The Partizan director talks about her unique approach to capturing visually arresting footage that will transcend mediums and formats
While studying at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Ali Kurr’s experimental immersive videos ignited a passion for filmmaking and directing. Her evolving, genre shifting style has seen her produce some of the most striking promos for artists including Loyle Carner, Poppy Ajudha and Rina Sawayama. Her work has been recognised at the UK MVAs and had her named VEVO’s ‘One To Watch’. Her commercial work is bold, energetic and full of attitude, with recent campaigns for the BBC, Nike, Samsonite and Sports England garnering praise. Her narrative debut ‘Sparrow’, made alongside BAFTA nominated producer Sorcha Bacon, opened BFI Flare’s ‘Calm Before the Storm’ showcase. An incredible, pro-active talent, brimming with ideas, Ali also has a feature documentary in development for 2021.
- Name: Ali Kurr
- Location: London
- Repped by/in: Partizan
- Awards: D&AD Wood Pencil
What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
The casting is what always gets me hooked. I’m looking for fresh, atypical, characters with lots of energy who are unafraid of being ugly.
How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
It always starts with the location. Once I’ve found my perfect spot I imagine how the cast and camera will navigate the space and then the script just flows out.
If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar 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?
To capture the right tone for an advert you’ve got to understand the brand’s identity and so research is a vital part of any pitch. Whenever I first receive a script for a product I’m unfamiliar with I spend a day consuming as much as I can but normally I’m up to date with what’s out there and so start by breaking down the script and working out what they’re trying to communicate. It’s all about understanding the story the brand wants to tell and bringing that story to life in motion.
For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad?
A creative, supportive, producer has to be the most important working relationship for me as a director. They make the wackiest of imaginings a reality.
What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
What excites me is changing things up. I got into directing because I love telling stories but also because I’m inspired by a multitude of things and films combine so many elements and I want to play with them all!
What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
The main misconception is that I would like to do the same thing. While it's great to be requested to make work similar to what you have done in the past, I want to be approached with some left field briefs that are not afraid to have cast being loud, ugly and messy.
Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?
I’m not sure…if I have they’ve probably balked at some of the ideas and said they wouldn’t be possible…but they always are!
What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
One of the craziest experiences was a kit van breaking down in a car park in the middle of a forest, in a thunderstorm, as it unexpectedly filled up with doggers
. The cast and crew had to take shelter in a fancy nearby restaurant, where we arrived bedraggled and wet, while we waited for the accident recovery.
How do you strike the balance between being collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
The projects that have produced the best films, I haven’t had to protect the idea, as we’ve all been on the same page. It’s a collaborative process and when the right person has been selected for the job that unit should work effortlessly.
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?
I got into the film industry by assisting as many directors as possible - it’s the best way to learn! So if anyone wants experience then I’m open to having them on set.
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?
It’s really opened up shooting abroad without travelling there. I’ve done seven remote shoots since the pandemic and it has enabled me to make films in places that the budget wouldn’t have previously allowed. Whilst there are constraints, it’s definitely something that I’ll continue to utilise.
Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working??
My number one is to make sure I’m capturing visually arresting footage, which will transcend across mediums and formats. Ultimately, however, my aim is always the same: to tell the best story possible.
What’s your relationship with new technology and how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?
Currently, I’m teaching myself how to code as I’m interested in how music videos and commercial advertising is spilling into the gaming realm. This world of interactive storytelling is so exciting and immersive and feels like the future.
Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
My music video for Rina Sawayama’s ‘Bad Friend’ is the piece of work I’m most proud of. It’s visually stunning, blends storytelling with performance and has a wonderful injection of stunt work at the end. Importantly, it has an engaging and interesting character who transitions throughout the film and isn’t afraid of getting ugly or messy.