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The Directors: Jorge Ponce Betti



Antonella Perillo Agency director Jorge shares his love of storytelling and the important balance of care and comedy

The Directors: Jorge Ponce Betti

Jorge Ponce Betti is a film director and creative. He is a purebred storyteller. Jorge uses his experience as a writer mixing the best of both worlds in every project he directs. He enjoys working on comedy with a very special care in acting and a very accurate sense of humour. He also likes documentaries and mockumentaries and he enjoys a lot even those projects that require the mix of live action and post-production. He thinks that laughing is essential in life.

Name: Jorge Ponce Betti

Location: Argentina/Spain

Repped by/in: Antonella Perillo Agency

Awards: Two bronze, three silver and two gold at Cannes. Two silver and one Grand Clio. One silver at London International Awards.

Grand Prix at El Ojo de Iberoamérica. One gold at Círculo de Creativos Argentinos. One silver at Wave. Two silver at 'El Sol'. One Grand Prix at Effie. Best director and screenwriter at Short & Sweet Hollywood Film Festival, Golden Elephant at Short Film breaks and Grand Prix at Rabbat Film Festival for 'Immatures', shortfilm. Best five Productions Directors by Ad Age 2019.

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

Jorge> I’ve been a creative in agencies for many years and a director from the production companies side for many years too, so what I use to do is to mix the best of those worlds any time I get a script in my hands. As I’m a copywriter besides a director, I know that a script is written to sell an idea, but my philosophy is that a script doesn’t finish in a word document, but when we click on the play button of an mp4 file.

That means that we are still writing a script in the whole production process. Even in post-production we can still make changes in a script and improve it. 

But yes, my starting point is always the script I receive from the agency. Then I take my notes. Sometimes, for example, the creative device works perfectly, but there may be one gag that could be better than the other one, and so on. That’s why, before I start working on my treatment, I usually like to have a kind of 'script conversation' with the agency creative team, listening to them first to understand what they think and giving them a first overview from side too, not in order to change the core idea but to boost it, suggesting gag alternatives, or a way of working on the structure, showing some references or whatever I feel it could add something interesting to the script so we can bring it to life even better. 

The scripts that get me excited are all those that have some ingredients of humour and acting. I love comedy and human storytelling, I think laughing is something essential for human beings’ souls, it’s like our vital energy fuel, so when that kind of script arrives, I embrace it and get involved from the beginning, and luckily we can make other people laugh too.


How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Jorge> I’ve always thought that every idea has its own DNA. Understanding this DNA is really important in this 'approach' for the treatment, because as any DNA is different, any approach and treatment is different too. 

In my case, once I have the script clear in my head, I start working on the treatment, always with someone helping me on the reference research process. 

It’s like doing the supermarket list: once you know what you need to buy, you write it down and go find those things on the store shelves. So basically we shop in this kind of 'conceptual grocery' with special shelves full of photography, acting, characters, locations, wardrobes, acting, and whatever reference that could help to visualise and give a 'new body' to this DNA idea

I write my own treatments, trying to explain every detail, dissectioning the script and illustrating it with references. I think a good treatment is very important because if agency, client and production house are on the same page, with that document the preproduction process will be much easier and clearer too.

It’s a shame that still treatments are not paid in our industry, and I appreciate you are asking for this part of the director’s process because, as you see, it’s a hard, sensitive and a deep work of quite a week, in which production companies and directors invest a lot of time and money in order to win a pitch with a vision that, from my point of view, is so important as the script itself. During the pandemic, a Directors Global Movement started and directors from many countries even started their own Associations in their own countries (Spain and Argentina). All those Associations are pointing to this issue in order to value our work, and hopefully the market will see the importance of adding the treatment process in the production budget. 


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?

Jorge> As I mentioned before, I’m also creative, so the process of understanding brands is very natural for me. In fact, I’m one of Creative Container founders, a collaborative platform of independent talents and even part of The Bunch team in Italy. I’ve worked and shot in many countries and knew many cultures, and this part of the job is something that I love, understanding and enriching myself with all those multicultural ways of thinking. Creative Container has in fact this spirit in its DNA.

I feel that, as a director, I'm just as creative. Why? Because as creatives, we are always seeking this idea that we haven’t still done. It’s not so different when I’m directing. If I have to face a project for a brand that I have never worked for or an idea that is not exactly my 'comfort zone tone', I will always give all my best to understand what I need to do for this, what’s the best for this idea. I’ve always thought that the real boss is always the idea, not a VP, not an ECD, not a creative team, not even a director. We are just means to make that idea exist in its best version. That’s why I like to work as a team to make that idea happen. This is always my goal, with no ego’s wanting to be bigger than the idea.


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

Jorge> I think directing is a manifestation of being a leader. Even if you are a creative director in an agency or a director in a production company, you are first a leader, and your job is to bring people together, and the most important, to take out the most of each person in the process. 

