SHOOT’s fall ensemble of up-and-coming directors includes a feature filmmaker who recently wrapped her first commercial, an empowering piece for Nike.
Also in the mix is an artisan who’s meshing art and science to great effect, reflected in her work garnering a recent Grand Prix in VR at the Venice Film Festival.
Another emerging talent first established himself as a visual effects supervisor before showcasing his directing wherewithal with a whimsical music and dance short that’s scored on the fest circuit.
And rounding out our lineup is a still photographer who diversified into directing music videos and recently turned out her first spot, which poignantly tells the plight of a woman coping with mental illness.
Here’s our fall collection of several promising directors to watch:
Revenge has been sweet for director Coralie Fargeat. A gory thriller, Revenge marked her feature directorial debut, praised for flipping the traditional “rape revenge” genre and in turn, empowering the main female character. Debuting at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and then gaining more high-profile exposure in the Midnight section of the 2018 Sundance Film Fest, Revenge was also written by Fargeat, a filmmaker who’s no stranger to the fest circuit. Her debut short film The Telegram won 13 awards at multiple film festivals, and her sci-fi short Reality+ earned multiple honors on the festival circuit including garnering a nomination for the Jury Award for Best Narrative Short at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
Upon its fest exposure, Revenge sparked inquiries including one from production house RESET, which signed Fargeat for spot and branded content representation earlier this year. Fargeat said she gravitated toward RESET, founded back in 2012 by David Fincher and managing partner Dave Morrison, based in large part on her longstanding admiration for the filmmakers there who have made it their spotmaking home, including Fincher, Yann Demange and Jonathan Glazer (via RESET’s relationship with London’s Academy Films). “Having those guys on their roster—who come from very powerful fiction universes—said something about the kind of talent and creativity this company was attracting and working with. It was a big draw for me,” affirmed Fargeat.
RESET recently landed Fargeat her first commercial directing gig, Nike’s “Rallying Cry” for Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Ore. The spot celebrates female determination and persistence. Shot in Thailand, “Rallying Cry” highlights women breaking barriers in sports and captures the power behind them. It is a call to action, encouraging women to make the world listen. The tagline of the spot is “The louder we play, the more we change the game.”
“Rallying Cry” features such notable athletes as tennis champion Serena Williams, boxer Tayla Harris, and soccer star Samantha Kerr. Fargeat was deemed an ideal fit for this Nike spot given her unique eye and ability to tell a compelling female story, as reflected in Revenge.
“It’s a commercial which had a soul to it—and that’s everything,” assessed Fargeat. “The soul of the story sparks the creativity and energy I crave—whether it be in a feature, on TV or a commercial. But particularly appealing about a commercial is the challenge of having limited time to make viewers care about what they’re watching yet somehow getting them emotionally involved. That’s even more challenging when you have audiences at times overwhelmed by messages everywhere that are targeting them.”
Fargeat recalled wanting to be a director since she was 15. “The way for me to follow that goal, as a big cinema fan, was to first work on other people’s sets as a trainee. I starting working in France, including on an American feature shooting in Paris. It was a great experience, being able to learn from others and discover in each movie a society in and of itself—a bunch of people who love each other, fight, have to work together. Understanding this is also a great way to sharpen what you do. And then I applied it to short films I directed, including the very first (The Telegram).”
At press time, Fargeat was writing her next feature film. She’s immersed in the endeavor while at the same time acknowledging that “writing can be a very lonely, isolated time. You need to have that isolated time but it’s also important to get into something real, lively and active—and I hope to do that in the commercial world where I can continue to apply my craft, meet great crews and feed off of that energy of creating. That makes for the perfect balance when you write, being able to also experience real moments in shooting.”
It’s been an eventful year for director Eliza McNitt who last month saw her Spheres series win the Grand Prix in VR at the Venice Film Festival. At the time, she observed, “It’s remarkable to experience the oldest film festival in the world embrace the newest forms of storytelling.”
Back in January, Spheres—a three-part episodic journey through space and time produced by Darren Aronofsky (an Oscar-nominated director for Black Swan) and Ari Handel through Aronofsky’s company Protozoa—made history at the Sundance Film Festival when it became the first-ever VR experience to be sold in a seven-figure festival deal.
