The Directors in association withLBB Pro User
The Directors: André Stringer
Production Company
Los Angeles, USA
DOMO co-founder, director and ECD on the sacredness of collaboration, openness and flexibility

André Stringer is a multidisciplinary maestro of the creative field and co-founder of DOMO. An Emmy Award-winning creative and trusted confidant among global brands, he believes in putting true collaboration at the forefront of every endeavour. Whether helming an international campaign or bringing a start-up brand to market, André leads with the expertise of multiple professions. But make no mistake — this isn’t a jack-of-all-trades narrative.

Specifically, André’s inherent understanding of storytelling has earned decades-long relationships with some of the most reputable names and agencies in the industry (Beats by Dre and Under Armour, for starters). His contributions go beyond any singular title, often bridging the roles of advisor, artist, innovator and marketer to bring an unparalleled level of mastery and intimacy to the process.

Shaped throughout his career and over the last decade at RESET Content, André’s personal brand of storytelling can be traced back to his early roots: skateboarding and music. It’s this foundation of movement, raw emotion, risk and realism that continues to influence the way he thinks — as a creative pioneer, businessman and everything in between.

Name: André Stringer
Location: Los Angeles
Repped By: DOMO

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

André> I start with the concept first, looking at the core essence of the message we are hoping to speak to. That has to make sense to me first. That is an enormous, enormous project that a brand or an agency have taken on. To align both their creative aspirations with a real sense of performative connection: connecting what you want to say with how you say it in an authentic way. That’s the work. As soon as that makes sense, you see the iconography, the grammar, the sense of character really spring forth with a deep, thought-through intentionality.

That really shapes the way I connect with each project. I’m looking to help feed a big moment of transformation for that brand. When I step into the project, it’s a moment where I can really offer something very powerful—an opportunity for the brand to finally be themselves. 

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

André> I start by trying to find an authentic relationship to me. How does my worldview and sense of honestly representing my own value-set come into alignment with a project? At that point, what does that unlock for me in terms of an expression of those ideas? I try to unbridle myself and let it all come out. The collaboration— where we connect and we all talk about the idea— that’s where clarity comes from and where you start pulling focus on the most powerful ideas. And that comes from conversation. That moment of dialogue is our first opportunity to just let loose and see the potential of the project. After that, I spend a lot of time just organising those ideas and then letting the story and the character start to take real form. Whether those are real individuals we are looking for out in the world or those are characters we are crafting and building, it’s the connection back to those conversations that keeps the gestalt and the features in alignment. It’s all about keeping the details in tune with the big picture.

Ultimately the demand of the advertising space is clarity. To find that, the ideas have to go through a vetting process. Boiling off the excess allows for a piece of work to have that immediate resonance. I’m looking for emotional connection with the audience - let’s make them feel something - and it has to have an authentic connection to culture. I spend most of the time in the treatment process focused on that aspect of the work. Start with the simple, then complexify, then clarify. It goes through that constant process: opening, closing, opening, closing, boiling, refining. I do that at every stage, whether that’s in treatment, a writing process, casting or shooting. You go out with the intention to shoot the simplest, most powerful thing you can imagine working on. Then you start shooting and you complexify; you make it harder for a moment, so that it adds noise to the signal. Then you re-clarify again, so that you get that three second moment that honestly, naturally and realistically expresses the idea in a single image. That ends up being a process that repeats itself over and over again.

But for me, the treatment is my first opportunity to go through that process—to find a sense of clarity. Sometimes it needs a little noise and sometimes we need to shake it up and start over on some aspects of it. That’s the natural progression of making great work that is durable. Something that can reorient the world, and an organisation.

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?

André> Learning and staying informed is a core tenet of all of my work. It's fun to try a product or lifestyle… participant observation is very informative.

Collaboration is this process of honestly opening yourself to the potential of someone else’s creative idea or objective. The first instantiation of trust is openness. It’s the sense of thinking about the world through somebody else’s eyes; ideally finding a shared objective and doing your best to understand and embody it. That to me is the first step in any relationship. You have to have a sense that there’s a world that exists outside of your own biases that is worth looking into, understanding and entering. Listening, learning and growing is the work.

With that sense of openness, you’re looking at the world trying to find new places where you haven’t touched a certain type of content, approach, worldview, thought process, story, or technology. I’m constantly looking outside of myself for those inputs. You’re really trying to mine the stories you intersect with and infuse them into the experiences you have in the world. To me, that’s actually one of the main criteria for choosing projects.

