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The Directors: Álfheiður Marta

The Directors 59 Add to collection

Common People Films director on telling genuine and varied stories and her love for documentary-style work

The Directors: Álfheiður Marta

Álfheiður Marta is a young director from Reykjavík, Iceland. She worked her way through the ranks as a producer and assistant director on numerous international and domestic commercial productions as well as assistant directing several TV drama series.

She began directing music videos for local artist such as RVKDTR, Clubdub and GKR, picking up accolades at The Northern Wave Awards before breaking into the commercial scene with the campaign 'Hope’ for the Directorate of Equality which was nominated for Lúðurinn, Icelandic Advertising Awards in 2019.

Another heartwarming campaign she directed for Huguð, a mental health organisation, was nominated for Fréttablaðið's Community Awards.

She has since directed campaigns for Icelandair, Isavia, MS (Iceland Dairies) and most recently the Department of Civil Protection in Iceland.

Name: Álfheidur Marta Kjartansdóttir

Location: Iceland

Repped by/in: Common People/UK & Nordur/ICE

Awards: 'Hope' a campaign on domestic violence for the Directorate of Equality nominated for Lúðurinn, Icelandic Advertising Awards. Campaign for Huguð, a mental health organisation, was nominated for Fréttablaðið's Community Awards. Twice nominated for best music video at Northern Wave film festival. 


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

Álfheiður> I always try and tell a genuine story - whether it’s a toothpaste advert or a PSA, you can usually find something true or relatable to capture in a script. A script that is based on real stories, where proper research on the subject has been done and there is originality in the presentation gets me very excited. 

Being a female director in a rather male dominated scene, feminism and diversity are themes that I’m always attracted to. Nostalgia and youth also tend to be common themes in my work and I’ve always been fascinated by the various feelings connected to adolescence and coming of age. I generally have an interest in people and the complications of life, and therefore I love anything that has a realistic approach. Being able to tell an interesting story that moves the viewer or broadens their horizon, while also representing a brand is a dream situation. 

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

Álfheiður> I think I could say that the treatment work is usually the hardest part of the whole production for me. It is such a huge part of the creative process and I tend to go back to look at it once the work is out, to see what changed and if it navigates the same feeling as the final piece. I am very happy when it does, and can take notes if it doesn’t. I think that’s an important way to grow in your pre-production.

I begin writing down anything that comes to mind from the moment I hear of the concept. Those are usually just some key words and thoughts on the look and feeling. I then usually spend a few days looking at and finding references, watching commercials and going through old things that I have saved or worked on before. Just throwing everything I like into “notes” on my phone or computer. 

I take a while before I create the actual document because I’m quite a perfectionist when it comes to layout and setting up the treatments. I feel like there is always this certain moment in the process where something suddenly “comes to me” and then I sink into this super focus where I sit on the computer for 10 hours straight. Waiting for that spark or connection can sometimes be hard and can require patience.

When it’s possible I take walks or go out running to brainstorm. During treatment work I try and stay aware of my surroundings with the concept in the back of my head, seeing if anything sparks an idea or solution to a problem I might have. And it usually does.

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

Álfheiður> The obvious answer is the DP. For me, the cinematography plays such a huge role in the piece and there needs to be a clear mutual understanding of what we are trying to accomplish in terms of the look and feeling of the film. Not having that joint vision can harm the project and leave you with something that is not what you had in mind.  The key for me is mutual respect and good communication. The relationship between a DP and a director on a set transmits to everyone in the crew, and I believe calm and happy people create good work. Not feeling threatened by disagreement, and being able to discuss problems you might encounter and finding solutions are the key to success.

Every DP has their own special approach and style, and I tend to work with someone different depending on the project. I feel like one DP might have a special talent for shooting sport, another one is great at capturing intimacy and someone else can do fantastic work with minimal equipment etc. 

However, choosing a DP and working with the people you want requires having a producer that understands and is on the same page as you. I have been extremely lucky to have worked with one of my best friends as a producer on most of my projects. She produced the first commercial I made, and has been my colleague working with two different companies. She always wants what is best for me and the project but is never afraid to challenge my requests and fight me on things regarding costs and production. She is invested in the creative and extremely supportive. A director is very limited without the support and understanding of their production team.


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?

Álfheiður> I love a documentary style approach in advertising, not in terms of the cinematography but in how you tell a story. Interesting stories often involve having to overcome something or being exposed to discrimination. Therefore, the voices of women and minorities are of particular value to me. Capturing stories or something real from daily life and elevating it with beautiful visuals and finding a narrative is what I strive for in my projects. 

Film and literature about love, day to day life and human interactions interest me and I find stories of personal growth most interesting. They are the films that leave something behind for me, help me reflect on personal matters and widen my horizon in a way that makes me challenge myself, my beliefs and position in life. 

