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The Directors: Adam Wells


Johnny Foreigner director on technical challenges, the key to collaboration and being labelled 'the sport guy'

The Directors: Adam Wells

Prior to progressing into directing, Adam graduated from the Jacob Kramer College of Art. With a background of graphic design, for many years he plied his trade as a Creative and Designer for Sky Creative. Adam’s understanding of creative writing, VFX and design, combined with his imagination and creativity has enabled him to become an accomplished director with a diverse range of skills across a range of genres. Adam’s style is distinctly grand and imaginative, thriving on bringing concepts to an epic scale. Recent clients include Sky Sports, PlayStation, Ford, Nike, Mercedes and Sky Arts. Adam has directed several notable and award winning campaigns and has been twice nominated for a BAFTA.

Name: Adam Wells

Location: London

Repped by/in: Olivia Hirschberg at Johnny Foreigner

Awards: RTS Award, Two BAFTA nominations, Two Silver Sharks (Kinsale) and several Gold Promax / BDA Awards.

LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

Adam> ‘Scripts’ take many different forms. I wouldn’t even describe some as scripts. Some have detail, flow and narrative, others can be an ‘elevator pitch’ script, some even a mood frame or one-liner which gives the intended flavour of the whole piece which is for me to interpret and expand into a full film. 

As for what gets me excited with a script, that’s difficult to pin down. I do love a technical challenge, whether that’s how best to combine live action with visual effects, or how to take a camera on a seamless or wild journey. That said, any type of script has the potential to excite if it opens up a different way of thinking, a fresh opportunity, or offers space to get creative.


LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Adam> It can come down to time available to put a treatment together. On a couple of occasions recently, I’ve been asked for pretty involved treatments over 24 or 48 hours, which is a tricky ask, as I can easily spend a first day reviewing the agency call and getting the broad approach straight in my own head. I try to avoid jumping into the colourful parts too early, as it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of image research and end up with a pretty picture book with no meat on the bones. I start in Word with headlines relevant to the script. I block out explanations of each section to about 50% and that forms the foundations of the written treatment, which evolves into something more flowery and detailed as the imagery starts to drop in and other ideas formulate. A DoP I work updates me on his favourite ‘wanky director buzzwords’, so I try to avoid those, but often I can’t help it. I then tend to spend as much time as possible on image and mood research, as these make up a large part of my treatments. Where possible, I make keyframes in Photoshop to consolidate other references into something relevant to this script. Sometimes that can just be a single image. Another element is my own director’s script. Imagery and written explanations go a long way, but giving an indicative flow of shots, camerawork, pace and generally what happens from start to finish can be a good way for the treatment’s recipient to ‘see’ their film. Things will inevitably evolve so caveats are a given, but I try to be as specific as time allows. One area often closed off to directors is pitching treatments to the agency and client. We can spend days pouring our souls into a document, for it to get sent off as a PDF in the hope it’s presented as we’d wish. For me, it’s not just about what’s written or seen on the page, but how I sell my treatment, why I’ve made certain decisions, how we can approach any issues and then talking these through with the agency and client. It seems like a no-brainer for everyone and I feel this should be part of the process.


LBB> 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?

Adam> Of course, the first part will be looking into the brand, its past campaigns and what its competitors are doing. This tends to come about more-often with scripts from Asia or the Middle East where the brands can be completely alien, or the treatment has to reflect cultural differences. It’s all part of the fun.

LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Adam> A clear understanding with the Producer is key. Without that, a job can be a battle no-one wants. The DoP is someone I’ll get on a call with asap, often during the treatment stage, to talk things through. It sounds obvious, but collaboration is key, so good relationships extend to everyone. Building a solid rapport with those you’re working for is crucial.

LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Adam> A technical challenge is always something like getting my teeth in. That doesn’t necessarily mean full CG environments or wild visual effects. It can include subtly bringing the most out of a script through well-crafted post-production or camerawork. My early days were hands-on CG, graphics and motion design, so I’m able to anticipate the future implications of those types of scripts and avoid the dreaded ‘Just fix it in post’. I also love work where kids are the lead talent. There’s always an opportunity to get glorious moments from children that no-one expects. Scripts have tended to gravitate to sports, which is all good as I love my sport, but an exciting script is an exciting script, whether that’s with a sporting megastar or a cat-food brand.

LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?

Adam> I don’t really know. I guess being seen as ‘the sport guy’ means other opportunities I’d like to crack into might not come my way. But that misconception applies to many directors. That said, being ‘the sport guy’ isn’t such a bad thing.