Shortly after the Sundance coup, McNitt signed with Chromista—the commercial production house founded by Aronofsky and partners/producers Scott Franklin, Sandy Haddad and Ted Robbins—for spots and branded content.
McNitt’s work spans VR and traditional filmmaking, often working alongside scientists to tell stories about the human connection to the cosmos. She is a two-time winner of the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, with work that has appeared at major film festivals, including Tribeca, SXSW, Sundance, Hot Docs, Cannes Next and AFI. Her other credits include a series for Ford called Trailblazers of STEAM, and with Google, for Pixel, to create the short-film, Dot of Light, following three astronauts’ journey to the stars.
At the age of 17, McNitt won her first Intel Science Fair for her research delving into the vanishing worldwide population of honeybees. In the aftermath, she realized that understanding of the problem—and other science-related matters—was lacking and that filmmaking could help remedy that. “I was inspired to create my first documentary and saw that science could poetically translate into stories and filmmaking,” recalled McNitt. So she went to NYU to study film more extensively. Her education and experience yielded a short film, Without Fire, which introduced us to a young Navajo girl who created a solar heater out of soda cans to help her mother who had asthma and was facing a bitter winter storm. McNitt went on to make varied science films ranging from narrative dramas to comedies.
“I got to make films about astronauts, physicists and hackers,” related McNitt. “I had uncovered the world of science as an inspiration for film.”
A call from a performing arts organization carried a project request that McNitt make people feel as if they were floating through the stars. This prompted an exploration of the cosmos in tandem with a prominent physicist—which proved to be a steppingstone leading to the eventual creation of Spheres.
Via Chromista, McNitt sees the opportunity to continue meshing science and filmmaking. And she comes to the company with considerable experience in short-form fare, including a Google narrative comedy short about a one-armed woman creating a bionic hand with a 3D printer; an opening piece for the TED conference centered on an astronaut; and a branded piece for haircare products company John Frieda, out of agency Vox, profiling a female eSports host for a videogame competition.
McNitt regards Aronofsky as an architect of “artistic language translating science into film. I’d very much like to follow him on that path. At Chromista I’m looking forward to the chance to tell stories about science and technology, bringing them to life by fusing art and science.”
An accomplished VFX supervisor, Chris Wright was part of the VES Award-winning team honored in 2012 for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series on the strength of Fringe (Fox). His effects credits span such primetime shows as Person of Interest (CBS), The Affair (Showtime), Californication (Showtime), Madoff (ABC), The Punisher (ABC), Luke Cage (ABC) and Mad Men (AMC).
While a career in visual effects wasn’t his original intent, circumstance brought him into that arena. Wright moved to L.A. after completing film school in Oklahoma. He came West to pursue a directorial career and fell into becoming a PA at a VFX studio. “I knew nothing about visual effects but I learned and was at a company that promoted from within. I got the chance to work with creatives, executives, writers and directors, to be part of the storytelling process.”
He progressed within that process but still harbored directing aspirations—which he felt more equipped to act on given his experience collaborating with and observing different directors while on the VFX side. Wright spent five years on Person of Interest and during an offseason asked then showrunner Greg Plageman how he could put himself in a position to direct an episode of the series. “His answer was simple—’you have to direct something,’” recalled Wright.
So Wright did just that, planning at first to take on a “shake-the-rust-off project” while he was developing other more ambitious vehicles to showcase his directing talent.
However the rust-removing short titled The Way It Begins, which at first was supposed to be a lot smaller than it became, wound up being Wright’s directorial calling card, selected for the 22nd annual Dances With Films Festival, the 15th annual HollyShorts Festival, and the 10th annual Lady Filmmakers Festival where it won the award for Best Dance Film. The Way It Begins also earned inclusion into SHOOT’s The Best Work You May Never See gallery back in August.
A romantic La La Land-esque 10-minute dance film, The Way It Begins echoes the golden age of musicals while packing an emotional punch as two strangers—portrayed by Robert Roldan (So You Think You Can Dance, La La Land) and Jessica Lee Keller (Adjustment Bureau, Now You See Me 2)—crossing paths on a train seize the moment to challenge a potentially missed connection as they flirt and dance through spring in New York City. Their dancing reflects stages of love-at-first-sight and what amazing things can happen if you just take a chance. This movie is not only a story about two people falling in love, but also a love letter to New York. The Way It Begins is conveyed through music and dance with only one line of dialogue in the entire film.
