Get To Know Director James Medlam – Interview With LBB
What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them? What gets me excited about concepts and scripts would have to be the elements that make it unique, there is usually some little spark that hooks me, and this sometimes can be something subliminal, a minute detail, but it inspires me and gives a launching platform for how we can take the creative and kick it up to the next notch. Whether it be an interesting camera move or transition, whether we can extend on a moment and emphasis a beat that can really emphasis the emotion or core message of the campaign. I feel like advertising has been going through a shift and the old school way of advertising doesn’t seem to get engagement like it used to, so I feel like it’s an exciting time to be in the space where creative is always pushing to do something different.
How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot? Coming from a stills background, I’m a very visual director so I like to start with some imagery to get me inspired. Then I delve into the creative and scripts, breaking it down and seeing what I can bring to it. To be honest, I love the treatment stage, it’s a creative process that helps me as a director really visualise and hone down my vision. It’s going to seem romantic, but music helps me a lot. It helps me work out the mood and vibe of the spot as well as inspires me during the writing process.
If the script is for a brand that you’re not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you’re new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it? For me, it can be a breath of fresh air to not know too much about a brand, it means you can attack it with a fresh perspective. I can tell usually through the briefing process on how important history is to the brand, I normally do a brief search into how they have been presenting themselves to the world, but I wouldn’t say it influences my creative approach. I strive to make commercials that stand out, so if there is a different approach that isn’t the norm for the type of market / brand that everyone is used to seeing, it will get the attention and engagement.
For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why? This is a tough question because as we all know it takes a lot of people to make something great, I’d say for me my most valued relationship would be with my producer. I’ve been lucky to work with amazing producers that are magicians with pulling together crews, pushing budgets and helping me deliver my visions. I feel agencies and clients know this as they are the main point of contact with us production crew, but I’d say they are the most understated job in production. Big love to producers.
What type of work are you most passionate about – is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to? I’m always drawn to stories and scripts that are snapshots of the human experience. I find film as an experiential artform, so I love the challenge of giving a story or script the love it deserves, fleshing out with visuals and sounds to give the audience an experience they can connect to. I’d say I’m drawn more to drama.
What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is its wrong? I think having a showreel with a lot of music videos is interesting in the commercial space, for me as a director it gives an amazing platform to play with different techniques and stylist choices, but I feel a lot of agencies might find it hard to sell to clients. The music video industry in Australia is tough, the value to labels for decent videos has plummeted since the mid 2000’s and you’d be lucky to land a decent budget these days. So, I’d say if you see a director who has some nice music videos on their reel with cool techniques to the storytelling, you need to know that their production team executed that on a 0.5% of the budget most TVC are given.
What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it? Probably of the wildest problems I’ve had on set would have to be dealing with cameras in harsh environments. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to direct a commercial for Fire Rescue New South Wales and it was one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve been a part of. We followed these men and woman for a week, asking them to strap a 2.5KG helmet camera rig and do the crazy rescues and firefighting they do on the day to day. Due to the intense nature of the situations, we had some close calls with equipment with mic wind muffs being sizzled with flames rushing over our professionals. Something that I’d never think I’d witness let alone capture and turn into a piece that did showcase what our Fire Fighters face on the day to day.
How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
I’ve always aspired to be an open collaborator; at the end of the day, I know for a fact that I don’t have all the best ideas. Filmmaking is highly celebrative, that’s how you get the best result is surround yourself with amazing people and your guaranteed to get an amazing result. My job is to maintain the overall vision, but I like to create an environment where people feel comfortable to voice their ideas. I’ve had some amazing partnerships with Creative Directors over the years and trust seems to be the key to it all. The Agency picks us directors and intrusts us with creative so it all comes down to trusting us and our approach.
What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set? It is a very exciting time, the more diverse voices in the space the better! This is only going to bring more amazing stories and creative approaches to the space. I have a heap of friends that I came up with in the industry that are insanely talented which are getting the love they deserve which they might not of 30 years ago. Change is great and it’s only going to get better. I’m super open to mentoring, I know I would have loved that opportunity when I was starting out but I would prefix that I definitely don’t know it all. I feel we are always constantly learning in this job and that’s what I love about it.
How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?
I think it was interesting negotiating the space during and after Covid, I remember the first time being back on set made a lot of people feel anxious as we hadn’t been around that many people. I’m super proud of our industry striving ahead, I feel like we were the leaders in testing and work safety compared to a lot of other industries which kept the wheels turning and a lot of crews still working. I think covid taught me to appreciate time more, I had a few travel jobs cancelled because of being locked in the state / country so I spent some really nice time with my wife and kids and did some writing on my personal projects.
Your work is now presented in so many different formats – to what extent do you keep each in mind while you’re working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
I feel this is getting better and better the more clients are understanding the formats. I would say lens choice is influenced more on the deliverables as it’s hard to shoot a 9×16 frame with anamorphics, as well as time management, to shoot twice to fit it in social frames depending on the camera setup. I always try to mix it up, because why not try and bring more to social cutdowns instead of just cutting down the TVC.
What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)? I feel in some aspects like virtual production and post processes I’m on top of, but then others like scripting and notes I like physical copies. I’m definitely old school in some aspects but when it comes to innovations with editing, visual effect and grading I like to stay up to date as it helps me communicate with post artists with what I want. I’ve dabbled with Unreal Engine 4/5 as I’m excited by the prospects of virtual production whether it be for pre vis or extended sets on LED walls.
Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why? (Please upload 4 videos to your company archive).
I’d say the 4 projects that really show off what I do best would be. Naturally Inspired – Sekisui House What if the Future Never Happened – To Be Released FRNSW – Prepared for Anything