The Directors in association withLBB Pro User

The Directors: Emily Freda Sharp

Production Company
London, UK
KODE director on working in the space of sincerity and silliness and why she moved from a CD role to directing

Born and based in London, Emily is a director who strives to create playful work that doesn’t compromise on meaning. Thanks to a formative training in dance, she brings to screen a kinetic musicality, whilst her portfolio speaks for itself as to the importance in places on inclusive representation both in front and behind the camera. Emily’s background in advertising has seen her work on a variety of projects, including the United Nations’ Cannes Lion and D&AD award winning campaign, The People’s Seat, as well as films for clients such as Net-a-Porter, Facebook, and Universal Music. With a sentimentality for the creativity of childhood, she often jokes that if she’s not making a Spice Girls reference then she’s not doing her job properly! Whether it’s a client brief or creative stimulus, she works to imbue her films with a magical energy that leaps off the screen and begs you to jump in. 

Director: Emily Freda Sharp

Location: London

Repped by: KODE in UK

Awards: Cannes Lion Gold and Silver, D&AD Graphite

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

Emily> You can always tell when a script has a clear voice, whether it’s strong characterisation or a well positioned creative hook: The best ones have both! If I can get a feel for the tone on first read that’s when I get excited about the direction. It’s one thing when you can follow along with the story but when you can feel the beats and breath of the performance and edit playing out immediately in your mind, that’s another. That’s when you know you’re working with something exciting that you clearly have synergy with.

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

Emily> I like to sit with a brief for at least a day or so (time permitting) before committing anything to paper. I find that the process of holding on to your initial thoughts helps you stay connected to your immediate response. Then, in the total opposite fashion I start my treatments with a crystal clear Creative Rationale. I see this as a chance to outline my understanding of the story we’re trying to tell and what the spot needs from me to do so. This becomes my guiding stone for the rest of the deck. I think for both myself and those on the receiving end this really helps to rationalise the subsequent creative direction, and in the simpletest sense it ensures we’re all on the same page. 

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 the strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?

Emily> Sometimes being less familiar with a brand means I don’t have preconceived ideas of what to expect from them, so it helps you see what the creative team is trying to do with a specific script. Either way, it’s important to go back and look at a brand’s history to find the common threads the agency will have baked into their considerations. Ultimately though we’re not influencers or content creators, we’re directors and so brand affinity needn’t be a prerequisite for capability - the NFL wouldn’t turn down a top defence lawyer because they’re not a major fan of American Football! 

I tend to think that the notion of perceived brand affinity can also enable unconscious bias to prevail in our industry; Male directors being a comfortable choice to direct premier league ads and car campaigns because of a presumed level of understanding. In reality I know many talented, male directors who’ve worked on football campaigns who couldn’t tell you what position Son Heung-min plays in… and that’s okay! They still made incredible ads! I just think it’s worth us asking ourselves how much weight we should give to these assumptions. 

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

Emily> Creative directors may have spent months with a project before it reaches me - they are the origin and oracle - so building trust in that relationship is everything. In much the same way, I feel the relationship I have with my DOP is equally important. Between the three of us we are the sinews through which the story travels to screen.

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

Emily> Sincerity and silliness are often considered at odds but this is the space I’m most excited to work in - prising apart sincerity's attachment to seriousness. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in an era when things marketed to children (particularly little girls) were often dismissed as silly; Silly just doesn’t feel like a bad thing to me! It’s joyful, playful, subversive and refreshing.

Whether it’s a script about overcoming the hazards of modern dating or accessibility in the disabled community, I’m interested in stories that move us forward as people. No one needs representation in the form of a pity party, and manifestos sometimes feel like sermons in disguise - ultimately just adding fuel to the culture war fire. So I’m excited to see work that departs from grand gestures and sweeping (dare I say it, empty) statements and instead welcomes a bit of reality. To be sincere is simply to be genuine, and what could be more genuine than to enjoy how silly life can sometimes be.

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

Emily> It’s thanks to incredible producers that I can say I’ve yet to have permits fall through, trucks fail to arrive, or cameras spontaneously combust, but that’s not to say every production isn’t littered with a million potential ‘problems’. If it’s talent that are proving difficult - from sudden bouts of anxiety, to manipulative sexist and racist behaviour, you name it I’ve seen it - it’s my job to find a way to connect with them and maintain control. Ultimately it’s my responsibility to steer the ship into harbour so at times like these I think my strongest asset is the ability to tune into people’s energies and meet them where they need to be met. 

I have to say that runners are the unsung heroes of disaster management though. As directors and producers we may find ourselves fighting fires under the watchful gaze of our clients, but it’s thanks to our PMs and runners that once a solution’s found we’re able to detach ourselves from the drama.

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

Emily> Protecting is an interesting word… it brings to mind Gollum and his ‘precious’ - an attitude I’d say is best avoided. In a dream scenario you find yourself in sync with a team of strong Creatives with whom you can build trust, respect and an enthusiasm for each other's ideas. Agency, production, and brand are of course in constant collaboration but I think each stage of a project allows different voices to take centre stage. The closest I ever get to my inner Gollum is when agency or client interference threatens the work of the crew, otherwise it’s all about taking the time to ensure everyone feels heard. 