That’s why, as a director, I try to be open to listen to my team, to the agency team and to the client team. The ideas could come from anywhere. So I try to listen to all those voices in order to make my own decisions as director, because to bring an idea to life you need to give the project a clear direction. The truth is that, in the whole process of thinking and producing ideas, we are not certain that the idea will really work. it’s just a matter of feeling that you are on the right path and going for it. We are in the business of agreement, we sell agreements, and if we all agree, everything will be fine. It’s about enjoying the process. My favourite compliment is when I’m on the set and someone tells me: "You don’t seem to be a director, because you don’t shout”. 

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

Jorge> I’m a big fan of Lionel Goldstein’s work. I love how they tell stories and work mockumentaries. I feel identified with them, by the way they laugh even about genres and formats. I think the same way. I always found that humour allows you to say things that you wouldn’t say in another way, it even allows you to criticise something, but in a clever way. 

On the other hand, I come from two very different families in Argentina, but of European blood. From my mother’s side, it’s a very intellectual family. All of them have graduated from College and have high standards and expectations, having German, Spanish, Italian and Irish roots. From my father’s side, they were from Italian working class, so I have grown up in a carpenter's shop with porn posters surrounding the workshop  and big BBQ’s in working wood tables. 

I feel that, somehow, that is very present in my work, because I consciously love to resignificate or refine the 'popular'. 

In this RAAW juice mockumentary commercial I shot in Argentina for the US market, you can see this approach.


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

Jorge> I don’t feel there is a misconception about my work. In my case, I have always thought that, as director, your work attracts more work, and generally it is the one that has the tone or is the type of project that you are used to or willing to work in, because when creatives look at your reel, they understand your vibe and your approach at once, so they know very well which project they can call you for, because it fits you. 


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

Jorge> No, I've never worked with a cost consultant. In Latin America I used to work directly with production companies and the same producers are the ones that prepare the budgets according to the treatment. In the USA, Europe and Asia, I’m represented by Antonella Perillo, and through her, I’m able to work with any production house and any agency that would like to call me as a director. As creative, through Creative Container, our talents and myself work with freedom for any brand, agency and production company, offering this mix of conceptual and productive thinking. We usually say that we are a kind of polyamory of creative work.


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

Jorge> I was shooting a beautiful short film for a Bolivian Brand. It was the story of the bond between a grandfather and his grandson. In the short film the child had a glance of the future, where his grandfather was not with him anymore, and the grandfather had a flashback of the moment he knew he was going to turn into a grandfather. 

When the grandson was a child, his grandfather perceived he liked a girl, while entering the school, and he bought flowers from a vendor that was passing by. The little girl kissed the child’s cheek. It was a tender moment.

I had to replicate the situation, but now, with this kid as an adult, so this time I wanted to have the same tenderness, but with a sweet kiss on his mouth, instead of the cheek.

Everything on the set was ready, and I was in a big hurry because of the light: the sun was fading out.

The moment we were ready to shoot this scene, the AD came to me very ashamed and told me that the actress has a problem giving a kiss on the actor’s mouth, because her mother, who was in the set, felt that she could have a problem with her boyfriend.

I couldn’t believe that an actress couldn’t give the actor just a small kiss in his mouth, it’s something that every professional actress should do, but I understood that there was a male chauvinist situation there, and a strong pressure even from her mother.

So I talked to the actress, and asked her if she could call her boyfriend and just explain the situation. It was a simple, small, and tender kiss in an actor’s mouth, nothing crazy.

The boyfriend didn’t 'allow' her to do that. 

I solved it by just replicating the whole situation, even the kiss, and it worked well, even if it wasn't what I had really wanted. 

But when we finally finished that scene, I remember I talked to the actress and I just told her that she had to think about what had just happened on set, and I encouraged her to be free from that sexism. And that if she really wanted to be a good actress, she needed to free all her talent without limitations, without social commands and without depending on anyone’s opinion and oppression.

Here’s the short film. The kiss was really sweet, the story behind the kiss, not so much. 


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

Jorge> It’s all about common sense, to me. I mean, I totally understand what we need to protect, from the agency and production company side, about all that could be related with the core 'idea', and on the other hand, I understand that this idea must always carry a message that should say or show what the client needs, to solve a communication problem, in order to generate awareness, consideration, or just sell a promo. Ideas are fragile creatures, and we really have to take care of them.

The fact of having been an ECD in agencies allows me to understand that kind of internal 'political chess' we are always playing, and understanding those aspects of the business game, helps me to achieve this balance in the process. I started talking about common sense, because I believe that, with the right arguments and being didactic, everything can be perfectly explained and exposed through the process. Dialogue is the key to keeping ideas safe. 

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?