LBB> Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?

Adam> I’ve never worked directly with a cost consultant. It’s usually a threat uttered by the agency immediately before I have to strip out the crane shots. 


LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

Adam> On a car commercial I was working on a few years back, there was a problem with the remote wireless monitors, which I was using to direct from within a separate vehicle. Time was against us so as we were on private land, the only way to see what was going on and direct the cast was to get into the hero hatchback’s boot. So, there I was, curled up on my side like a giant bald foetus with the monitor a few inches from my face, shouting actions through a small gap in the back seats. Not my most graceful moment, but it worked.

LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Adam> This can go all the way back to the treatment stage. It’s key that what I’m looking to achieve is clear and defined at that point and – hopefully – that clarity, detail and trust will be a factor in why I’m awarded a project. Treatment time doesn’t always allow for every detail to be locked down - nor should it - but that doesn’t mean a clear direction and collaboration can’t come across in the treatment. On occasion, I’ve been awarded a project without treating, but I always insist on then doing a treatment, as rolling straight into pre-production without a creative point of reference will only lead to confusion with the agency or client further down the line. Separately, it’s also about choosing battles with the agency / client on any project and making sure I have logic and conviction when putting across my point. Usually there’s an answer that works for everyone. Be honest and be straight.


LBB> 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?

Adam> Production, like any industry, should be open to anyone who has a desire to get into the industry. Talent is talent. When I first started directing in-house at Sky an experienced director invited me to shadow him from start to finish on several projects and gave me increasing responsibility. That was the steepest learning curve possible, so it’s something I’ll do whenever the opportunity arises. I didn’t go to university, study film or get a degree, so for me it was about finding a different route in, latching onto opportunities, shadowing talent and soaking up as much as I could. 

LBB> 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? 

Adam> To be honest, I spent a lot of time working from my tiny cabin at the bottom of my garden before Coronavirus reared its head and I’m fine in my own company, so that way of working hasn’t meant such a shift in habits. I have more faith in remote working these days, including post-production which I’d previously felt could only be done from within the same room. One habit I hope will remain is being more proactive in pushing my work out, being active on the dreaded social media and reconnecting with people I’d previously let slide.


LBB> 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)?

Adam> I’ve not encountered too many projects for wildly different formats. It happened on a project a couple of years back where 16:9 and 1:1 was thrown late into the mix on what was a primarily portrait series of short ads. The action safe grids basically covered the screen like a pissed-up Etch-A-Sketch. All of a sudden, we were lighting and dressing areas of a scene that were redundant for all but one minor area of the media plan, with a piddly little product right in the middle as a result. The tricky aspect arises when these additional requests are just bundled into the primary one, often because of late requests, additions that aren’t pushed back against or a reluctance to squeeze a client for the extra time or money needed to accommodate. I focus on the primary deliverable and work out from there. That our work is visible in so many different formats and consumed on a range of devices is generally a positive (despite the inevitable ‘make the logo bigger’ request)


LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?

Adam> Technology is moving so fast it can be quite overwhelming to try and stay on top of it all. Early conversations with post houses or DPs on a project tend to include what’s new out there that could bring a different dimension to the job. But at the end of the day, it’s about the best tool for the job. New doesn’t always mean better.

LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why? 

Adam> Lions Series: South Africa 2021

This was my own creative, so I had a clear vision of how this could look from the very outset and the client put a great deal of trust in me to run the project. To be involved in every creative detail with Coffee & TV, through all stages of art direction, lighting, modelling, edit, sound and music composition resulted in a spot I’m very proud of.

Summer of Cricket

This was one of those technical challenges, fusing live action with visual effects made trickier because of a tight budget and schedule. It was a real problem-solving project. The kids we cast were superb and their energy and enthusiasm throughout was a real pleasure. 

PlayStation: For the Players

This had all the ingredients. Piecing together a single and complex camera move, visual effects and a young and energetic cast. This project fell under the client radar during production, who were understandably focussing on the big launch commercial for the PS4, so we could run with this a bit more. The attention to detail in the sound and art department struck a chord with the PlayStation community. It went viral and hit 6m YouTube views in four days, before being commissioned to run as a full ad-break during Homeland on C4.

Sky Arts – Butterflies / Dog Spots / Umbrellas

Simple scripts that required a fusing of beautiful, graceful live action and top-notch CG that had no place to hide. Another opportunity to collaborate closely with the VFX company to deliver three very different channel idents, which made up one complete family. 

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Johnny Foreigner, Tue, 10 Aug 2021 16:00:12 GMT