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

André> It depends on where you’re working, but if there was one, I would say it would be the creative director at the agency. Collaboration is key. I’m in the business of co-creating. Having an intimate one-on-one relationship is key. In my mind, treating every creative collaborator you intersect with as the well-spring of the work, is the job. So, whether that’s the CEO, CMO, creative director, art director, writer, DP or the talent on the other side of the camera – in that moment, this is the most important working relationship I have. It’s about engendering a dialogue. That authentic dialogue we have at every turn, treating that with respect, offering a sacredness to those moments, that’s the most important thing for me.

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?

André> The stories that are inspiring and motivating have always resonated for me. The idea of challenge – that we all go through a struggle in life, that we need to find a moment of courage and self-affirming positivity which then drives a positive expression in the world – that to me is a story that is universal and resonates. Every time I sit down and work on a story like that, I feel like I am feeding the fire of creation in myself. Let’s cast off the things that pull us apart and instead, offer a positive vision for tackling the very real and hard challenges we are presented with as a culture and society. Each of us has to find the spirit to act individually, prior to being able to engage in something like changing the world in some way, shape, or form. Once we find a spark of that fire, then we can start bringing that vision of transformation to the rest of our communities. That feels very real to me.

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

André> As a visual storyteller, I’m most often associated with the design and photography of the work - as though that’s the overriding priority I bring to it. But actually, I spend most of my energy on story, character and emotion; that trifecta of concepts. That is the guiding ethos for me in doing the work. I tend to lean on an overarching simplicity more than  storytelling maximalism. That, coupled with my proficiency in photography and design, consistently yields a coherent and resonant end product. Beauty is one tenet among many, not my primary goal.

Our objective is closer to meaning-making than it is fetishizing. I put that goal in a dynamic with my own experience, allowing me to make work that ideally fires on a number of different cylinders, but primarily on a storytelling, character-based, emotion-driven kind of level.

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

André> Every project we do goes through the appropriate production vetting. Our DOMO team has decades of experience solving modern production problems. My job is to bring my experience and intelligence to the table in each phase of the production process.

I’ve worked for a long time. For me, to be able to function as a professional in this space, you have to be able to understand both the business side and the creative side. They both have to be working in accord with one another. Wasting money on things that don’t end up on screen wastes everybody’s resources, and doesn’t allow me as a creative person to do the things I actually need to do. If we’re spending money in the wrong places, we’re not at the rudder of the whole creative process. What you’re making and how you make it are the same thing.

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

André> While working with 72 and Sunny, we did a huge Coors Light campaign. With shoots on three continents, it was an enormous project. We had a tremendous amount of work to get done and it was all exterior - out in the wilderness. In other words, it was the antithesis of your professional stage shoot. Of the 12 days we shot, it snowed or rained on 10 of them. Every day we were on top of a mountain with snowmobiles and snow cats, socked in, unable to see our hands in front of our faces. So, changing tacks and shooting close-ups of beer cans – these were the ways we had to do it. We used a lot of our scouting photos as set extensions. We only weathered-out one half-day. That was when a hurricane was hitting New Zealand while we were trying to set up tents along the coastline, and there were 40 miles per hour winds. The tack had to change at that moment, and we ended up picking up those shots in LA. It was essentially like a tremendous duck-and-weave the whole time - always changing. There were days when you just didn’t want to get out of the car because it was like, ‘oh, it’s raining again’, and you have to go again and explain how you’re going to solve the problems of that next two, five, ten and 48 hours.

In the end, it was an enormous spot, and a great piece of work. Every scene we shot was usable. We embraced a lot of the challenges and turned them into the style of the film. Again, it was a motivational and aspirational piece of work where you would never really feel the production stress that went into it. There’s a lot of work that goes into creating effective stories, and you don’t want that work to have sway over the feeling of the film. In this case, it was 100% effective in that sense, but very challenging, for sure. 

The team was amazing. Everybody that worked on it was fantastically flexible. John Lynch and I shot it. At the end of every day, we enjoyed a glass of wine and commiserated. Producer Matt McClennan and the Canadian team we worked with are so experienced in that kind of pressure dynamic, so it was a tremendous confidence booster.

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

André> Shepherding an idea through production is my job. Holding true to what we all loved about the scripts; that’s my core responsibility. My taste and discernment- where we need to change and where we shouldn’t- that’s what I'm thinking about at every junction. I’m looking for the clearest framing to help everyone participate in the big decisions. And making sure we’re all asking the right questions as we go – and being open to those questions being asked of me and my process as well. 

I always say, ‘we don’t make work for a living, we change work for a living’. For me, that was a core realisation I made early in my career. If there was ever a point where a piece of work is stuck and can’t move, then you know you’ve sort of backed yourself into a corner. There are so many different ways a problem can be solved. If you have access to as many of those as you can, then you are working from a place of options. Flexibility and openness is key for me. There’s never a finish line for most work, it’s always just the next iteration of the idea that you’re trying to find. 

