SHOOT New Directors Showcase Event Features Insights From Two-Time DGA Award Winner Matthew Heineman
SHOOT editor Robert Goldrich (l) interviews director Matthew Heineman at the In The Director's Chair session on stage at the DGA Theatre in NYC (photo:
Cross-section of industry pros discuss “Living on the Cutting Edge of Content”; up-and-coming filmmaking talent takes center stage
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SHOOT’s New Directors Showcase Event provided varied industry perspectives during two afternoon sessions, and then an evening display of up-and-coming filmmaking talent with the debut screening of the Showcase reel followed by a Meet the New Directors panel discussion, all held at the DGA Theatre in NYC on Thursday, May 30. Capping the evening was the NDS Event After-party, hosted by The-Artery at its facility in Chelsea.

Among the highlights was the annual In The Director’s Chair session, this time featuring Matthew Heineman who’s won two DGA Awards for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary--for Cartel Land in 2016, and City of Ghosts in 2018. Heineman is one of just three directors ever to receive the DGA documentary honor twice. Furthermore, this year he earned a DGA Award nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Narrative Feature Film Director for A Private War, starring Rosamund Pike as the late great war correspondent Marie Colvin. Heineman thus joined Martin Scorsese as the only directors ever to be nominated for both narrative and documentary DGA Awards.

However, recognition for Heineman’s work isn’t limited to the DGA competition. Cartel Land, which explores vigilantes taking on the Mexican drug cartels, was nominated for a Best Feature Documentary Oscar and three Primetime Emmy Awards, including one for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. 

City of Ghosts, which follows a group of citizen-journalists exposing the horrors of ISIS, was also nominated for a BAFTA Award, a Producers Guild Award, an International Documentary Association Award, and a Primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking.

Both City of Ghosts and Cartel Land won the Courage Under Fire Award from the International Documentary Association--in recognition of Heineman’s “conspicuous bravery in the pursuit of truth.” 

On the smaller screen, Matthew’s critically acclaimed Showtime docuseries The Trade chronicles the opioid crisis through the eyes of those most affected--including users, growers, cartel members and law enforcement. The Trade was honored by the International Documentary Association as the Best Episodic Series of 2018.

SHOOT editor Robert Goldrich interviewed Heineman on stage at the DGA Theatre, a venue with which the director is most familiar. Heineman recalled attending an event there back when he was 21 years old, getting the chance to listen to the legendary documentarian Albert Maysles. An observation from Maysles has stayed with Heineman to this day--namely that if you end up with the story you started out with, you weren’t listening along the way. “That advice is good for life....advice that I think is good for filmmaking. Be open to the story changing, Be open to the wonderful accidents of life. That’s something I’ve held true to in my heart every step of my career--in both the macro sense in terms of what projects I choose, and in the micro sense,” explained Heineman, in that what’s going to happen, each shot, character, edit and other elements aren’t preordained. There has to be room for a story to evolve and change.

The worlds of nonfiction and narrative come together for Heineman who noted that his documentaries feel like narrative features in several respects, and that his first narrative was made to feel in some ways like a documentary. On the former score, there’s a cinematic quality to his documentaries, and the focus is on character. In fact, Cartel Land--while addressing big picture topics like border security and the drug wars--is very much a character-driven study of two men leading vigilante groups on different sides of the U.S./Mexico border. And City of Ghosts delves into people of great character, the citizen-journalists who put themselves in harm’s way to show the world the atrocities, violence and injustice that has befallen their country, Syria.

This stellar documentary work yielded overtures from the narrative feature world for Heineman. But Heineman noted that he is not one of those directors who make documentaries “as a gateway drug to Hollywood”--that was never his intent. But when he saw an early draft of A Private War, Heineman felt an immediate kinship to Colvin’s story, citing her desire to bear witness, to humanize situations. He could also empathize with that feeling of these conflicts and the trauma she reported on staying with her when she returned home. “In my career," related Heineman, "I’ve tried to do in a small way what she did over decades, putting a human face to conflicts around the world.”

