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The Directors: Bec Peniston-Bird

The Directors 113 Add to collection

Award winning director Bec shares some of her craziest set stories and the importance of a strong relationship with DP's

The Directors: Bec Peniston-Bird

Bec Peniston-Bird is an award winning writer and director working across film, television, documentary and advertising. Her work has screened at some of the world's most prestigious film festivals, including Berlin, Palm Springs and Series Mania, as well as on ABC Television, MTV Australia, Foxtel and Lonely Planet TV. 

With a background in visual art and music, Bec has made a number of documentaries about the creative process, featuring artists such as Nick Cave, Eddie Perfect, Barry Humphries and iconic New York street artist Keith Haring.

In 2017, she undertook a writer/directors attachment on the feature film Winchester, starring Helen Mirren, and won an Australian Writers Guild Award for her feature screenplay, Petrova. In 2018, she was one of three Australian filmmakers invited to attend the Berlinale Talent Campus.

Bec recently directed second unit on the final season of the TV series Jack Irish and will direct her first feature in 2022. 

She directs commercials through TRUCE Films in Melbourne.


Name: Bec Peniston-Bird

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Repped by: Truce Films 

Awards: Insight Award / Best Feature Screenplay – Australian Writers Guild

Best Short Film – Sydney Mardis Gras Film Festival


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

Bec> Scripts with concepts that visualise a better world always jump out at me. The opportunity to connect, open minds or be a part of positive change gets me out of bed in the morning. 

Combine this with a project that has cinematic potential - colour and light, music, voice - there’s nothing better.  


How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Bec> Collaboration is key. Once a brief comes in, chatting to the agency creatives and understanding the clients’ wants and needs is imperative. 

Once that is understood, I’ll spend a couple of days compiling visual references, figuring out the spot’s rhythm and bouncing ideas off my DP and Producer.

Once I have a collection which captures the look and feel, I’ll work with my DA to pull together the treatment. I often fall a little in love with these docs – so much care goes into them and with the ones that don’t get picked up, there is always a lingering sliding doors sense of what could have been! 


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?

Bec> I always do my homework and deep dive, getting to grips with the brand values, key selling points and positioning within the marketplace. Then doing the same with the target market – I learn a lot from putting myself in the shoes of the consumer.

  

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

Bec> One of the most important relationship on set is my DP. Heading up the camera, grip and electrics team, they bring a level of technical skill which is crucial to realising the vision. A great DP should also elevate the project.


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

Bec> A piece that offers emotional truth and humanity through cinematic storytelling always works for me. 

An example that stands out is a beautiful spot for Australian bank Westpac that Garth Davis directed a few years ago. It depicts a young boy helping his parents through a family break-up. 

Real life shown in a way that we can all understand, and I just love it. 

 

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

Bec> I’ve done so much TVC work with kids and families so I think it can be easy to overlook my full creative range.

I’ve made (and loved making) documentaries about rockstars, digital content for networks such as Lonely Planet and MTV and directed stylish, neo-noir narrative film and TV.


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

Bec> I’ve worked with children on set so many times, and you never know what you might get on the day. Recently I was working with a four-year-old girl for a job involving a puppy. We had screen tested her with a real puppy, to check the chemistry, and she had knocked it out of the park.

However, on the day, our puppy was given muddy paws. And while she was great with animals, the mud really upset our young actor.. I always create an environment on set that is not stressful and, as always, patience and understanding was key. We got there in the end. 


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

Bec> I love collaboration and I’m mindful of the fact that the script has probably already been through multiple rounds of testing and revision, so it can be a balancing act. I get a sense of the boundaries pretty early on.

Protecting the core idea is key, but I always come to a project with ideas for extending the concept.

  

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?

Bec>The industry still has a long way to go in terms of diversity of all kinds. Local crews are still overwhelmingly white and predominantly male. 

In the Melbourne commercials world, I’m one of only a handful of women directors who is also a parent – this seems nuts given that mums control 85% of household spending.

On set experience is the best way to learn – so I am absolutely in favour of mentoring and apprenticeships, especially upcoming female and culturally diverse directors. Representation is important. 

  

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? 

Bec> Restrictions associated with the pandemic definitely forced us to think on our feet, on both a production and creative level. I’m based in Melbourne, Australia, and we spent a lot of 2020 under one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. 

During a brief lifting of restrictions, I directed a TVC for Huggies that involved a children’s sleepover. How to show a fun sleepover while keeping children 1.5 metres apart? My solution was to place each child in their own indoor play tents. The tents added a great colourful twist to the spot.

A great upside to the pandemic is that we’ve learnt to work quite naturally with clients and agency remotely. I’ve developed new relationships with overseas creatives and agencies and this has opened up a world of new opportunities. 


Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working? 

Bec> Clarity on the deliverables in early pre-production is crucial. 

In a world of broadcast, online and various social media platforms, decisions need to be made early on, whether content needs to be shot for different formats, or whether framing shots that can work across multiple platforms is possible. 

Ultimately you don’t want to lose an impactful shot, so it’s important to have these conversations early on. 

 

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

Bec> I’m absolutely open to new ways of doing things and I love that the drive behind a lot of new technology is about enabling viewers to engage more deeply. 

It’s also exciting to consider how emerging tech could enhance production and post-production - processes which in their current form can be pretty cumbersome and labour intensive. 


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

Spotlight 

This brief is a celebration of everyday creativity, relationships and diversity. 

For authenticity, I chose diverse cast who actually fit this brief: a dad who learnt to operate a Janome sewing machine from his mum and now sews for his daughters. A girl skateboarder who has been dying to decorate her own board. Drag queens who devise their own fabulous costumes.  

I also cast many people who were real life friends or family which helped us to capture so many intimate and spontaneous moments. 

Overall, we styled and covered 40 unique scenes, with 40 cast plus dogs and chickens). 


Australian NaturalCare

This brand spot was all about the quintessential Australian concept of following the sun. A small team of us travelled north to Byron Bay, where we street cast from locals and captured them in their natural environment. 

In order to capture every sunrise and sunset, we worked long days. I, it was paramount to keep everyone enthusiastic and focused. 

We ended up with so much incredible footage that the client ending up tripling the deliverables after the shoot.  


Water Safety

A job like this one comes along rarely – one with the potential to save lives. I love that the final piece feels natural and authentic without being melodramatic, but still cuts through. 

To increase the impact of the spot, I proposed that we introduce a key prop into the three set up scenes – a fishing net, a bath toy and a plastic digger – so that when we return to each of the three scenes, this time without a child, the abandoned prop signifies their disappearance.


Goodnight Sweetheart

I love the style and intrigue of neo-noir – the flip side to the sun flares and spontaneous naturalism. While the tone and aesthetic that here is different to a lot of my commercials work, the authenticity of relationships remains central.

On the back of this short, which was funded by Screen Australia, I went on to work on the acclaimed ABC TV series Jack Irish starring Guy Pearce.


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TRUCE, Wed, 16 Jun 2021 08:02:42 GMT