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

Álfheiður> The production part of commercials is still quite male dominated in Iceland and there are not many women that focus on ads, although we have many talented female directors. Most of the commercial work here is therefore made by men and companies are a lot more likely to chose male directors for bigger projects.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a misconception, but I think some people assume that since I’m a woman I should only tell certain types of stories or direct a certain type of project. That I should focus on directing material for a female audience and tell women’s stories. Being female can definitely give you an advantage in those projects and some depth, but a woman is also just as capable as anyone else to make a beer or a football commercial.  

I have been trusted with amazing projects here at home in the past year however and I’m positive that we can expect a flood of young female directors in the advertising industry in the coming years.

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

Álfheiður> Living and working in film in Iceland requires a level of flexibility and solution orientation as the weather is quite extreme and changes every 5 minutes. I have worked as an AD on several drama series which has equipped me with problem solving skills but also an understanding of the powerlessness you have towards nature. I think most people in the industry are the same, where we always expect the worst but hope for the best.

I directed an Icelandair commercial about two years ago. We were shooting on a glacier and had to travel for 3 hours one way to get there, and then take all of the equipment into a snowcat and travel up for about 45 minutes. The forecast was good so we were hopeful that things would go as planned but when we reached the summit it was completely overcast and there was this snow fog so you couldn’t see more that two feet away from you. There was a slight panic in the crew and agency that we wouldn’t be able to shoot anything, so I had to stay calm and convince people to hold on to the hope that it would clear up. I decided to try and shoot the scene in the white box that it was, and just considered it to be a backup. We where about to run out of time and my producer was freaking out, but after a little convincing she gave me some leeway. 10 minutes later the sky cleared up and the sun came through. We even got drone shots of the cast hiking the summit and afterwards the DP snowboarded down the glacier in total bliss haha. I wouldn’t say that I had to solve a problem in that situation, but we held on to the hope and got lucky. 

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

Álfheiður> I think it always depends on communication. It is very important to be very clear in terms of your approach and treatment about how you plan to execute things beforehand. Good planning, a lot of interaction and general pre-production sets the mood for the rest of the production period. 

It is hard to say where the balance lies, but I think it’s just important to try and find the golden mean. I can usually feel it in my gut when something is right, but it’s important to listen and give all ideas attention. There is nothing better than a good working relationship with an agency where you share a vision and create a safe space for discussion. You might feel like ideas or comments from the agency/client are off, but when you try them out they end up being right or we end up finding a new and better solution together.

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?

Álfheiður> It is extremely important that we as a society hear varied stories from all backgrounds. It is the the most efficient way to have people see things from another perspective and create empathy and understanding. I believe it is also important if you are working on projects that revolve around equality, race or human rights - that you incorporate diversity in the crew as well, fx, with DPs, set designers, music composers etc. And yes, of course!

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? 

Álfheiður> I think I’ve just become more appreciative and thankful for my job. I love being on set and being around my crew members and I think I’ll never take it for granted again.

I have, of course, also got more used to working from home and motivating myself to get things done on my own. The pandemic has created space for more alone time, for reading, writing and watching films etc, which has made me realise how important it is for me to keep doing those things in order to stay inspired when the wheels start turning again.

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)? 

Álfheiður> If I’m shooting something that is meant to be viewed on a smartphone or Instagram story in a 9:16 format, I will incorporate it in the execution and approach. I have done that before and that time we shot everything in 16:9 but vertically on a steadycam. I love when there is a creative approach to those platforms in breaking up the formats and creating interactive material. 

However with today’s many platforms it can be difficult to cover all of them in one. If there isn’t a pre-determined platform I try and shoot things in the best quality possible and with the most applicable format, and hope the agency takes good care of the publications!

LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why? (Please upload 4 videos to your company archive).

Milk(Iceland Daires) & You have HOPE (Directorate of Equality)

Both campaigns have documentary style approaches with real subjects and stories. They were not very big budget but with 4 or more videos featured so we had to make a lot of content. This always creates a certain atmosphere of togetherness and creativity in the crew.

The domestic violence PSA was my first commercial project. I had to tell real stories without showing the subjects faces, which created a more creative approach in telling a story through simple but meaningful imagery. The music and cinematography talked well together and the subjects themselves were very touched by the outcome. 

I absolutely loved shooting in black and white for the Milk commercial, the athletes were fantastic and I’m happy with how we incorporated the archive material. I feel that we found good narratives with every person’s story and the product got good representation in a natural way.


The cinematography of this ad represents my style quite well and the subject of the ad is something that got me excited right away, as it talks about sustainability in energy production and the influence on future generations. I feel it also represents my style in terms of the tempo and timings in the edit.


A film with similar elements as Landsvirkjun, where we have various subjects and locations and tap into day to day actions, nostalgia and family life. The ad was very well received as it came out during a point in the pandemic where people were getting tired and it conveyed  a feeling of togetherness and emphasised the power this little nation can have when it comes to battling unpredictable situations.

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Common People Films, Tue, 17 May 2022 08:36:54 GMT