Heineman’s documentary sensibilities informed his first narrative feature. For A Private War, he created a set that felt as authentic as it possibly could, where improvisation could happen, happy accidents of life could occur. He spent months and months of research to create these environments, make them feel real as if the viewer were taken there, to put the audience on the ground in that specific place, in the shoes of the characters.

Heineman also made it a point to work with non-actors as background cast in various war zones, which included his filming in Jordan to double for stricken areas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. He found refugees from those various countries to play certain roles, creating an emotional place for him to tap into. At the scene with the mass grave in Iraq, those women were re-living real trauma. Those wails and screams came from a real place. They’re doing a chant, a prayer for the dead. It was a beautiful docu-style moment that served as a crescendo to the scene.

Another scene in A Private War showed a man in Homs, Syria, who brings his injured two-year-old son into a field hospital only to have the lad die on the operating table. That man was actually from Homs and had the real-life horrific experience of having his two-year-old nephew shot off his shoulders and then die in front of him. “The trauma he brought to the scene was almost unbearable,” related Heineman who recalled that Rosamund Pike was overwhelmed by what she was seeing and feeling. For a moment, said Heineman, Pike didn’t know how to handle the scene, where to put her emotions in the face of the horror this man was reliving. The lines between documentary and fiction had become so blurred. Pike wondered if this man was being exploited.

Heineman responded that as a documentarian this is something he's dealt with on a daily basis. “My job was to capture these moments” and resist the temptation to intervene or interrupt. He noted that “this man wouldn’t be here if he didn’t want this story to be told.”

Heineman praised Pike’s courageous performance. Asked to provide some backstory as to why he chose her to play the part of Colvin, Heineman shared that he met Pike at a screening of City of Ghosts. The two started chatting, hit it off, had breakfast the next morning. Heineman explained, “I wanted somebody who was going to get their hands dirty,” who would dive into the character of Colvin. Additionally, “as someone who hadn’t made a (narrative) feature film before,” Heineman said he wanted “someone who would treat me as an equal, someone who would get in the trenches for me. I knew from that first meeting that I had my Marie.” He said that Pike has become “an incredible friend” and “an incredible partner” who “gave so much of her life and her soul to that role.”

Heineman also gravitated to editor Nick Fenton for A Private War, citing his narrative and documentary work. Fenton cut writer/director Bart Layton’s American Animals which deftly blended documentary and narrative. Layton is a friend of Heineman who wanted that verite aesthetic for A Private War. Heineman said that Fenton is a great collaborative editor whose experience “playing in both sandboxes,” documentary and narrative, had a profound impact on A Private War.

While he pursued both Pike and Fenton, Heineman's cinematographer on A Private War gravitated to him--something he still can’t quite believe. A nine-time Best Cinematography Academy Award nominee--who won in 1992 for JFK, in 2005 for The Aviator and in 2012 for Hugo--Robert Richardson, ASC had his agent reach out to Heineman to express interest in shooting A Private War. When he heard from the agent, Heineman “legitimately thought it was a friend of mine prank calling me.” But Richardson’s interest was real, they connected via Skype a couple of days later, and the DP came on board the project. Heineman described Richardson as “the ultimate collaborator” and a “genius.” The latter is rooted in the cinematographer being such “a chameleon,” observed Heineman. Richardson is able to change and adapt, never doing the same film twice, always doing what’s best for the particular story, trying to build the vision of the director and teaming to create the visual language needed to bring a story to fruition.

As for what’s next for Heineman, he wants to continue his documentary work while being open to narrative feature opportunities, as well as TV. He also hopes at some point to get the opportunity to work in the commercialmaking/branded content arena for which he is represented by production company Superprime. While his filmmaking schedule thus far has precluded him taking on a spot assignment, the prospect of shorter form storytelling intrigues Heineman. The director is currently working on an undisclosed documentary project for HBO as well as a TV docuseries on human trafficking, and a narrative feature he’s writing the script for and that will soon be announced. 

“I feel extraordinarily lucky to do what I do,” said Heineman, affirming that it is “a privilege to tell people’s stories” whether in narrative or documentary form.

