Urban Beard's "Bartender" (online spot)

Sean Frewer

Radke

1) How did you get into directing? 
It was in my early teens that I knew I wanted to direct.  My father is a film composer, so he and I went to films weekly when I was growing up. Then I discovered the annual Cannes reel - which immediately became appointment viewing every year. After college and Film School, I did music videos for friends before working in 3D animation at a time when it was starting to boom.  I was then accepted into the Canadian Film Centre Director’s Lab.
After completing several short films, I began knocking on production company doors, and this is when I was given the sage advice to not focus on shorts - but create content around brands.  They told me about MOFILM, and suggested that I seek out a start-up company that I could create a pro-bono spot for. That is how the Urban Beard campaign came to be.

2) What is your most recent project? 
I’m in prep with on a sponsored ad for Mass Minority and the Canadian Government that will raise awareness on Racism.  I’m particularly excited about this as we’re exploring the use of VR technology as a storytelling device. I’m learning very quickly that it’s a very unique form in which to tell a story and engage an audience.

3) What is the best part of being a director? 
When people connect with your work.  In the beginning, it was sitting in the theatre and listening/feeling every single laugh, cringe and sigh. Now, thanks to Vimeo and Youtube, it’s the unsolicited “likes” or messages letting you know how much they enjoyed your film.  I also find the final mix playback an incredibly fulfilling experience.  It’s generally that moment when everything comes together for the first time – when all of the endless hours of stress and anxiety are forgotten and seeing what started as concept - or words on a page - become a living, breathing thing.

4) What is the worst part of being a director? 
I’m at a point in my life where what has felt like a hobby for so long is finally turning into a successful career.  I’m embracing every opportunity I can to direct – and can honestly say I that love everything about it.  There are undoubtedly times when things can be frustrating – particularly when they’re out of your control – but I feel pretty lucky to be where I am.

5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 
Commercials.  I will continue to write and develop features in between jobs, but my focus right now is to keep building the reel so I can eventually work with the elite agencies of the world.  The dream is to have access to those coveted boards created by the top agency talent and to make work that stands out (and wins awards).  In terms of genre, what gets me most excited is finding a unique visual approach to a great story or concept.  Whether it’s a visual effects approach or verite, I’m drawn to anything that will elicit an emotional response – be that laughter, anger or empathy. I want to make films that resonate.

6) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
I’ve had many mentors through my life, but I would say that there are two that I currently lean on for advice and wisdom.  The first is my wife (who also Produces my longer form work). She may not be a mentor in a typical sense, but I can always count on her to bring me back to what the story is.  She keeps me in check and pushes me to find my connection to the work. In the commercial world, it’s a former director and agency executive named Martin Shewchuk.  He was the first to give me insight and advice on the industry, as well as help me to start approaching storytelling from a brand’s point of view.

7) Who is your favorite director and why? 
If I had to name just one: David Fincher.  When I first saw “Se7en,” I was blown away.  It was dark, gritty and shot with a style unlike anything I had ever seen before. I immediately connected to his sensibility and aesthetic. And when I first heard his commentary, my admiration grew even more. Listening to him explain his approach to filmmaking and storytelling had me in awe.  To this day, his commentaries are an ongoing form of film school for me and continue to push me to want to be a better director.  There is purpose and precision to every decision he makes and his continued mastery of technology blows me away.  And he’s a perfectionist, which I can relate to.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
The movies that changed my life, in order of experience were: “Star Wars,” “Blade Runner,” “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca,” “North by Northwest,” “Millers Crossing,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Verdict” and “Se7en.”  As for television, I’m constantly drawn to British crime dramas (“Cracker,” “Luther,” “Happy Valley”, “Broadchurch”) and their fearless storytelling.  They continue to tackle stories (and casting) in a way that I think North Americans are hesitant to. But I would have to say that “Breaking Bad” is the one that I keep going back to. For commercial work, I have amazing respect for Seb Edwards, Garth Davis, Gustav Johansson and Jonathan Glazer, but I would have to say that Mark Romanek’s earlier work (primarily music video) is what had the most profound impact on me.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I was born and raised in Vancouver, moving to Toronto to attend the Canadian Film Centre – where I’ve remained since. While in Vancouver, I had a brief stint as an office PA and AD on a few American productions which gave me a crash course in how big budget productions operate.  Meanwhile, I edited music videos on weekends before transitioning into animation supervision, as well as overseeing motion capture on a few productions.  After graduating the CFC in Toronto, I worked as both an editor and postproduction supervisor while continuing to shoot shorts, develop features and do everything I could to build my reel.