It’s that time again – the 2018 World Cup has been captivating the attention of the globe since June. Even though Sunday’s final match will determine this year’s tournament champions, we’ll miss the heightened emotional state and the drama that the World Cup inspires in soccer (sorry, er…football) fans worldwide. The four year wait for the next World Cup is going to feel like an eternity…
There’s only one group of people who can top the theatrics of crazed soccer fans: the players themselves.
South African director Karien Cherry‘s latest work for KFC Africa with Ogilvy Cape Town, which enjoyed a crazy viral boost thanks to its similarities to an on-field outburst from Brazil’s Neymar, pokes fun at the showiness of soccer players who are injured during games. Why “make a meal of it” on the field when, instead, you could make a meal of a KFC combo? Karien’s spot not only nails the punchline, but also manages to incorporate a true, authentic feel for Africa. Fans all across the globe may not agree on much when it comes to the heated competition, but the humor in Karien’s viral ad proved to be common ground worldwide.
Whether filming with experienced actors, celebrities, or streetcasting, Karien’s firm, nuanced and observant handle on performance allows her to work across various genres. From crafting rich cinematic worlds to spontaneous off the cuff filming, she is sought after by creatives for her ability to effortlessly collaborate and adapt to the brief. She was shortlisted for the 2016 Cannes YDA, and participated in the 2015 Berlinale Talent Campus.
We spoke with Karien about working within tight constraints, the surreal nature of going viral, getting bitten by the film bug while part of an international theater troupe, and the importance of listening to one another.
First of all, have you gotten swept up in World Cup fever this year?
Haha, is this a good time to confess that I’m not that into soccer…?! I’m in the middle of pre-production on a very challenging shoot at the moment, so that doesn’t leave much time to watch anything other than casting tapes!
Your latest spot for KFC, poking fun at soccer dramatics, is hilarious – what excited you most about getting the opportunity to shoot this ad?
The concept was just brilliant. As commercial directors, the work we get to make is really at the mercy of the boards that we get to pitch on. So when a good idea comes your way, you make it count! Of course, the opportunity to direct a soccer ad, topped with comedy – which are both traditionally thought of as jobs for male directors – also gave me all the feels.
The spot showcases a wide variety of scenes that feel unique to Africa. How did you decide on the locations where you wanted to shoot and the characters you wanted to include?
This spot was the first TV ad made by KFC Africa, with 9 countries pooling resources together to make this happen. Still, there were crazy tight budget parameters to the job, and the creatives understood that I would need to flesh out the script according to what was logistically possible. It was a balancing act of creativity and feasibility all the way, not compromising on what we wanted creatively but ensuring that the locations were close enough together for us to pull off the shoot! In addition, because the spot was initially only intended to air regionally in Africa, we had to make sure that nothing pointed directly at South Africa, or Cape Town, where we shot the ad. I was after a sense of scale and energy that I believed the spot would need in order to hold its own among all the other ads, and so the location decisions played into that too – we looked for locations that offer up a sense of scale and travel, and that added elements we needed but couldn’t afford to put in front of camera ourselves (foreground action, cars passing, pedestrians, etc).
As for the characters along the way, I needed to make sure the journey stayed entertaining and added the different onlookers in to fill up the storytelling. The cameraman and sound guy are my favorite!
What were some of the highlights of working with this cast and crew?
A director is only as good as their crew and their cast, and I love getting to work with the best in the business. From the art director, to the stylist, to the DP, to the post teams, everyone really pulled together and problem solved. The caliber of crew that I get to collaborate with means that I can count on the team going above and beyond every time.
Our casting director also did a phenomenal job – we knew we needed someone with not only the athleticism to get through the demanding nature of the shoot, but the right attitude, someone who would be up for the challenge. We were very lucky to uncover a new talent in our lead – this was his first TV ad, and what a natural! From there, our stunt coordinator was such a reassuring guy to have around, and he did a fantastic job working with our lead.
I’ve mentioned the cameraman and the sound guy before, but they were a real treat to direct. Such natural comedy talents, we were in stitches behind the monitors. Also, those wonderful kids who rolled their little hearts out on that soccer pitch! Take after take after take, they were amazing.
We’re frustrated whenever we hear that there are few women comedy directors, since we have many on our database. The real issue is that women are not often given the chance to prove their comedy skills. You obviously have a knack for humor, as this spot shows – were you excited to have the opportunity to shoot such comedic work? Is this something you get the chance to explore much?
Absolutely! I kind of fell into directing comedy. My most instinctive sensibility is more emotive, my eNCA campaign taps into that kind of work, but I’ve found that I’m equally happy to make you cry from laughter! It’s true that comedy is much harder to crack than drama, but I enjoy the challenge and I love working with great comedy actors. I’m seeing more and more comedy boards, which is really welcome, as the majority of the comedy work in South Africa has also been predominantly male directed.
