The Interview Series // 53

NickKelly

Nick Kelly (http://nicholasfolio NULL.com) is a talented chap. In his previous life as a creative at Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, he created award winning campaigns for the Melbourne International Film Festival and AWARD. These days though, he’s shifted his focus to directing. In fact, you’ve probably seen his most recent work – if you’re one of the 2.4 million people who have watched a bunch of builders shout empowering statements (https://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=0gjsoSY18kg) to women passing by as part of Snickers’ ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ campaign. You just watched it, didn’t you. Now we’re gonna have to keep updating the figure. Damn you Nick Kelly, you talented chap.

Junior: Nick! How did you get into advertising?

Nick Kelly: In a bit of a roundabout way. I studied advertising with an interest in writing, but then went on to study photography and film at the VCA. Between shooting and exhibiting, I landed some freelance agency work which turned into a full time copywriting role.

JR: Of your creative work – what campaign are you most proud of and why?

NK: I once made an online banner ad, which apparently gave a woman migraines – according to the complaint letter she wrote to our client. But actually, my best experience was on a cinema campaign I wrote for MIFF a few years back. Geoffrey Rush happened to read the script and liked the absurdity, so I wrote an alternate ending which included him with a Polish speaking cameo. Amazingly, he agreed to get involved, and the finished ad went viral in Poland. I quit making banners at that point (mentally, at least).

JR: That’s one of our favourite ads too, and we’re not even Polish. Do you think that Geoffrey getting involved in the job is testament to the power of a great script?

NK: I’d like to think so, because we had no money to pay him! I heard Spike Jonze talk at a Cannes symposium a few years ago and somebody in the crowd asked if he’d consider small jobs in New Zealand. His response was, ‘If the script’s good enough, I’ll sleep on your floor’. That should be encouraging for juniors to hear, as they start out on low budget briefs.

JR: Think back to when you were junior… What was the most invaluable thing you ever learnt?

NK: The advice I’m about to impart is shallow, but fundamental. I learnt very early on that the advertising industry is obsessed with awards. Frothing-at-the-mouth-and-willing-to-sacrifice-their-own-children obsessed. And so winning them just makes everything easier for you. My lecturer at RMIT pushed me to enter the D&AD student awards and I managed to pick up a couple of pencils in radio. I was amazed by how many doors they opened, even years later. I entered the Cannes Young Lions three years in a row and finally won during my last year of eligibility. There are plenty of awards out there for juniors, so just try to enter as many as possible.

To temper that with something more meaningful, I think it’s really important to hone your craft. There’s this common misconception that all you need in advertising is an idea, and a fat marker pen. But there’s more to it that that. One of my first creative directors had an encyclopaedic knowledge of photographers and directors. You want to be that guy/girl.

JR: Sometimes the pressure of deadlines and fear the blank page leads to mind numbing paralysis – do you have the antidote?

NK: I don’t know… Drink some coffee. Take a piss. Do a handstand to send more blood to your head. You really need to experiment with your own process until you figure out what works for you. The conceptual artist Bruce Nauman (http://www NULL.moma NULL.org/collection/artist NULL.php?artist_id=4243) says that he goes for a walk when he’s stuck on an idea. This would be a really boring answer, except that Bruce happens to the know the Latin Phrase for it, which instantly makes it awesome – ‘Solvitur Ambulando’. I’ve always found it much more interesting to read about creatives’ processes than about the meaning of their work. We’re all pretty creative (or we wouldn’t be here in the first place), but unless you can develop your own process, it’s all just soup.

JR: You’ve had quite a successful career as a creative, what made you decide to make the move to directing?

NK: I’ve always wanted to direct, so it was really just a matter of when.

At my previous agency, I had a prolific period of writing TVCs so I was spending all of my time in production, on sets, observing and collaborating with other directors. Naturally you become more and more opinionated about what your own approach would be.

Also, to be honest, I think there’s a real lack of options when it comes to Australian/New Zealand comedy directors. I mean, the kind who can deliver really nuanced performance. A big driver for me is that I love working with actors. So, I’m spending some time in New York this year, working with improv comedy groups like the Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s scary as fuck, because even as a director you’re thrown right in with the actors to perform, but there’s no better way to learn about actors than to get amongst them.

JR: A lot of campaigns these days take the form of a stunt that’s filmed – you’ve just directed the latest Snickers ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ piece, what challenges do you think directors face when creating these type of commercials?

NK: Well you’re out in the real world with real people, so that’s always harder. There needs to be a lot of trust for that to work. The agency has to trust you as a director, because you don’t have the luxury of pausing to review every shot. And you need to trust your crew, as you’re most likely running multiple cameras and reacting to the situation as it unfolds. I love improv, but in this case I rehearsed the actors pretty rigorously, as the tone was a delicate one to get right.

There’s an added pressure, knowing that you’re filming something for online, that’s expected to go viral. We’ve all had that brief, right? ‘Make a viral’. A small part of you dies inside. But the agency nailed it, you could see on the page that it was going to get a reaction.

Thankfully, it’s been delivering. We clocked two million views in the first few days and still climbing.

JR: What advice would you have for juniors working on their first tv commercial/content?

NK: Keep it simple. I had a bit of a drought when I first started writing TVCs, as a lot of my scripts were coming in over budget. So I started creating really simple setups with just a couple of characters. That year, I broke the drought and made something like 12 TVCs. Some of my favourite ads involve two dudes on a couch with some cracking dialogue. Look at all of the Kayak work from the States. (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/user/KAYAK)

As for content – keep it brief. Too much content these days simply goes on for too long. I don’t want to spend eight minutes with your brand on Youtube. Treat it with the same editorial brutality as you would a poster. It shouldn’t be a second longer than it needs to be. Besides, you’ll probably be making content on less than a fifth of any TVC budget.

JR: What advice would you have for aspiring commercial directors out there?

NK: Just start making things from day one, with your own resources. And if you’re going to make spec ads, try to make them for clients who may actually run them.

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 03/04/2014