Caroline Koning is featured in Little Black Book’s The Directors, where she chats about moving to the French countryside just before lockdown, filming her recent Nike project in Japan, and what sets one script apart from another.
LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
Caroline> I get excited about a project when I feel there’s a real message to the idea. That may sound obvious, or cliche, but it is so important. Of course, a visual can be a message too. But I don’t appreciate it when you see a deck that’s a combination of the work around you, and it feels like stolen and uncreative ideas. I like it when the personality of the makers, the thinkers, shines through. That when you call with an agency, or the client, the process can be a collaboration and everyone’s free to ask the questions they want. I don’t like to just execute boards, I love to explore the themes within and try to take it to a next level.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Caroline> I often go into it quite deeply. I like to write myself, even though that sometimes now results in writing at night because so much is happening at once. But I love to write, and it helps me get to know much better what I’m doing. It also ensures I can talk from the top of my head in presentations; I don’t like reading out loud what’s on the screen. I prefer the feeling that I already know everything within, and not needing to look up stuff in the pre-production. I also usually change quite a bit from the original deck, if it allows for it. I love the concepting phase, it’s one of my favorite things to do.
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?
Caroline> Extremely important! I don’t like to grab things out of thin air. For a brand I think it’s more difficult to write for them if I don’t know them. A market is easier to find out; especially since there’s global trends, and you can quickly find common languages. But I’ve had requests for brands that I could not figure out well. And you’re making their values come alive. I would hate to miss the point. I also work a lot directly with brands – for example like the Wrangler work. It helps to have a common understanding of things.
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Caroline> There’s not just one important relation, there are so many. But, I think you have to be on the same level with the producer. I don’t like it when the producer just executes the job. I want him/her to understand me – and the job – creatively as well. But the DP, art director and editor are such important elements too. Did someone really choose one profession in this question before? 😉
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?
Caroline> Not necessarily. Right now, I focus my time on commercials mostly. But I love seeing great music videos. I love documentaries. I love features. I love series. If something’s executed well, it’s just good. Sounds simple, but it’s so difficult to align all the stars continuously. Mostly I am attracted to stylised work though; not necessarily fashion-films, but work with very considerate choices and art direction. I love weaving messages through in small details, cinematic work that shows daily life, a more poetic version of reality.
LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
Caroline> That I am merely a fashion-film director. It’s how I started out, but in the past years I’ve been expanding into other fields as well. But I love fashionable work, because it allows you to bring elements together with a magical realism that is more often frowned upon in other genre.
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Caroline> I guess making films is a continuous balance of problem-solving. A dance between what’s possible, and what’s not.
I’ve just wrapped a big Nike job with W+K Japan. The covid state of emergency was called when we were two weeks in our prep, meaning we couldn’t enter Japan. So suddenly this massive film with many layers, cultural contexts, and an extreme language barrier had to happen remotely. None of us thought we could pull it off remotely – but we had to. And the thing is, if I can speak the language or there’s some understanding, remote can be doable. But this was a constant puzzle with big ambitions and too little time. But teams working in film are so adaptable and flexible, and we can get so many things done. We wrapped last night and it’s amazing that we can speak a common language, even in understanding possibly so little of each other.
LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Caroline> This is a difficult one to answer! I don’t think I’ve figured out this balance. Especially in advertising, some elements are highly subjective. Every project involves building on the initital idea in some way, so naturally I am coming to the table with ideas for how we can push it further or shape it or evolve it in some way. It’s an exchange of ideas between myself and the rest of the team. Part of that is always a conversation of which changes could be good and additive, and which might take away from the original core idea. I love it when these conversations are possible because it helps me to understand their thinking and process much better.
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?
Caroline> I support this 100%. I am currently in a mentorship program myself, where I am mentoring a 22-year old girl who just graduated. It’s tough for the new ones out there, or minorities. I think as a person you owe it to someone else to help another. We should all share a little knowledge with each other, pave the way, make space for others. Also, I’ve been the ambassador for Free the Work in Amsterdam now for two years. Conversations I’ve had during those years shaped my thoughts even further, and I think it’s important to use those insights to create a better environment around you. For everyone.
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?
Caroline> The most obvious answer here is working remotely. But, this is also the one that I’d like to stick around. I moved to the French countryside just before the lockdowns, and coincidentally I was in a good place. I also think there’s lots of unnecessary travel happening for jobs. Way before the pandemic I needed to fly into Vienna for a kick-off meeting. I tried multiple times to do this remote, but the agency really felt it would be better in person. I think it’s unacceptable to fly for such meetings, and it also takes up all the time of your day.