This spot was shared massively all around the world, after viewers became aware that it had been released before a particularly memorable theatrics display from Brazil’s Neymar this year. What’s it been like to see this spot going viral on a global level? Was that unexpected for you, or did you have a sense that it might blow up?
I mean, producing a spot that had mass appeal was always the idea, but we never dreamed of this kind of reach. The ad was very well received by the regional African market, and I kind of left it there. To be honest, once it started buzzing on the internet I was already pitching on another job and deep in treatment world. It was only when the ECD from Ogilvy called and told me to just stop for a second and appreciate the lived experience of going viral – “the holy grail of advertising” he called it – that I paused to really absorb the moment. I guess when I realized what a serendipitous combination of timing, craft and luck it took for something to go viral organically, as this had, I jumped onto the timelines. It’s quite a trip to watch something go viral on the same laptop screen that you used to craft the spot! But it’s a hard wave to sustain – when something goes viral globally, one timezone takes over from another and between PR calls and online interviews you don’t get much sleep!
Let’s chat about your career in general! How did you find your way to filmmaking, and what were some of your earliest influences?
I started out as a theater performer in an international touring company, and eventually began choreographing, writing, producing, and directing for them. I got hooked on that side of the creative process, where your decisions and instincts shape and craft something. Then after spending some time in LA and being exposed to a small sliver of the industry there, the film bug bit. I fell in love with the powerful experience of film and decided to pursue filmmaking back home. I’m very lucky to have found a creative home at Giant Films so early on in my career. Ian and Cindy Gabriel (the founding director and EP) are such generous, adventurous spirits and they took me under their wing and mentored me from day one, encouraging me, teaching me, and steering my career. I owe a lot to their faith in me.
What have some of your career highlights been, in terms of films you’ve made? Accolades or opportunities you’ve received?
Being shortlisted for a Cannes YDA is right up there. It’s really affirming to have your work and the decisions you make around your craft recognized by the industry’s top platform. Another highlight was when I shot an action scene downtown Joburg. It was great to get to play at that scale and I channeled my inner Kathryn Bigelow! Ian flew down from LA to direct second unit for me that day, and we had a total blast. It’s definitely been one of the best shooting experiences, so yeah, I’d love to do more action. I also recently got to work on a really impactful PSA for Rape Crisis, an organization that helps rape survivors in Cape Town. It was a hard hitting script, and I worked with a really committed cast that gave everything. I was very grateful to be entrusted with that.
What kinds of films would you ideally love to shoot in future?
There are so many things I want to try! On a commercial front, I just want to keep shooting good work. I hope I’m never pigeonholed into only getting one type of board. As long as there’s a strong idea and good writing, I love the challenge of cracking whatever the idea demands on a filmmaking level. I’ll always dissect things from a narrative and performance perspective first, trying to identify the integrity of the idea. Ultimately, I want to get into directing series work. I’d love to immerse myself into that kind of workflow. And of course a feature. And a documentary… I’m not sure I’m going to live long enough!
Free The Bid is committed to advocating for diverse perspectives and points of view. What do you think are some of the benefits to diverse representation on both sides of the camera lens?
Directing is a very intuitive process for me and so, naturally, my perspectives get transferred into anything I direct. We’ve got to help people understand the benefits of being exposed to diverse perspectives before they’ll embrace something that may take them out of their comfort zone. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of a single story, which creates a kind of isolated echo chamber. If we’re to pursue growth and healing and positive change in our deeply troubled world, we have no choice but to listen to each other. To give each other a platform. One of my favorite quotes is from Su’ad Abdul Khabeer: “You don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless. Just pass the mic.”
Finally, what advice would you pass on to young aspiring women filmmakers?
Work fucking hard. Believe in yourself. Find partners who believe in you, and who you believe in. Then go to war with them. And remember to have fun in the process!
Client: KFC Africa/South Africa
Client Representative: Dewald Duplooy, Suhayl Limbada, Palesa Munzara, Tumelo Monare,
Cassandra Appenteng, Anna Maphanga
Product: KFC Streetwise 2
Title: Keep Rolling
Agency: Ogilvy Cape Town
Chief Creative Officer: Pete Case
Executive Creative Director: Tseliso Rangaka
Associate Executive Creative Director: Nicholas Wittenberg
Creative Group Head: Safaraaz Sindhi
Creative Group Head: Alex Goldberg
Art Director: Sibs Zihle
Copywriter: Steven Lipschitz
Head of Production: Cathy Day
Group Account Director: Nabeelah Sayed
Delivery Manager: Sinovuyo Ngcwama
Production Company: Giant Films
Director: Karien Cherry
DP: Devin Toselli
Executive Producer: Emma Lundy
Producer: Laura Sampson
Stylist: Elton Campbell
Art Director: Laurence Bishop
Editor: Anthony Lee Martin
Music Composers: Pressure Cooker
Sound Design: The Workroom
Sound Engineer: Stephen Webster
Post Production: Strangelove
VFX Post Production: Charmaine Greyling
Colourist: Nic Apostoli
Client: KFC Africa/South Africa