames for instant production value, and voila, we had our shot!

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

Paul> I don’t know anyone that sets out to make a bad film….that original idea is the reason we all got excited in the first place and why we are all on set bright and early.  In the inevitable twists and turns of a shoot, I’m always trying to keep that passion for the idea alive and at the forefront of the decision making…all challenges can be overcome when you come back to serving the idea.  Collaboration is an ongoing creative process so that the best ideas keep rising to the top…it’s always a push and pull, but if you allow space for every person to bring their artistic magic to the process, the fully formed idea will shine through.

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> More seats at the table is always a good thing…but I think we have to think carefully about how to set people up to win, being catapulted before you have built the necessary capacity to sustain can be counter productive to a career.  A more intentional process of mentoring/shadowing with the end goal of real-world opportunity can build the kind of skill and experience you need to succeed when you’re eventually in the hot seat.  Giving meaningful opportunity that nurtures and cements talented creative voices for the long haul has to be the goal.

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> Video calls are the norm….I much prefer seeing little floating heads over the old days of listening to disembodied voices.  

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> With forethought, a plan and appropriate resources, most things are possible…the probability falls off considerably with 11th hour requests to make that Cinescope Laurence of Arabia wide shot also work on a new postage-stamp-sized social media platform…there’s “movie magic”….but also, there’s physics.

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> It’s always got to be about the right tool for the right job that’s helping you tell a more compelling story.  LED volumes are incredible in that it can allow the nature-defying luxury of shooting a sunset/sunrise vibe all day if you want…but sometimes you still need to go to some far-flung destination and stand around in the cold to get the real thing because the story demands it….technology is by nature transformational, but always has to serve the story.  

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

Paul> “No Small Plan” Thankyou.

Upstart social enterprise brand Thankyou, challenged some of the biggest product companies on the planet to flip business as usual and help end extreme poverty.  Thankyou needed to get their attention, this film spearheaded the campaign to build a consumer movement.

“The New Day” University of Sydney

With onsite learning returning after the pandemic, this brand campaign to embrace ‘the new day’ of opportunities, embodies the hope and optimism of education.

“Volta” Compassion International

200 years after the end of the transatlantic slave trade, children in Ghana are once again becoming slaves…this time in their own country.  Lake Volta, Ghana: the world's largest man-made lake sustains thousands of lives - but its fishing industry is too often built on the backs of vulnerable children.

“The Fisherman” Compassion International

“The Fisherman” is an intimate portrait of a Mother and Father’s hopes and struggles to provide for their young family despite the limitations of poverty on the Indonesian island of Rote.


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13CO, Wed, 16 Nov 2022 05:38:06 GMT