Cutting Edge of Content
The second afternoon panel, “Living on the Cutting Edge of Content,” featured a cross-section of panelists: Deb Archambault, executive producer, McCann New York; David Cullipher, creative technologist at production house The Devil You Know; Jeffrey A. Greenbaum, managing partner of advertising and entertainment law firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein + Selz (FKKS); John McKelvey, co-founder/executive creative director, JohnXHannes; David Rolfe, EVP, director of integrated production, BBDO New York; and Vico Sharabani, founder/creative director/director, The-Artery. 

The session provided a taste of the wide ranging content being created--and the underpinnings of that content--in advertising and entertainment as the lines between those two worlds continue to blur. Cutting edge hybrid forms are emerging, spanning different platforms, genres and disciplines. 

McKelvey discussed Corazon, the 48-minute feature that agency JohnXHannes created for Montefiore hospital in the Bronx, Directed by John Hillcoat of Serial Pictures, shot by Oscar-nominated (Arrival) DP Bradford Young and with a cast headlined by Demian Bichir, an Oscar nominee for A Better Life, and Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049, Hands of Stone), Corazon won a Cannes Lions Health & Wellness Grand Prix las year as well as a Cannes Entertainment Gold Lion, among assorted honors at other competitions, including this week's AICP Next Awards. Corazon tells the real-life story of Elena Ramirez (de Armas), a young Dominican sex worker living in Santo Domingo who is selling her body to provide for her family--only Ramirez’s body is failing her. She has a bad heart and has been given months to live unless she gets a new heart. After fainting, Elena meets a U.S.-based cardiologist from Montefiore, Dr. Mario Garcia (portrayed by Bichir), who is volunteering in his native hometown of Santo Domingo. Ramirez is past the point of help from conventional medicine, but Dr. Garcia gives her a fighting chance to live via a mechanical heart surgery that he and his colleagues can only perform at Montefiore. Ramirez sets out on a journey from Santo Domingo to New York City, facing challenges along the way, but always motivated by her conviction to live. This is a story of chance, hope, courage, friendship, love and generosity.

McKelvey noted that making a moving story is just part of Corazon’s marketplace impact. The feature, which rolled out at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, carries a meaningful call to action. Audiences leaving theaters were prompted to become organ donors by pressing their phones to their hearts, bringing Ana to life in Corazón movie posters and Times Square billboards. Interactive technology helped viewers register with Donate Life America in just 15 seconds. Corazon has also helped build awareness for the importance of organ donations, generating millions of views online.

The Devil You Know’s Cullipher shared two pieces of content with the New Directors Showcase Event audience: a Comcast wish-granting video whereby a boy with learning disabilities is given the toy of his dreams; and an experiential initiative for German supermarket EDEKA that underscores the value of diversity and inclusion. For the latter, a supermarket removes from its shelves all items that come from outside Germany. Shoppers then enter the store, seeing mostly barren shelves and getting a first-hand feel of what a lack of inclusion and diversity means to them personally. The simple yet powerful eloquence of this work from German agency Jung von Matt and directed by The Devil You Know’s Kai Sehr is widely lauded for its important message during a period of rampant nationalism, having earned multiple Cannes Lions last year. It’s a prime example of effectively integrating a brand with a very real global issue in a simple, fun manner, said Cullipher.

In the Comcast piece, also directed by Sehr, we meet a mom whose wish for her son is a toy that engages and better connects him with the world. Comcast brings this to pass, constructing a Rube Goldberg-esque, marble-driven contraption for a lad who loves playing with marbles.

Cullipher shared his approach toward experiential fare, noting that it’s vital that brands, agencies, directors, DPs and the entire production ensemble be empathetic and understand they are dealing with real people. “You don’t get to control” the narrative, he observed. “Your job is to create a canvas for great things to happen,” doing everything possible to make sure that real-people experiential moments “are allowed to flourish and exist.” This also entails production, including cameras and microphones, being “invisible” and as unobtrusive as possible--otherwise subjects can become distracted and taken out of real moments.

Meanwhile, an entry on the current awards show circuit, MGM Resorts International’s Universal Love from McCann NY, is gaining recognition, having this week won an AICP Next Award in the Next Branded Content category. McCann’s Archambault provided some backstory on Universal Love, a collection of reimagined wedding songs for the LGBTQ community, celebrating the enduring and overwhelming power of love and music to unite.

