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Can you tell us a bit about how you got into directing? 

I fell in love with movies as a teenager and knew from a young age that I wanted to be a director. Through junior high and then high school I took cinema studies courses and worked for the film festival in town, trying to learn everything I could. I applied to film school and when I got there, I felt like I needed to find a way to tell stories from the beginning of the process, just to have more control over the types of stories I wanted to tell. This is how I found my way to screenwriting, and ultimately photography, and then back around to directing. 

Everything that I saw in that world felt sort of aggressive and lacking some of the sensitivity that I thought could be very beautiful in an approach to a sports film.

I love the romance of writing, but the actual day to day, I found kind’ve frustrating. It's such a slow process, shaping something into anything that feels finished, it always feels like a blueprint for the next part of the process, which is the finished film in a visual form. 

But I’ve always been story minded, so I started to use photography more and more to be able to establish a tone immediately and fell in love with that medium. Still, my first love has always been the moving-motion form and I found myself being constantly drawn back to the idea of directing and the different challenges that it presents. 

Tracksmith – Amateur

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Above: Maye's work for Tracksmith.


And how did you gravitate towards directing sport-based commercials?
 
Growing up in and around ballet studios, the theatre of sport has always been interesting to me. I was actually working on a sports-based script that I wanted to bring a non-sports tone to and at that time there was not a very cinematic approach to the way that sports were covered at all. 

Sports can elicit almost any emotion, it’s such a rich backdrop.

Certainly, as a female director, everything that I saw in that world felt sort of aggressive and lacking some of the sensitivity that I thought could be very beautiful in an approach to a sports film. The way sports are treated now in commercials or films is totally different but at the time that was an unusual approach. 

That is really what lead me into photography and I tried to use photography to establish the tone that I wanted. I’m fascinated by what [sport] can offer, and what it tells us about people and cultures and human limits, I suppose. Since then, I’ve been working exclusively in sport.

Above: Emily Maye.


What is it about that type of commercial/brand that appeals to you?
 
Sports are and incredible avenue for storytelling. From an athletic standpoint, competition automatically means that two people want the same thing and only one can get it. I’ve always tried to show the more universal themes that sports and athletes represent, regardless of which sport is being played. Sports can elicit almost any emotion, it’s such a rich backdrop. 

Every superstar we think of, every legend of their sport, has a completely different thing that makes them unique.

I am also fascinated by the single-minded dedication that is required to be an athlete. I’ve always been attracted to obsession, and athletes have to frame every aspect of their day-to-day life around this one goal. It affects everything they do as a “normal person” and I think there is something very appealing in that. And it puts so much on the line for their success. It’s high stakes. What better tension for a story?
 
I’ve worked with many of the major sports brands and some really wonderful smaller brands as well. A lot of our conversations have been around their passion for sport and how to bring authenticity to the imagery and/or the process and I love floating between commercial scripts and more documentary commercial work.

The approach [to women's sport] feels halfway to equality, centred around this idea; “see, we're also tough” in a way that misses the point of what I love about men’s sports as well.

Your work is often as much about the athlete as the sport; are you more interested in the individual's story than the sporting pursuit itself?

I think the human element to athletes is what makes their super-human feats more interesting. They are vulnerable and strong. I don’t think there would be much interest in watching machines execute every event at the Olympics. It would be predictable and routine. That sense of possibility and live theatre that sports bring keeps us in the present as spectators. You can’t replicate the outcome. 

When you pair that with the story of the individual pursuing their goal - their background, their particular personality, their culture - you get a much more nuanced story than just the result. Every superstar we think of, every legend of their sport, has a completely different thing that makes them unique. That’s the beauty of what people provide. All the themes are universal, but every athlete is unique.  

Nike – Miles

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Above: Nike Miles.


There has been a surge in female-led films and a spotlight on women's sports; is that something you'd like to get involved with?
 
The rise in support for women’s sports is amazing and I absolutely want to be involved. But I do find it strange when clients only think of hiring female directors to shoot female-related projects. I absolutely want to tell interesting stories in any gender and to work with people that are the very best at what they do, and I do think, as a woman, I bring a different perspective. 

