Where are you based and how did you first get into this line of work?
I am based in Vienna, Austria. I was always fascinated by the way images and sounds can tell stories and convey emotions. Equally interested in visuals and music, I studied Media Arts and thereby found out that I wanted to direct films.
I took some time to experiment to find my own narrative style and themes, made a couple of short films that went around the world and won lots of awards in festivals. So my background is in emotional, cinematic storytelling—and now I apply this approach also to my commercial work.
How did you get the MED-EL The Greatest Gift project?
For this particular project, the pitch was a director’s dream.
Med-El already had a long and successful history working with the production company, Wildruf Film, so they trusted them about choosing a director, and were also open to story ideas. I was commissioned by Wildruf for both the creative and directing and wrote two scripts.
Already, while conceptualizing, I felt that “The Greatest Gift” would make a powerful film. I still highly appreciate that Med-El had the will and courage to go for such an emotional and cinematic endeavor.
What gear/cameras did you use and why?
For “The Greatest Gift”, we used the Alexa Mini and Celere HS lenses. I usually like shooting on the Alexa for its organic and cinematic look, but there are no real essentials—because in the end, my choice of equipment is always down to the requirements of the story. It is a decision that I make in closest consultation with my cinematographer, based on our mood boards and look references.
Did you plan out the story structure from the beginning or did it come out in post?
We had a detailed screenplay with a clear narrative structure and shot all the scenes according to the script.
During editing, I realized that the first half of the film needed tightening in order not to lose rhythm and suspense. So we got rid of one or two plot points that actually didn’t add much to the story anyway and adapted the voiceover. In the course of this, we generally freed ourselves a bit from the guidline of the script, tried out a couple of things and put some shots to places that they originally weren’t envisaged for.
I think this way of editing strongly improved the narrative flow and the emotional quality of the film.
What do you do differently from other filmmakers?
First of all, I am both a writer and director.
For most of the films in my directing portfolio, I was also in charge of the script. In both functions, I completely dedicate myself to the storytelling. I spend a lot of thought and effort on finding the right dramaturgical approach for every new project, and by now I have become very experienced in how to use narrative perspective and structure to build suspense and emotional twists.
The huge technical progress of the last decade made it relatively easy to create nice imagery, so I strongly believe that storytelling is the only way you can stand out and truly touch people. Of course, the visuals should never be neglected. They should be striking and powerful, but always serving the story.
If you had to go back and do it all again, how would you get a foothold in the business?
My career is all about progression from one stage to the next. I started with short films, got to know tons of people through film festivals around the world, then by chance started working as a copywriter in an ad agency, which opened up the world of writing and directing commercials to me. I wouldn’t be where I am now without each of these stages, so I wouldn’t want to change anything about it.
But as an advice: Make as many films as possible, and don’t be afraid of failure. Allow experiments and find your own style and handwriting, but don’t just stick to yourself. Connect to the filmmaking scene in your city. Go to premieres, production house parties, meet as many people as possible. Help other directors making their films, because by participating, new opportunities arise. You will see—out of nowhere, a request for a project pops up, because someone heard good things about you from someone you worked with years ago.
What’s the one secret tip go-trick that you use often that takes your work to the next level?
To me, working on the soundtrack is often key to making a great film excellent. It is incredible how music, sound design and mix support the storytelling and how they add power and emotion to a film. I always give a lot of attention to the collaboration with my composer to find the right tuning and musical structure, and I tend to spend hours in the mixing room. Some might call that meticulous, but I really think it is worth it.
What is currently the hardest part of doing what you do?
My focus on storytelling requires longer formats than your average twenty-second commercial.
Online airing allows these durations, which is a great development, but many clients still believe that online content has to be cheap. Which, obviously, is a huge misunderstanding. If you want a film that amazes and touches people (and thus connects these feelings with your brand), it has to be greatly crafted and produced.
Media channels are increasingly flooded with video content and clients will have to invest in brave and emotional stories to stand out. People are fed up with vignette TV spots that present disposable happy-faces in cliché life situations. They want to be entertained, thrilled, touched and surprised. I am convinced that this is the future of advertising, and I hope that clients will change their attitude and appreciation towards it.
What is currently the best part of doing what you do?
Whenever a film is finished, I am fascinated by how the collaboration of many individual talents adds up to something great. Everybody gives their best and in the end, we created something from scratch that (hopefully) touches and inspires people in the whole world.
For example, “Nonoy and the Sea Monster” for WWF got more than a million views on Facebook and incited a passionate debate about sustainable fishing in the comments section. It feels absolutely great and I’m honored to see what your film can set in motion.
What are some of your favorite stories, web videos that you’ve gotten inspired by?
Probably my favorite recent commercial is last year’s Volvo “Moments” film—emotional storytelling at its best, incredibly directed and with a strong connection to brand and product. Moreover, I’m still fascinated by Hanna Maria Heidrich’s “We miss you”, and I enjoyed the narrative structures in Movistar’s “Love Story” and in “Evan” for Sandy Hook Promise.
As for TV series, I’m a great fan of Mad Men, Breaking Bad and some episodes of Black Mirror. During writing, but also in the edit, I also get a lot of inspiration from music—for example by Olafur Arnalds and Max Richter.