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?

Emily> Yes and yes. 

I likely wouldn’t be here if things weren’t changing so I’d be mad to think otherwise. That said, I don’t think you need to be a beneficiary in order to give a monkey’s. One thing I have noticed is that many of my regular HODs are women, so when we’re all on set together it’s common for people to comment on what a “female heavy crew” we are. What might come as a surprise though is that in most of these instances we’re talking about a crew that actually has a 50:50 gender split. I bring this up lovingly because these are comments made in celebration, however it’s just interesting to note that 50:50 can look like 90:10 when we’re not used to it. As female directors we tend to get asked to work on all female crews for IWD, so it should come as no surprise that we end up knowing a pool of talented women. What we all need to start working on is integrating these initiatives - more female HODs working for male directors, more BAME talent behind the camera -- there’s still so much to be done.

As for mentoring, I’m currently part of a scheme at Westminster University working with soon to be graduates of their film course. I didn’t go to university myself though and would love to find and get involved in schemes supporting young talent who have chosen not to follow this route.

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 you feel will stick around for a long time?

Emily> It was in 2021 that I left my agency role as a creative director and began directing, so in many ways the (post)pandemic is all I’ve known. It goes without saying that remote working has changed all of our lives for the long term and on the whole, for the better. 

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)?

Emily> I come from the world of social-first advertising having worked on the first social campaign to win Gold and Silver at Cannes Lions, so I’ve been no stranger to multiple formats throughout my career. I’m excited to see more brands and agencies embrace an integrated approach to their TVCs and socials. There’s a world in which these often separate activations could be produced alongside one another to enable the creative to better adapt to the required formats and most importantly, to avoid socials feeling like an afterthought. 26 million households in the UK have TVs, whilst 23 million users have TikTok - that’s not a huge disparity, so why should one be far less important than the other. I may sound like a crusader for social-first advertising but really all I’m trying to say is that it shouldn’t be something we just ‘squish’ into frame.

LBB> What’s your relationship to 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)?

Emily> One of the areas I’m most interested in is data-driven creative. Instinctively that sounds like a concept devoid of soul, straight out of the Tory ‘Get Into Cyber’ campaign, but I’ve seen how powerful data can be first hand. I often find myself in situations where a brand is looking to connect with an underrepresented group and I only have my personal experiences to draw from. I’m just one voice in a room (or zoom call) full of people and as much as the director’s opinion counts, it’s incredible to be able to work with teams like the Diversity Standards Collective to provide data-driven insights to back up and inform your ideas.

Another area I’m curious about is where AI can aid storyboarding as well as character and production design. I’m cautious because I have a niggling feeling that AI could result in a proliferation of monoculture aesthetics - like when you first read Harry Potter you have your own idea of what Hagrid looks like, then as soon as you’ve seen the films he’s just Robbie Coltrane and your imaginary Hagrid is gone. I’m wary that AI could have a similar influence on the way we work. 

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

Surf - ‘Air Your Dirty Laundry’

I had a lot of fun with the Creatives on this one - Sam Oldham and Julia Mathew (adam&eveddb). Gemma’s someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously and isn’t afraid to lean into the sillier side of things, so we had a blast on the day working with a combination of scripted dialogue and improvised moments. To support her bold, playful personality we took an eccentric approach to our production design, with films like 'But I’m A Cheerleader’ (1999) taking centre stage as a great reference for how domestic spaces can be made to feel campy and surreal. 

Pioneer x Burn - ‘Pump Up The Volume’ 

This one was sent to me as the seed of an idea - simply to execute the illusion of jumping in and out of a can, whilst strategically generating social relevance for both brands amongst Gen Z. As the Zillenial big sister of 3 Gen Z’s I know there’s nothing worse than posey, disingenuous, try-hard advertising, so above all I wanted to avoid even the faintest whiff of fakery. I looked at iconic films and TV from the Y2K era - ‘Human Traffic’ (1999), ‘Spaced’, ‘Kevin and Perry’ - and what I landed on was the idea of making a character out of our camera. With this in mind, we encouraged the cast to play to the lens, stripping away any self-consciousness and allowing them to be as goofy as possible whilst we blasted Jungle tracks on set all day. It worked!

Square - ‘Everything, Almost’

With clear scripts in place and 9 assets to pull off across a 2 day shoot, this was a great challenge to work on with a burgeoning tech brand like Square. At the heart of these scripts was a desire to build a supportive presence amongst business owners and I immediately clicked with scripts like the beautician struggling to wax the world’s hairiest man, or the pub landlord at the mercy of impatient punters. From there I focussed on how our cinematography could reinforce the first person perspective that was crucial to each story, allowing us to mimic and elevate the agile camera angles that really grab people’s attention on socials.

Work from Kode
Cut You Off
My Lady of Mercy
The Last Dinner Party
Fred Roberts