I love to tell stories… big stories, small stories, true stories, but above all stories with heart and soul. Purpose-driven stories championing the underdog, the unlikely, and the overlooked. In an age of social, political and ecological discord, stories that connect and remind us of what it means to be human are more important than ever.
Cinema has taken me to over 40 countries where I have developed a cinematic style imbued with the complexities of human emotion, using intimate cinematic portraiture that blurs the lines between fact and fiction, yet is firmly grounded in a human-centered soul.
I make commercials, documentaries and am currently developing a number of film and television projects with industry partners.
My work has been recognized and awarded at YDA Cannes, Cyclops, Kinsale Sharks, 1.4, GZDOC.
LBB> What elements of a screenplay distinguish them from each other and what kind of screenplay excites you to shoot them?
Paul> I love a good story, memorable characters, brimming with heart and soul, add an unexpected twist and you’re good to go! I think of this quote from playwright Eugene Ionesco, “Too much explanation separates us from amazement”, I love scripts that invite the audience to actively join their dots, build engagement, and help viewers invest more in your story. This, coupled with a cinematic visual hook, is directorial heaven.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a commercial?
Paul> What I don’t see in black and white on a page that arrives in my inbox is all the unseen hours of thought, contemplation, word wrestling, hand squeaks, review, frustration, Red Bull, more review, followed by a choir of angels accompanied the epiphany – then finally a deadline. A creative team has already poured so much into this idea that a healthy dose of respect for the mountains already climbed is the starting point, so it’s about looking for the emotional core of the idea and how I can relate and respond personally. As filmmakers, we are hired to make the film that only we could make individually, so a treatment is a way to get my creative collaborators excited from client and agency to each crew member about the film we will be collaboratively bringing to life.
LBB> If the script is for a brand you don’t know/have a great affinity with or a market you’re new to, how important is it for you to research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?
Paul > The more you understand the goals and objectives of the project, the better you are at helping solve problems creatively and artistically. Clients always have very specific goals they are trying to achieve and often many interested parties to appease… I ask many questions so I can be equipped to understand the tensions and come up with creative solutions that meet the client’s needs while preserving artistic integrity that everyone enters the production process he wants to achieve. I always want to try to inject some poetry into pragmatism. Knowledge is power!
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship that a director must have with another person to make a commercial? And why?
Paul> I’m always so thankful for the person who brings hot coffee to a shivering cast and crew waiting in the dark of a winter morning for the magic hour – those coffees save lives! It might seem like a silly example, but cinema is the team sport par excellence… success and failure are based on the quality of relationships up and down the chain… as a director it is my responsibility for the tone on the set and to me that has to look like mutual respect regardless of role. When a lot of gratitude flows, I feel like people bring their best work and are willing to go the extra mile to see a creative vision realized. Massive egos lower your vibrations.
LBB> What kind of work you are most passionate about: is there a particular genre, subject or style that you are most attracted to?
I have worked extensively for NGOs in Africa, Asia and the Middle East…through which I have met incredibly resilient people…true heroes often in the face of terrible trauma and seemingly insurmountable adversity. This I think draws me to stories of people who are misunderstood and overlooked. It also gives a more grounded feel to my work, my documentary background informs how I direct the narrative… it has to feel effortless, as if life uninterruptedly unfolds in front of the lens.
LBB> What misconception about yourself or your work do you encounter most often and why is it wrong?
Paul> “Your work in longer form is great, but can you tell a story in 30 seconds?”. Of course I damn can! The craft skills of storytelling and filmmaking are quite universal… If the story is written to be told in 30 or 60 seconds, that is what informs the cinematic approach. Trying to fit a 5 minute idea into a 30 or 60 minute one is going to be painful… let’s not do it.
LBB> Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so, what was your experience like?
Paul> You mean there’s a level beyond a producer armed with a spreadsheet and a razor blade? Terrifying!!
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve encountered during a production – and how did you solve it?
Paul> We were shooting a story for an NGO about a coconut farmer. We really needed the camera with our subject in the treetops rather than pinned to the ground. A fairly easy shoot under normal production circumstances, except we were on a remote Indonesian island with no crane to be found for thousands of miles and our drone was impounded at customs. In nifty thinking, our AC Caleb Ware and DP Bjorn Amundsen made a quick trip to the local market for two 50 cent pulleys and a few lengths of string. We attached the camera to a remote head and a makeshift rope and pulley system, and used the collective strength of a dozen local village holds to haul the camera into the skies. The local guys built us a smoky fire to send thick clouds into our looms for instant production value, and voilà, we had our shot!
LBB> How do you find the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while protecting the idea?
Paul> I don’t know anyone who intends to make a bad film… that original idea is the reason we were all excited from the beginning and why we are all on set early. In the inevitable twists and turns of a shoot, I always try to keep that passion for the idea alive and at the forefront of decision making…all challenges can be overcome when you get back to serving the idea. Collaboration is an ongoing creative process so that the best ideas keep rising to the top… it’s always a push and pull, but if you leave room for each person to bring their artistic magic into the process, the idea completely formed will shine.
LBB> What do you think about opening up the production world to a more diverse talent pool? Are you open to on-set mentoring and apprenticeships?
Paul> More seats at the table are always a good thing…but I think we need to think carefully about how to prepare people to win, being catapulted before you have built the capacity to sustain can be counterproductive to a career. A more intentional mentoring/shadowing process with the end goal of a real-world opportunity can build the kind of skill and experience you need to be successful when you ultimately find yourself in the hot position. Providing a meaningful opportunity that nurtures and nurtures talented creative voices for the long haul must be the goal.
LBB> How do you think the pandemic will affect your way of working in the long term? Have you acquired new habits that you think will last a long time?
Paul> Video calls are the norm… I much prefer to see little floating heads than the old days when I listened to disembodied voices.
LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats – to what extent do you keep them in mind as you work (and, equally, to what extent is it possible to do so)?
Paul> With foresight, planning, and adequate resources, most things are possible… the likelihood drops considerably with the 11th hour demands of operating the Cinescope Laurence of Arabia long shot even on a new platform of social media the size of a postage stamp…there is “film magic”….but there is also physics.
LBB> What is your relationship with new technology and, if anything, how do you incorporate future-oriented technology into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven graphics, etc.)?
Paul> It always has to be the right tool for the right job that helps you tell a more compelling story. The volumes of LEDs are amazing as they can allow for the nature defying luxury of capturing the dusk/sunrise ambiance all day long if you so desire… but sometimes you still have to go to a far away destination and stay in the cold for get the real thing because the story demands it….technology is by its nature transformative, but it must always serve the story.
LBB> What pieces of work do you really feel show what you do best and why?
Paul > “No small plans” Thank you.
New social enterprise brand Thankyou has challenged some of the largest product companies on the planet to turn business as usual and help end extreme poverty. Thanks for getting their attention, this film spearheaded the campaign to build a consumer movement.
“The New Day” University of Sydney
With the return of on-site learning after the pandemic, this brand campaign to embrace “the new day” of opportunity embodies the hope and optimism of education.
“Volta” International Compassion
200 years after the end of the transatlantic slave trade, the children of Ghana are once again being slaves… this time in their own country. Lake Volta, Ghana: The world’s largest man-made lake claims thousands of lives, but its fishing industry is too often built on the shoulders of vulnerable children.
“The Fisherman” Compassion International
“The Fisherman” is an intimate portrait of a mother and father’s hopes and struggles to provide for their young family despite the limits of poverty on the Indonesian island of Rote.