Universal Love offers six newly recorded versions of iconic love songs that give same-sex couples a soundtrack for their own love stories and feature pronouns changed to reflect the world of LGBTQ relationships. The album includes boundary-changing songs from some of today’s most-beloved artists. Bob Dylan, one of the most influential and successful recording artists in American history, is among the visionary artists participating in this unprecedented project. Dylan re-recorded “She’s Funny That Way” as “He’s Funny That Way.” The album features five additional stellar artists whose involvement is a testament to the urgency of equality in entertainment: Kesha (“I Need a Woman to Love Me”), St. Vincent (“And Then She Kissed Me”), Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie (“And I Love Him”), Kele Okereke of Bloc Party (“My Guy”), and Valerie June (“Mad About The Girl”).

Universal Love is a natural extension of MGM’s two decades of advocacy work with the LGBTQ community and the company’s desire to advance initiatives that unite humanity. More than a decade before same-sex marriage was legalized, same-sex commitment ceremonies were performed at chapels at MGM Resorts’ properties. In 2004, MGM Resorts became the first company in the gaming and hospitality industry to offer same-sex health benefits to employees, and MGM was a founding partner of the Las Vegas chapter of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in 2004.

The compilation album was produced by MGM Resorts in conjunction with McCann and distributed by Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music. Universal Love is also available on streaming platforms.

Archambault shared that Universal Love took quite some time to come to pass. While McCann had initially lined up some songs and performers, it wasn’t on as grand a scale as MGM Resorts had hoped. The project could have fallen by the wayside at that point, she said, but the turning point came in the form of an overture made to the iconic performer/songwriter Dylan. When approached with the idea, Dylan committed within the hour, related Archambault who smiled that suddenly McCann’s calling card to other artists was “Bob Dylan said yes.” From there momentum built to create the bigger impact that MGM Resorts desired. Archambault noted that this momentum yielded the album, pressed vinyl produced by Sony Records, launched on Record Store Day across the country, Kesha then making a music video to go along with her new song and then her volunteering as an ordained minister to marry two women at a ceremony on MGM property. Veteran New York Times music critic Jim Farber embraced Universal Love, adding to its cache and helping it to debut in the #9 slot on the iTunes chart, ahead of such artists as Beyonce.

Panelist Rolfe of BBDO NY, which has created a wide range of notable work, was on hand to offer a big-picture take on the varied relationships and resources needed from a making-of perspective to realize ambitious content and stay relevant in the marketplace. He told the NDS Event gathering of BBDO’s 5C’s of production. The C’s are Craft, Commissioning, Curation, Creation and Collaboration.

Craft is for production that is premium, hands-on and outsourced, dovetailing with a director, production house and other talent. Examples are abundant, evident and perennial in the BBDO mix from AT&T to FedEx and American Family Insurance--and a brilliant Bacardi spot Rolfe screened for the NDS audience, in which director Tom Kuntz of MJZ depicted various forms of dance.

The “C” of Creation meanwhile has become increasingly significant in the mix, covering in-house making, immediacy production, social-centric and/or platform/tech intensive fare via BBDO Studios; leading examples include the Monica Lewinsky anti-bullying PSA titled “In Real Life,” which was nominated last year for the primetime commercial Emmy Award. “In Real Life” serves as a powerful exploration of bullying by recasting the issue and asking the question: “If this behavior is unacceptable in real life, why is it so normal online?”  The hidden camera film chronicles people publicly acting out real online comments to illustrate that at the receiving end of every comment is a real person--a fact all too easy to forget in today’s online culture.  While the bullies and the targets of denigrating talk in the PSA are actors, those who intervene to stop the bullying are real people, which gives a life-affirming positive tone to the work.

Commissioning is adopting a hands-off approach with a trusted maker. Relying on a partner to perform from a soup-to-nuts standpoint, Commissioning includes such standout examples as Foot Locker’s The Sun and the Snake, the animated miniseries from the Shotopop studio. 