Jorge> That’s a great question. At Creative Container we think exactly that way, we are a collaborative platform and we use to mix our talents and match the best talents for the project.

Sometimes we shoot like independent talents, but sometimes we co-direct together.

I’ve always liked the co-equippers agency formula, because two heads think better than one. In co-directions it is not only about the heads, but we can say that even four eyes look better than two. An interesting case of that kind of collaborative working was a project we shot for an OTT brand. It was a launching, so we set up a team with me and other two Creative Container talents to develop the whole positioning and the creative campaign from the beginning, working externally for an Argentinian well-known agency, and then we shot as directors remotely, through the production house that represent us in this country. It was interesting to listen to the agency owner saying to the client at the ppm: “This a new kind of experience for us: it’s the first time our creatives are at the same time our directors”. 

This was in the middle of the pandemic, and the result was a simple and beautiful piece of work.

We have talents from different backgrounds, music videos, animation, storytelling, art direction, etc. Mixing all those points of views definitely enriches, not just the work, but us as professionals as well.

This was this piece of work.


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? 

Jorge> At Creative Container we were already working remotely before the pandemic. As we say internally, “we offer seniority from the waist up”. But I think that the pandemic in fact accelerated this virtuality process and the way we work was exposed and rethought.

Before the pandemic, when I used to work for a production abroad, the ppm process was always remote. Agencies weren’t used to working like that in their creative process and, after the pandemia, they started to work more as production companies in this sense, with all the creative staff working from home.

So the good thing about it is that there’s a more open minded approach and agencies lost the fear of not working presentially, and this is something that I think will last into the long term.

On the other hand remote shootings were a trending topic in the beginning of the pandemia, it was even quite cool, and it’s a possible way of shooting yes, but it’s not exactly the same as being there in the set. A colleague said that shooting remotely is like seeing your friends going to play football from the window when you are sick, and it is quite like this feeling, I agree with that. The presenciality on set is important for directors, because you get the whole picture of what’s happening there and you have more reaction capacity in terms of framing, leading actors, etc. 


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

Jorge> Nowadays a spot production is not just a spot production, because in order to take advantage of the same production effort, the whole campaign is done in the same shooting. That means: the main spot itself, digital snacks and outdoor/print photos on set.

The degree of what is possible or not has to do with time, that is for sure one of the variables of the production equation. Everything can be done on set, it’s a matter of splitting the talent in units and having a good photographer on set, and for sure, to have a conversation among all those team heads to align everything and work together in a harmonic and efficient way. 

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

Jorge> To be honest, I’m more of a storytelling director. I have always loved to work on projects that involve the mixture of live action and postproduction, for example. I didn’t have so much experience incorporating future-facing tech, but I’m open to doing it, because as always, productions have to do with putting the right people in each role. 

What I did during the pandemia, that for me was a very interesting project that mixed technology and humanity, is a micro-documentaries series, that I co-directed with Andrés Brenner and Anahi Sinatra, called 'Personas No Números' (People Not Numbers). This is a series of homages that we did for Covid-19 victims in Argentina, telling their lives and leaving a beautiful memory for their families in each doc. 

In this case, it was a very interesting productive experience because all the interviews were recorded from those video calls we did with their families and friends and all the production team that joined us worked remotely, editing, post-producing, composing music, subtitling, etc. There’s even people from the team that we still don’t know in person. You can check the documentaries in youtube: PersonasNoNumeros

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

1) Renault - This spot is part of a campaign I directed for Renault, and it was really funny to construct this kind of “Car Hospital” for Renault Health service. For this spot I was elected as one of the Best 5 Production Directors by Ad Age in 2019.

2) Netflix Broadcast - This is the case study of a 45’ content we put in a free-to-air TV Channel for Netflix Brazil, in order to launch “Stranger Things” second season. It was a great idea from AKQA São Paulo and my goal here was to make great and funny content. I directed the Fake News program replicating the old one and even the fake 80’s commercials in the studio with all those classic clichés. It won 2 lions at Cannes and a Grand Clio.

3) Brahma Hamlet - This spot is part of a campaign I directed for Brahma. This crazy “Anecdote Gurú” helped people tell their own stories better. With a mix of acting and art direction I had the pleasure to tell the story of the Gurú itself.

4) RAAW Sperm Collector - This is one of two spots for RAAW juice. I love to work on these kinds of mockumentary ideas. This spot was the best commercial of the week in AdAge.

5) Inmaduros - This is a short film I shot in homage to my childhood neighbourhood called “Immatures”, that tells the story of Don Luis. As every greengrocer does, Don Luis knows if the fruit is mature by touching it. However, he’s got a very special gift. Don Luis can also do the same with people. The short film won best screenplay and best direction at Short & Sweet Hollywood Film Festival.

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AntonellaPerilloAgency, Mon, 05 Jul 2021 12:24:26 GMT