How to... get your big break as a film student
NFTS student Bethan Mooney got a foot in the adland door thanks to a career-changing campaign for CareerBuilder. Here, she shares her experience and advice for other fledgling directors.
I thought I had realistic expectations when I made the move to London. I expected that no sooner I stepped off the plane, someone would spot my oozing creativity, sweep me up and employ me as director of commercials, music videos, films and what-not.
In reality I arrived, fumbled around at some networking events, and quickly realised I had very little experience to call myself a director.
I enrolled in the Directing Commercials Diploma at National Film and Television School to give me a helping hand in meeting the demands of this ever-changing creative industry, but gaining access to the ad industry with limited experience remained my biggest hurdle.
When creative agency Leagas Delaney reached out to NFTS for a student to direct a video campaign for their client CareerBuilder, it seemed like a great opportunity to get the experience I craved. When it became clear that the commercial would be about giving back to hardworking nurses, I jumped at the chance to direct.
The brief from Alex Fourlis, managing director of CareerBuilder, was to surprise three hard working nurses with their dream day out. With their hectic schedules, it’s often difficult for nurses to make time for their own needs, and CareerBuilder wanted to give them a well-deserved ‘treat yo self’ moment. Before long I found myself writing a treatment, meeting with producers and account managers at Leagas Delaney, and recruiting crew.
Within a month I was filming the various 'surprises'; a massage for Juliet, a salsa dance class with Carmen, and a reunion between Sonia and her mum. The whole experience was about telling each person's story by filming every moment that unfolded and every emotion that was elicited.
It was a bit of a whirlwind but a fabulous experience. Below are the main things I learned from the experience.
Collaboration: The importance of getting a great team together
Working on the ground, it was great to experience how the team pulled together to ensure that any changes to concept or hiccups were communicated to the client and acted upon immediately – a double task of handling the problem and making sure the client was on board with how we did this. Having never worked with an account manager before, it was clear how essential this role is in advertising to manage that difficult balance.
The NFTS network allowed me to call upon fellow students eager to gain experience in all aspects of filming. Their assistance and enthusiasm was invaluable. They created a great atmosphere which was reflected in the comfort of the clients being filmed on set. Having such a supportive and collaborative team cemented the feeling that we could do excellent work, boy I have some talented mates!
Pay attention to the details
I was surprised by the level of detail in the pre-production meeting. It was lengthy and granular. It showed how much everyone cared about producing something really special. For instance, we revealed the surprise to the nurses in a letter, and we spent time discussing every part of this reveal - from how it would happen to the look of the letter itself.
So my key tip here is to have all the details thought through. The care and attention to detail by everyone involved was a great insight into this world and reflects the high standards that the team were committed to and that are paramount in the ad industry.
Make the shoot comfortable for everyone
Our ad was shot with real people reacting in real time to a surprise, and this was a very different experience to working with actors. Making sure that they felt comfortable in front of a camera (often a nerve-wracking experience) while maintaining the element of surprise around their treat days turned out to be a double-edged sword.
The main objective was to keep the atmosphere positive and calm for the nurses. This paid off as we captured their authentic reactions to the various surprises on camera, however, the logistics of this were challenging. We nearly gave one of the nurses the wrong letter at one stage!
Appreciate the 'wow' moments
The cinematographers, Twan and Alana, were constantly shooting and it wasn’t until I got to the edit that I noticed the little details like a hand touch, a bee buzzing or tree swaying that they’d managed to capture. Also, when Sonia’s mum crept up behind her and surprised her unsuspecting daughter, the reaction was priceless. The emotion was raw and real and even our sound recordist, Chi, was tearing up! All of us wanted to immediately get on the phone and call our family.
Moments like these are easily swept away in the stress of the shoot and post production. It’s good to take some time to be thankful for these 'wow' moments because at the end of the day, that’s why we sign up for this rollercoaster of a career - to tell stories that emotionally resonate.