For Collaboration, BBDO partners with content sources, publishers, platforms and influencers--a prime example still being GE’s The Message podcast series of a couple years ago in which the production was very squarely placed within the podcast company that also led in its distribution.

For Curation, a prime example is Bacardi’s “Music Liberates Music” in which up-and-coming artists were called upon to submit their best “Sound of Rum” inspired tracks. This music video project effectively maker-sourced (a higher end version of crowd-sourced) a series of five eclectic videos, with BBDO Studios acting as portal.

In addition to the Kuntz-directed Bacardi spot, Rolfe screened a video for the NDS Event outlining Bacardi’s “Live Moves” initiative which tapped into Instagram’s IGTV platform. Fans following Instagram polls were able to vote on different parts of a proposed music video--like locations, lighting, camera angles and choreography. Once the results were in, World of Dance winners Les Twins used the fan selections to create a full-length video in IGTV. In essence, fans through Instagram polling helped to fashion a music video, reflecting a new dimension of consumer engagement. “Live Moves” falls under the C’s of Curation, Creativity and Collaboration.

The-Artery’s Sharabani shared a virtual production case study in which artisans in New York, Toronto and Los Angeles were united, each contributing from their locales to the creation of innovative content for Mercedes-Benz and agency Merkley+Partners. Among those linked by this connectivity were Sharabani in New York and noted cinematographer Paul Cameron, ASC (Westworld, Pirates of the Caribbean). The-Artery’s efforts on this CG car campaign--which was in the running for an AICP Next Innovation honor earlier this week--replicated a real-world film crew in virtual reality, enabling the creation of content in a relatively short span of time that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. This project, said Sharabani, just scratches the surface of what The-Artery does, as its business model is of the jack-of-all-trades variety, spanning picture and sound, 2D and 3D, production and post, features and commercials, artistry and project management, among other disciplines and areas of expertise.

Attorney Greenbaum, managing partner of FKKS, addressed legal issues that are emerging when the lines between advertising and entertainment become increasingly blurred. For example, when you are creating a commercial or some form of traditional advertising, at the end of the day that content is owned by the client. They can do whatever they want to that content, including edit it as they see fit. Less defined is who holds ownership when the product is entertainment content. It has to be determined where the intellectual property rights lie.

Among other considerations in nontraditional content is how regulators view it. While a brand may want to be unobtrusive or perhaps even not identify itself in the context of a piece of entertainment content it commissions, the FTC and other regulatory bodies may think otherwise--namely that consumers and the audience have the right to know who or what company is behind that content. These and other related legal matters need to be discussed as the brave new worlds of entertainment and advertising mesh.

New Directors Showcase
The evening proceedings began with a welcome from Mary Hatch, assistant executive director of the DGA and SHOOT publisher & Editorial Director, Roberta Griefer, followed by the debut screening of the 2019 SHOOT New Directors Showcase reel.  (video:

After screening the 17th annual Showcase reel, SHOOT publisher and editorial director Roberta Griefer asked the NDS directors in the audience to stand up, introducing them to the gathering and mentioning their recognized work, She then moderated the Meet The New Directors panel discussion which included four of the up-and-coming filmmakers, all of whom are unaffiliated with a production company in the ad market:  Lisa D’Apolito, Zack Grant, Tamika Miller and Andre Muir. D’Apolito maintains her 3 Faces Films but she as well as Grant, Miller and Muir are seeking a production house roost for commercials and branded content representation. Rounding out the panel were a pair of industry professionals--Lisa Mehling, owner and executive producer of Chelsea Pictures, and Kim Jose, co-head of integrated production, Forsman & Bodenfors New York.

The 2019 New Directors Showcase consisted of 36 up-and-coming directors filling 34 shots (32 individual directors, and two duos). The field includes 18 freelancers. And while recent past Showcases have included strong showings by women, this year's tally of 17 females is the highest ever.

D’Apolito earned Showcase inclusion for her documentary Love, Gilda. An intimate profile of the beloved comedian and former Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner, Love, Gilda opened last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and made its TV debut on CNN this past January. 

Grant garnered a Showcase slot based on his documentary short Shake With Me, about his mother Debra Magid who is an artist living with Parkinson’s disease. Magid was in the Showcase audience to celebrate her son’s selection.