An IndieGoGo campaign provided partial funding for The Way It Begins, with the rest self-financed by Wright whose idea for the whimsical short was inspired by a scene from the beloved movie White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. “There was a scene where Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen go off and dance for two to three minutes,” explained Wright. “By the end of the sequence, they’re in a relationship and on their way to marriage. The Way It Begins varies from that in style but at the end it feels like our couple had made that connection.”
Now Wright is developing his next planned directorial project, which explores the effect of divorce on children. “I’m interested in telling stories no matter what the format—film, TV, commercials. A director is a storyteller looking to entertain or move people in some way.”
Caitlin Cronenberg has been a photographer since 2005, her first paying job coming when she was a fashion design student. A friend who was a singer asked her to shoot some photos that ended up on his website. Cronenberg started shooting events and over time evolved and progressed as an artist. Her work has been featured in such publications as Vogue, Vanity Fair, French Elle, Marie Claire, W magazine, Chatelaine, Hello! Canada, The New York Times and assorted Canadian newspapers. She has also shot campaigns for high-end fashion labels including Mackage, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Samuelsohn, and Hickey Freeman.
In 2010 Cronenberg published her first book of images, “POSER.” And she just finished her second book, “Endings,” which examines heartbreak and took her seven years to bring to fruition.
Additionally Cronenberg has photographed stars such as Julianne Moore, George Clooney, Naomi Watts, Steve Buscemi and Jake Gyllenhaal. Cronenberg also took on a 10-day Cannes photo diary for The New York Times in 2012, following her father (David) and brother (Brandon), directors who both had films at the festival. In 2016 she shot the cover art for Drake’s four-time platinum “Views” album. Last year Caitlin Cronenberg won the Canadian Arts and Fashion Award for Image Maker of the Year.
“My family history is directing,” said Cronenberg. “But I wasn’t necessarily feeling like that was a path for me when it comes to feature-length films. People ask when will I start directing features. I’m not sure I will.”
But she has diversified into directing in the shorter form arena, with notable music videos—and most recently her very first commercial.
Cronenberg broke into directing through a still shoot she was doing for the TV series Schitt’s Creek. A cast member, Annie Murphy, was separately making a web comedy series, the premise of which entailed a band coming up with a hit song only to have its lead singer die. The problem is that he was the only member of the group with talent. So the rest of the band has to figure out how to sustain their success sans any real musical or singing chops. Murphy wanted to create a music video for their hit song, “Yng Luv,” which Cronenberg directed.
“My experience on that video made me realize that I liked directing,” shared Cronenberg. “It felt natural, something I could handle.”
This led to more music videos and a body of work which caught the eye of Lexy Kavluk, executive producer of Untitled Films, Toronto. Kavluk reached out to Cronenberg who joined Untitled’s roster for representation in commercials and branded content. And already Cronenberg has wrapped her first spot, “Oxygen,” for The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), out of Toronto agency Zulu Alpha Kilo.
The PSA is part of the “Mental Health is Health” campaign which highlights not only the devastating impact of mental illness, but the disparity in the way that people with mental illness are treated compared to those with a physical illness.
The :30—which was selected for SHOOT’s The Best Work You May Never See gallery in May—shows a woman who’s seemingly in a hospital bed speaking about her illness. Gradually, though, it’s revealed that she’s not in the hospital receiving treatment but rather at home alone dealing with her mental illness.
Cronenberg added to the impact of the PSA by showing abrupt anxiety attack cutaways, underscoring the seriousness of what the young “patient” was dealing with. Cronenberg said that “Oxygen” was the first piece she’s taken on that had “an actual script with words. It was a great experience to work so closely with an actor who needs to perform and be so vulnerable. I had worked with many actors in my still photography and my job on those projects as well as this commercial was to create a comfortable working relationship with the talent so they could feel free to expose themselves, to be vulnerable, to give moving performances. I had tears in my eyes watching this actress portraying someone trying to cope with mental issues.”
The director added that she feels an affinity for commercials, particularly when “they make you feel something. I cried over those (P&G) commercials honoring the moms of athletes. Commercials can present short narratives that are deeply impactful.”