No more red swimsuit! Special K’s #PoweringYou campaign represents a new direction for the brand – it’s packed to the brim with women of all ages and stages of life, each a force of energy in her own right. Through director Kinga Burza’s lens, a pregnant woman swims laps in a pool, a jogger stretches out before a cold morning run, and a bike messenger refuels mid-ride. Kinga shows that today’s women are strong and active in a myriad of different ways, and each can benefit from Special K’s vitamin enrichments.
Leo Burnett London worked with Kinga on this campaign, selecting her after bidding a group of three women directors for the job. Not only have Leo Burnett taken the pledge, they’re enthusiastic supporters – recently, the Free The Bid logo was added to their official email signature!
Leo Burnett London CCO Chaka Sobhani, commenting on the agency’s commitment to Free The Bid and providing opportunities for women directors, said:
“We became involved in Free the Bid because it’s such a fantastic opportunity to do something, rather than just talking about change. We’ve made good progress in the first year since joining – 90% of all our projects have included a female director bidding. That’s a strong start but, as always, we know there’s more work to do. 100% is our goal, alongside applying the same rigour against diversity in all areas.
I’d recommend all other agencies support Free the Bid, it’s easy to pledge and then simply takes a resolve and commitment to ensure that women are involved in bidding for every commercial you produce. It’s amazing how quickly this becomes the new norm and about bloody time – unsurprisingly it’s making the work better and making the creative process far richer and more interesting.”
When asked about the Free The Bid initiative and the experience of working with Kinga, Leo Burnett London creatives Andrew Long and James Millers reflected:
“Free The Bid was incredibly useful in this process. As well as being a convenient platform that made reviewing show reels easier, the site actually introduced us to a lot of directors we weren’t familiar with but will definitely be keeping in mind for the future.
There was something about Kinga’s films and ideas that stood out to us – the mix of beautiful photography and high energy promo work seemed like a great combination to bring our message to life. On set is where we realised how great it was to have Kinga’s involvement. She had an amazing eye for the overall look of the film, which we definitely put a lot of trust in.”
Kinga is a Paris-based, Polish-Australian commercial and music video director who has directed over 34 music videos in her 10 year career for artists such as Katy Perry, Calvin Harris, Marina and the Diamonds, Ellie Goulding, Gabrielle Aplin, La Roux, Ladyhawke, Lana Del Rey and most recently Chinese mega pop star Chris Lee. Between videos she has shot fashion, content films and commercials for Kate Spade, Katie Eary for River Island, Morgan, Ellery and more recently Chloé and i-D magazine.
Read on for our full conversation with Kinga, where she discusses the chilly London shoot conditions, breastfeeding on the set of a Lana Del Rey video, and the importance of taking hold of your own destiny.
Tell us about the initial brief for the Special K “Powering You” campaign. What spoke to you about it from the beginning?
It was simply a really nice brief to receive. I saw it as not only an opportunity to totally reposition a household brand with a fresh direction and positive momentum, but also was excited because the brief was relatively open and inviting collaboration. In fact, there were no visual references attached to the brief, so it was really refreshing to be offered a blank canvas and an opportunity to run with my instinct.
What was your approach to casting for this spot? What kind of direction did you give this cast to achieve the desired performances?
I asked Coralie Rose at Road Casting to try and street cast where possible so that we could find representative women that could be you, me or whoever we sat next to on the bus that morning. Naturally there were certain roles, such as a 8.5 month pregnant mother, that needed to be found through the traditional routes of agents etc., but wherever possible I tried to keep the brief as open as possible to try to find a diverse range of interesting, aspirational yet realistic, positive role models for today’s everyday woman. We cast people from Instagram, Youtube, on public transport, in shops, etc.
Direction wise, I just prepped my cast as much as a could before getting on set so that they felt as comfortable and relaxed as possible. It depended on the character, the scene and if our schedule allowed it, but wherever I could, I would try to shoot the action like a music video, allowing my actors to do their thing and stepping in when it needed fine tuning. By covering action that was blocked but then also a little looser I felt I had the best chances to cover myself with solid footage coverage for our edit.