Muir made the Showcase on the strength of 4 Corners, an experimental short film featuring five vignettes of gun violence in Chicago. 

And Miller’s Showcase piece was Amazon Echo’s spec spot “Get Answers NOW!” which features kids seeking answers elsewhere after their parents are unresponsive. 

Half of the Showcase directors this year are as of yet unaffiliated with a production company. In addition to D’Apolito, Grant, Miller and Muir, the unaffiliated crop of up-and-coming talent consists of: Mary Dauterman for her short film OMW; David Findlay for his short film Laura Lemerveil; Jonny Gentry for GEICO’s “Unexpected” spec commercial; Jose Ho-Guanipa for “My Beauty, My Say,” a piece of spec branded content for Dove; Ji Hyun Kim for the short film HELEN; Katie O’Grady for Nike’s “Behind The Design,” a promo tied into the LAIKA film The Missing Link; Jane Qian for her public service short Phoenix; the Ray Sisters (Austin and Westin Ray) for their “We Are The Daughters” spec PSA; Alfredo Rodriguez-Allen for SimpliSafe’s “The Perfect Security System” spec commercial; Samantha Scaffidi for Oh Pep!’s “Tea, Milk and Honey” music video; Dylan Trussell & David Dinetz for the Wolf & Shepherd commercial “Dress Shoes Like Sneakers”; and Dimitri Tsvetkov for “Panarea,” a piece of branded content for American Apparel.

The Showcase directors affiliated with production companies are: Caitlin Cronenberg of Untitled Films, Toronto, for The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation’s “Oxygen”; Jess Coulter of O Positive for the Dunkin’ commercial “Drag”; Bernd Faass--who’s handled by Park Pictures (US/UK) and Element E/Anorak in Germany--for Tears Dry Gin’s branded content piece, “Tears In Heaven”; Brian Hall of Finch Pharaoh Films for the Mercedes-Benz spec spot “Stuntman”; Rachel Annette Helson of Kass Management for her short film Hatched; Alexandra Henry of Valiant Pictures for her documentary feature Street Heroines; Mackenzie Hilton of Thinking Machine for Semester At Sea’s short film, Learning to Swim; Crystal Kayiza of Little Minx for her documentary short Edgecombe; Emmett Kerr-Perkinson of Pan Up Productions for Tinder’s “Our Story” spec spot; Nadav Kurtz of Dictionary Films for “Ana,” branded content for LIFEWTR; Monty Marsh--who’s handled by The Directors Network, Lightswitch Content and Invisible Collective--for Adidas Originals’ “Original Is Never Finished” spec commercial; Jonny Mass of m ss ng p eces for “The Journey,” a piece of branded content for BMW; Michael Medoway of The Lodge for the Lexus branded short, The Art of the Dunk; Jamieson Mulholland of ONE at Optimus for an “Illegal Mezcal” commercial; Charlotte Regan of Knucklehead for Wretch 32’s music video, “His & Hers (Perspectives)”; Cuba Tornado Scott of RSA Films for the Accor/Fairmont Hotels’ short film 9 1/2; Mikael Tyrsen of NUCONTEXT for the Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists promo; and Jake Zalutsky of Picture North for “Who We Are,” a commercial for USA National Hockey.

Following the New Directors Showcase screening and panel discussion was the NDS after-party hosted by Silver sponsor The-Artery in Chelsea, NY.

Click here for the article on the SHOOT 2019 New Directors Showcase reel screening and Meet The New Directors panel.
Click here to view the SHOOT 2019 New Directors Showcase reel.
Click here for profiles/contact info on all of the directors in the SHOOT 2019 New Directors Showcase.
Click here for photos from the SHOOT 17th Annual New Directors Showcase Event at the DGA Theatre and After-party at The-Artery.

Sponsor support
Lead sponsors of the 2019 SHOOT New Directors Showcase Event were the DGA, GARTNER, The Devil You Know and My SHOOTonline. Silver sponsors were McCann Worldgroup and The-Artery. Bronze sponsor was charlieuniformtango. And industry supporter was advertising and entertainment law firm FKKS.


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