I’ve found that orientation toward an idea is not just a powerful way to solve a single project, but actually opens up a new, generative mindset which enables conceptual durability. For Lincoln, I really loved first working on the idea of the sanctuary and working with Serena Williams. Developing that idea in terms of her own sanctuary, being able to find refuge from that world in that moment and being able to take stock of your own self. Then, a year and a half later, working on another idea of sanctuary in the extreme, where you’re able to see how that idea can evolve. The second iteration was really about the quality of interior space versus the demands of the world outside,the beauty of both things and how they can interplay and impact each other. It’s still the same ethos, same values, same concept, but just a totally different expression of it. 

With Under Armour, early in my career I spent lots of time developing their brand swag and that intrepid attitude. Over the years, we’ve deepened that tone of voice, looking for more nuanced expressions of a similar brand spirit. In our latest campaign, ‘Gift of the game’, we dove into the concept of heart. Before any aspiring athlete can have that swag, they need to believe in themselves enough to come into the game. And for many that just isn’t the reality they find themselves in. Shining a light on that inequality and broader cultural challenge was beautiful new territory for Under Armour to explore. That was a tremendous privilege for me. I’ve leaned on my experiences in sport to drive much of my success in filmmaking; and highlighting the gifts that are possible through participation in the game is very meaningful.

Collaboration, openness and flexibility is sacred for me. I am the champion for the original idea at times, and also the person who’s vetting it radically. I need to truly understand the idea, in all its complexity and history. Then we can forge an end product that is durable.

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?

André> First of all, we understand that the world of production is in desperate need of more diverse voices. It’s a place where the selection process has been rarefied to the point of being exclusionary; thereby limiting the potential of our culture at large. Being a minority-owned business, diversity is close to our hearts. At DOMO, we are deeply dedicated to platforming underrepresented voices. And that means helping grow individuals and developing their careers as early as possible. The more people succeed, the better.

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? 

André> Enabling collaboration at all times and in all geographical regions – the mechanism of the virtual and remote working space – has really enabled us to open up the field of potential working styles in a way that hadn’t been embraced pre-pandemic. Being able to shoot and edit at the same time, being able to do work in multiple continents with the help of partners; efficiency now is just at a whole other level. I like the idea that you can have collaborators, have editors, have music and have creative teams that span the whole world and that are working almost without barriers. With that said,  I do truly miss the physical interaction, and we try to engender that wherever it’s realistic.

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)? 

André> You have to focus in and prioritise. If you can find the nexus point of the story first, then you can work outward to all the fingering elements of a project. Each aspect of a project is embedded within that bigger priority. Whether it’s shorter films, social executions or stills work, it’s about making sure you get the work done without compromising the impact of the most important elements of the campaign. We work in commercials, it’s not the first time we’ve shot the scene 10 or 20 times. This is just the nature of storytelling in the commercial space.

LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?

André> The evolving toolset, and the ways we experience creative storytelling are inspiring. They drive you to continuously re-frame and constantly rewrite your fundamental directorial DNA. I’m always experimenting and looking for ways to broaden my creative voice. One of the reasons why I love advertising is because you have that potential for change. In the narrative space, those things take a much longer time to progress, which has its own durability - which I also appreciate, but the potential for novelty in the advertising space allows us to just really play with the new more fluidly. 

That being said, it can also be quite distracting at times, so you really have to pick your battles. At what point is new helpful, and at what point is new a salient element but not a priority? The key is coming back to the core fundamental objectives. What do you want it to mean? How do you want it to feel? What do you want it to say? And how is the audience transformed by the work?

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

‘Gift of the Game’: It's really about stepping into the shoes of an aspiring athlete and really trying to honestly and realistically make sense of the barriers and challenges that some of us may have along the way – and really opening ourselves up to other people’s experiences. We set out to tell the story of individuals who have the passion to get into the game and not the opportunity. Intersecting in their lives was a tremendous experience for me.

‘UA Innovation’: That moment in the lifecycle of a US-based brand expanding into the international space demanded that we story-tell around the world. That was the opportunity in it, bringing a sense of cinema and an epic scale to a brand that was really grounded and pragmatic. That was the next evolution of their lifecycle.

‘Lincoln Navigator Sanctuary’: What I set out to do was bring a sense of intimacy and open up a new vulnerability inside of Serena. Having worked with her previously on a Beats campaign, I had an opportunity to meet with her again at a different stage in her career. Sitting down and finding such honesty in that is what I was going for.

‘Beats by Dre | NBA Unleashed’: This was an example of the dynamism, movement, and expression - the nuance of the physicality - of documenting that beautiful movement on the court. That was really what we were doing. We were there just staying focused, fixated on those individuals: their swag, their elegance, their passion. That was a beautiful opportunity.