What were your aesthetic reference points for the shoot? Did the shoot allow you to explore any techniques that were particularly exciting as a filmmaker?
I initially really wanted to shoot on 16mm. I thought if we are trying turn our back on the iconic red swimsuit that’s been so densely smouldered into our brains, let’s go entirely the other way and offer a brazen approach that feels as real and current that we can get away with, but from a logistic point of view, it wasn’t possible with our tight post production schedule and a middle ground had to be found.
I also tried to explore as many imaginative angles as I could get away with (not all of them made the final edit, if I must be honest). Due to our ambitious schedule, mainly affected by the amount of company moves needed to cover all the scenes, there were no doubt some creative compromises that needed to be made, but all in all knowing what our constraints were, I’m pleased with the end result. It was a really fun project to shoot!
What were some of the most challenging aspects of this project for you? The most rewarding?
Working with non actors on a tight schedule can always be a bit risky. There were some challenging moments in trying to nail a take when I wondered if perhaps going with more professional actors may have made things more production and schedule friendly, but when I got to the edit stage and realized I was fine, I was glad I had made the choice to work with non-actors, because we had unseen faces offering us the kind of unexpected freshness I was initially looking for.
Also the bitter cold didn’t help! I can’t describe the immense guilt it felt to be freezing in 17 layers of technical gear when my poor actors where only wearing a t-shirt or bathing suit. Shooting in London during a cold November was definitely challenging!
The most rewarding aspect was having Leo Burnett love our 30 secs edits so much that their immediate feedback was to ask us to make a 60 sec to try to convince client to run with (which Kellogg’s then invested in).
Leo Burnett London, the agency for this campaign, is a Free The Bid pledged agency – have you worked with them before? What were some highlights of working with them on this project?
That doesn’t surprise me, as from what I heard, I was up against two other women for this project so congratulations Free The Bid!
No, I hadn’t worked with Leo Burnett prior to this project, so I was really pleasantly surprised at how effortless, classy and outright enjoyable the whole experience was. It was honestly the best commercial experience I’ve ever had. The creatives – Andrew Long and James Miller were super collaborative and eager for input, the agency producer Emma Bewley was super communicative, organized and classy, and Chaka Sobhani, the Executive Creative Director, was just such an inspiration and pleasure to work alongside of. Then there was my side of the production team – working with Sasha Nixon for the first time since she founded Forever Pictures was a blast-from-the-past experience as she was responsible for first signing me to Partizan in 2006, and Natalie Wetherell, whom I also hadn’t worked in years, was really an amazing production partner in crime, so I have to say, it was basically a dream project.
What elements of the final product do you feel are most reflective of your directorial voice?
The aspirational confidence of the characters and their positive “can do” spirit. Another interesting thing I’ve noticed is that coming from a female-artist focused music video background, I often get pigeonholed into only being offered beauty or fashion or stylized scripts, so it was super rewarding to be able to put my experience of shooting amazing, talented, confident, aspirational women normally in fashion or music and applying this into a more everyday, lifestyle format and working with street cast, non actors.
How did you get started as a director? What were your earliest influences?
I started quite simply in Sydney, very naively making amateur music videos for my friends that were in bands. Then shortly after, I moved to London and my flatmate who by chance happened to be a musician asked me to pitch on his video. I won the commission of my first professional budget and took the project to Partizan, who produced it and then signed me. A year later, I was being flown to LA for the first time in my life to shoot a video for a then unknown Katy Perry.
My earliest influences were just watching hours of music videos. I was such a fan of music channels and lots of films. That was my film education really.
You’ve had a long and illustrious career as a commercial and music video director, having shot videos for Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, and Dua Lipa among many others. What are some favourite projects you’ve ever gotten the opportunity to work on? Any particularly memorable moments on set?
Shooting Lana Del Rey was pretty adventurous. I was technically on maternity leave, but I got a call that Lana wanted me to do her next video and having been a fan for a long time, I quickly applied for an emergency passport for my 3 month old baby and we flew the very next day it was processed. I was in a Mummy bubble at the time and the job happened so quickly, it was too short notice to wean her, so I bought her on set and breastfed her in a sling while I directed Lana. That was a very empowering multitasking moment!
