New York Festivals Advertising Awards’ “Judging Will Get You Heated” (promo video)

Sheena Brady

World War Seven (U.S.); The Salmon (Canada)

 

What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 
A few months before the pandemic, I approached a cannabis edible company with some simple scripts. I don’t know how “professional” it was--since I was the writer/director/location scout/producer/wardrobe stylist and casting director. I even cleaned the location after.

How did you get into directing? 
I got interested in directing in college and looked into film schools, but I got freaked out that I would be drowning in student loan debt so I never applied. But that interest in film and storytelling translated to writing television commercial scripts—and I basically got the best film internship in the world working at Wieden+Kennedy —and got to work with masters like David Fincher, Robert Rodriguez, Errol Morris, Derek Cianfrance and commercial greats like Ivan Zacharias and Nicolai Fuglsig bring my scripts to life.

I did take film classes while I worked at W+K—shooting class projects on super 8 and 16 mm.

It took a while to have the confidence to take the leap into directing. I have a lot of reverence for the industry. Maybe too much. If you’re watching David Fincher direct it’s pretty easy to get intimidated, and go “I could never do that”.

What is your most recent project? 
I directed a couple of Miller High Life ads for the nice people at adam&eveDDB and I’m just diving into a script for a personal project.

What is the best part of being a director? 
Oddly, the actual shooting is the least stressful part of the process. 96% of the hard decisions have been made (besides post). And even though I’ve been on lots of film sets over the years as a writer, I still am in awe when I show up to set. I still get giddy, and hopped up on adrenaline. All these talented people on both sides of the camera coming together to help you bring your vision to life is super humbling and special.

I really love callbacks too. We don’t get rehearsals in the commercial world, so for me, it is the first time really hearing the scripts outside of my head. And I love being surprised by actors.
And I really enjoy the edit. I miss in person editing. Just a day or two with the editor, in person, is so invaluable. Editing over email isn’t for me.

What is the worst part of being a director? 
As a new director you have to ask a lot of people for help and favors. And I’m not very good at that. It’s a muscle and I need to get back into the gym.

In terms of production, the tech scout is the most stress-inducing day. Is your shot list too ambitious? Is the location what you remembered? Are you communicating your vision clearly? Reality sets in fast and curveballs get thrown your way.

What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre--comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 
I love comedy that acts more like drama. Currently, I’m directing commercials which is such a great creative playground because you get to explore so many different worlds in a short period of time. And I really want to make a music video this year too.

I’d love to explore longer narrative work too at some point, but that side of the industry is still very opaque to me.

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 worked with many directors over the years who would never consider themselves to be mentors–let alone my mentor, but let’s just call them “generous creative spirits”. They’d invite me to sit next to them. They’d answer my dumb questions. They’d let me throw out performance ideas. They’d say “You’re a director”.

Lots of little gestures, and small moments of support are what gave me the confidence to take the leap on my own. Hopefully, I can pay it forward too.

Who is your favorite director and why?
P.T. Anderson, Coen Brothers, Tarantino and Glazer are some of my favorite contemporary directors. I’m realizing they are all mostly auteurs. Not sure why, it just worked out that way. Maybe it’s because I’m reacting to distinct voices and straight-from-the-tap creativity.

They are strong visual storytellers, with weird worlds, and a twisted sense of humor.

And it’s evident in their filmmaking that they love movies, if that makes sense…Their movies have a heartbeat.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
I don’t really have favorite movies, but some good rainy day programming:
Fargo, Election, Being There. The ending of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is the perfect ending..as advertised.

Best in Show is a great matinee film.

Jim Henson’s short film Time Piece is great.

John Wilson’s Referee episode is pretty perfect. There are so many great shows out there. Better Call Saul. Nathan For You. Euphoria. I’m excited for the new White Lotus.

My favorite channel is TCM (Turner Classic Movies). I’ll throw it on in the background of whatever I’m doing. I like being served up stuff at random. I also like to google “Comedies on Criterion” and watch whatever comes up.

As far as ads go, W+K has some classics--Nike, ESPN, Honda. And there’s so many great comedy spots out of Cliff Freeman from back in the day.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska where there’s 4 hours of daylight in December (and 8 months of winter). I basically had to develop a vivid imagination to survive. I came from a blue collar family, so no one was throwing out “art school” at the dinner table.
I went to University of Oregon, and saw that someone’s homework was to come up with a print ad for Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and that sounded like more fun than the 10 page research paper I was writing. So, I signed up for an “advertising copywriting” class.

After a few years, I ended up at Wieden+Kennedy Portland where I was a writer and creative director for seven years-working on Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercials and Nike ads.

Then I made my way to New York, where I freelanced for mostly Apple and Wieden+Kennedy while building my reel as a director.

How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?
I signed with a production company (World War Seven) right as the pandemic hit. Needless to say, my directing career came to a halt like the rest of the world. But I did use the time to write a first draft of a screenplay and watch lots of movies.
And the movies and shows I craved most had an element of humor, so that only reaffirmed my filmmaking path.