I love those moments where you feel like you’re stealing something genuine to the person without their awareness of the camera and that takes a special approach when there is a film crew sometimes.

I am a creatively curious person and if I can help move women’s sports onto a more equal representation, I’m 100% excited to tell that story. I feel that there’s a lot more work to be done in women’s sports. The approach feels halfway to equality, centred around this idea; “see, we're also tough” in a way that misses the point of what I love about men’s sports as well. I say, make the commercial you would make for the men without calling out the gender. I don’t see sports to be entirely about an aggressive burst.

I was in London for the Women’s World Cup game of England versus the US and everyone was into it - men and women - in a way that was so refreshing to see. We need men and women working on both men’s and women’s sports commercials and not divided along gender lines. Serena Williams is one of the few female athletes that get scripts that move beyond her gender somewhat, but I think we can do more. We can also push it on the men’s side. 

You have to see everyone, every age, every race, every nationality with some sensitivity towards story.

I’ve spent most of my career shooting men, trying to see them through my own lens. It’s interesting being a female director on sports projects because in a largely male dominated field, sports is even more skewed. But I feel like the contribution of a director is how they offer a different point of view and their ability to corral a team towards that goal. You have to see everyone, every age, every race, every nationality with some sensitivity towards story. Every director is trying to seek that point of view and artistic cohesion. I’m interested in people. All of them. And I think all female directors would say the same.

What are the biggest challenges of directing a sports-based commercial?
 
Athletes are not actors or models and they often have particular constraints on their time and the physical demands outside of practice or competition. Being able to make them comfortable quickly, communicate what you need when they are unfamiliar with the filming process and make sure that you can execute quickly and accurately so that everyone gets out on time and has a good time. 

Of course, that can all be at odds with artistic goals and understanding how to navigate those two things took some time. I also love those moments where you feel like you’re stealing something genuine to the person without their awareness of the camera and that takes a special approach when there is a film crew sometimes. 
 
Avoiding cliche’s is another. While I have great hopes for the genre, it is one that can get a bit too heavy handed and cheesy, so navigating tone is really important. Music is also so important.

I’m such a sucker for the emotions of a career coming to a close.

Which sporting star would you most like to work with?
 
An iconic approach to Federer or Nadal would be amazing. Federer is always so composed, I wonder what scripts could be made for him. Kobe Bryant was always my dream person to work with. The skateboarder Dylan Rieder was also someone I would have loved to work with. I would love to do a big anthem piece for the Olympics or World Cup, someday.

NBA – Jayson Tatum Welcome to the NBA

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Above: Maye's work for the NBA starring Jayson Taytum.


What's your favourite ever sport-based commercial?
 
I am big fan of professional cycling and for a long time it was the Lance Armstrong What Am I On? commercial, though in light of everything we now know it takes on a totally different feel. But it was a great commercial. 

I love the Michael Phelps Under Armour What You Do In the Dark commercial from the last Olympics. I’m such a sucker for the emotions of a career coming to a close. The song choice was absolutely spot on in that as well. I loved the Someday ad from Nike when the Cubs finally won the World Series. It was so simple and beautiful in that moment.
 
In terms of features, I really liked the Borg v. McEnroe film, it was shot beautifully and captured Tennis in such an intense way. For documentary, The Two Escobars is such a considered intellectual approach to the larger forces at play culturally and Senna always blows me away. The first episode of the 30 for 30 on OJ Simpson is actually a really incredible sports documentary. 

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Under Armour – Under Armour: Michael Phelps

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Nike – Nike: Someday

What are you working on now?
 
I’ve just directed a short documentary on Daryl Homer who is a fencer that won Silver in the last Olympics that will be on TV in the fall on MSG Network. I’ve also signed with You Are Here in the UK for directing and I’m excited to start that partnership. With the Olympics coming up, I am already seeing some exciting approaches to commercial work. I have an indie feature sports film idea that is based on a book that I feel like could bring me back to writing but we’ll see.

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