I also loved working with Elle Fanning. She was a cool gal, so focused and so professional! That project also stands out as it had a crazy last minute turnaround, so rather than cancel an already booked family vacation to Miami, I edited the project through Skype, pool side. That was also a very satisfying moment, when you realize with a bit of creativity, flexibility and modern technology you can do it all, basically.
Are there any differences in your approach between commercial and music video jobs?
It’s really hard to say, as each job is unique. Sometimes you have music videos that feel more like commercials and vice versa, but my approach either way is always to always raise the bar as high as possible and try to achieve the best end result I possibly can, with the best vibes possible. Because working in production can be such hard work, it needs to be fun also.
What would you say are the traits that make your work distinctively yours? Any themes you find yourself revisiting over and over again?
Coming of age themes are always so fun for me to explore, but I also like to be challenged. Not only since having a daughter, but even more so now, I am often questioning my responsibility of female role models in popular culture and how this affects the future generation. I’ve always been interested in making my female artists come across strong and powerful to other women, even before I had heard the term “female gaze”.
If you had the opportunity to change one thing about the advertising industry, what would it be?
Let’s say I concur with everything Free The Bid stands for, so if we could get the industry to be a place where we no longer need to have this conversation and we have see equal gender and racial diversity across all aspects of filmmaking and storytelling, then that would be just so wonderful.
What’s a brand that you’d love to have the chance to work with? What musician that you haven’t worked with would you love to shoot a music video for?
I love the fashion films Gucci, Miu Miu and Chanel are currently commissioning. Some of H&M‘s ads are also super fun, but to me the brands themselves are less important, it’s down to the script and client/agency’s confidence in me.
I would still love to work with Beyonce and have wanted to for many years. I also think her sister Solange and Dev Hynes from Blood Orange are both really interesting artists with great taste, so just putting that out there!
What’s next for you? Any big plans for 2018?
No idea, but lots of opportunities to shoot great projects, I hope, and I’m getting more and more interested in narrative based projects.
Free The Bid is committed to advocating for diverse perspectives and points of view. What do you think are some of the benefits to inclusive, intersectional representation on both sides of the camera lens, including talent & members of the crew?
I love Free The Bid and am so thankful it exists! We still have a long way to go before audiences have an truly diverse representation of real life through stories, film, music videos and commercials. This can only happen if the makers on both sides of camera of these stories belong to underrepresented groups. While there is still so much more room for improvement for diversity within our industry, thanks to Free The Bid – a conversation has begun and as a result, we are slowly but surely starting to feel a difference.
What advice would you share with a young woman director just getting started currently?
To just do it! I have girls (and guys) writing to me often asking for advice and I always say- shoot on your iPhone! Edit on your computer! Create your own destiny and find your own opportunity. There are no rules, just good stories and watch films. Lots of them.
Photo: Ren Rox
Chief Creative Officer: Chaka Sobhani
Creative Director: Oliver Farrington and Neil Richardson
Creatives: Andrew Long and James Miller
Global Client Services Director: Chloe Belskaia
Board Account Director: Lindsey George
Senior Account Manager: Emma Greenaway
Account Executive: Amy Martin
Planning Director: Anna Coscia
Agency Producer: Emma Bewley
Agency Production Assistant: Alex Taylor
Agency Project Manager: Gaynor Goldring
Agency Art Buyer: Jo Hodge
Director/Production Co: Live Action: Kinga Burza/ Forever; Food: Yann
Executive Producer: Live Action: Sasha Nixon; Food: Alex Katz
Producer: Live Action: Natalie Wetherell
Editor: Sacha Szwarc at Speade
Post Production: MPC (TK – James Tillett & George Kyriacou. Flame – Marcus
Sound design: Wave (Engineer – Martin Leitner)
Head of Design: Phil Bosher
Typography and Design: James Wakefield, Javier Leal Olivas
DoP: Live Action: Mauro Chiarello; Food: Tony Brown
Header photo credit: David Piechaczek