The Directors in association withLBB Pro

The Directors: Lauren Chengan

Production Company
Johannesburg, South Africa
FORT director on relatable scripts, crossing genre lines and some of her stand out work so far

Lauren matriculated in 2009 and went on to study at The New York Film Academy (Los Angeles) and Boston Media House (Durban). She has been working in the industry for the past eight years and spent the first three years as both editor and script-supervisor, making the transition to directing five years ago with the Absa Prosper Film Series and since then has gone on to work with some other pretty great brands such as Ford, Telkom, Black Label, Game, Debonairs, DSTV Africa, SuperSport, Nedbank and Discovery.

When you look at Lauren's work you'll see that she tells both funny and inspiring stories. They are both equally import to her as a filmmaker.

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

Lauren> I get excited about scripts that are relatable and unpredictable, when a script is relatable, I know there will be a resonance with the piece and when there is an unpredictable element, I know that it will be entertaining and that unexpected aspect will be the key moment to focus on in my treatment, it gives me an opportunity to have fun and explore what I can do to take it even further. I also love a script or idea that deals with an important issue that could potentially get people to open up their minds or be inspired. I get excited about scripts that move people. 

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

Lauren> I start by asking myself if just one thing is going to make this spot special, what would that one thing be, it could be the performance of the talent, it could be the location(s), it could be a camera gimble, it could be a piece of music etc... Now of course all the different aspects of filmmaking are needed  but I start by prioritising the one that I think is the most important specific to the script I am working  on and then I keep doing this until I have covered everything, I need from most to least important, this also helps me when production says I need to cut back in terms of budget, whatever is at the  bottom of my list is where I usually look at shaving things as this will impact the overall creative and execution the least. Once I’m done with my list, I go deeper into each “thing” writing up on the why and how it is going to work in this spot to create a clear picture for everyone that I share my treatment with. I also work with a researcher to help me find references for each of these elements so that we can see ways it was done before. Each treatment is unique and requires different elements. Sometimes I may do a sample shoot of a moment to articulate an idea, or cut together an ad using other ads. The treatment is the blueprint of how we are going to make the ad so whatever helps me and the producer, agency, client, cast and crew see the vision best goes into the treatment. 

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? 

Lauren> It is extremely important to me; I believe commercial directing is more than filmmaking you really do have to get involved with the brand, what it stands for, who it targets, current positioning and goals as all these things influence how you treat an ad for a brand most importantly with the tone and look and feel. I often start by looking at past ads or campaigns of the brand to get a sense of how they have approached spots in the past, I then go on their website and social media to get a deeper understanding and when it is a fresh campaign that is going to be launched I ask the agency top get me as much of the WIP material of the campaign so that I can see through the line what the roll out will be, this gives me a good sense of what the brand is trying to achieve so that I am aligned and can potentially push the essence of the brand further into my treatment of the ad. 

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

Lauren> The producer is the most important working relationship for me to have as a director because this is the one person in making an ad that I work with from pitch, prep, shoot, post and delivery. The producer is with me from start to finish and is there to help me troubleshoot any snags along the way. The producer works with me to put together the best team and gear for the project based on the creative needs. The producer is my greatest ally and when we are both aligned the process is effortless and the result is magic. 

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? 

Lauren>  I am not drawn to a particular genre; I would like to incorporate a lot more experimental techniques into my filmmaking. Genre wise I would like to keep crossing all the lines I find to be exciting and don’t think that we need to be boxed in as filmmakers. I love working with brands or on campaigns that push female empowerment, mental health or encourage self-expression and inspire people to be better and be the best authentic versions of themselves. 

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

Lauren> I think that this is a misconception many directors face and seems to be more of an industry misconception about directors; often if I don’t have a specific product on my reel for example, food, cars or shoes then there is the misconception that I may not have the experience to shoot for brands that have these products. The reason this is wrong is because even if I or any other director don’t have specific products on our reel, we may still have the creativity and conceptual ability to direct  the script and even more so bring a fresh and new way of treating a product that hasn’t been done before. As directors we don’t work in isolation, we collaborate with the right crew for the job, so where I may not have 20 car ads on my reel my cinematographer may have, so we know that he or she has the experience to make the car look good. I believe the key to directing is to have the best crew and cast with the right experience for the concept, this is the beauty of filmmaking. We all come together with our strengths and when we are all in sync, magic is made. If advertising agencies and brands become more open to working with directors who are right for the concept/creative rather than who have similar products on their reels, we will start to see a lot more innovation which will result in memorable, entertaining and effective TVC’s. 

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

Lauren>  I haven’t worked with a cost consultant in the formal sense that they go by the title cost consultant...I have worked with line producers who manage the budget and logistics of a shoot and as a team have figured out how and where to cut costs so that we come in within budget on our  shoot. My experiences have been good, we always find creative solutions to budget issues and I think the key is for the creative to understand the costs that need to be managed and for the person managing the costs to understand where money needs to go to serve the creative best. 

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

Lauren> The craziest problem I’ve had on more than one occasion is not having budget to feature some cast members and I’ve solved this by finding creative ways to keep them part of the script by either having them on screen for under two seconds or weaving in not seeing their face and just hearing them as part of the creative treatment. 

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

Lauren> I strike balance by having a strong understanding of what can’t be compromised on in order to protect the idea / creative. It’s important to be clear on this in the treatment phase so everyone is on the same page during pre-prod this makes for a smoother shoot. As a director it’s important for me to not get too caught up on minutia that don't serve the idea. For example if I feel that the lead actress needs to be in jeans and the agency/brand wants her in a skirt. If the skirt doesn’t change the overall idea and creativity of the ad then I can and should be able to easily let it go. On the other hand if brand clients / agencies are making performance suggestions during the shoot that is compromising the integrity of the idea then I will need to step in politely and explain that to them as that is my responsibility. 

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? 

Lauren> I am very open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set, I believe that this is very important to our industry not only from a CSI / giving back perspective but also the more diverse talent we have in our industry the more exciting the future of filmmaking as we will have new ideas and new ways of looking at the world and telling stories which is really great and important for the industry, gone are the days where we have one set of individuals with the same background and worldviews telling all our stories. 

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? 

Lauren> I think the biggest way the pandemic has influenced the way I work is pitching and having preprod meetings virtually, I think this will stick around in the industry for a while. On a more personal level I think this pandemic has shown me that smaller crews aren’t always a bad thing and that it is sometimes better to have less people on set unless absolutely necessary (Quality vs Quantity).  

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)? 

Lauren> It gets tricky when a piece of work is going on air in a 16x9 format as well as on social media in a 9x16 format as you can’t have the perfect framing for both so the first thing to do is to find out  which format is most important to the client and prioritise that one and what is best for that format while still considering the other one by asking the DIT to have the gridlines visible on the monitor so we can see how it will look in 16x9 and 9x16. Another example would be asking the editor to put subtitles on the video that goes on social media as that is often not played with sound on, so we plan as much as we can and discuss what is and isn’t possible during pre-prod to ensure nothing is overlooked and accommodate what we can with the tools we have.

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

Lauren> I am quite open to working with new technology where it makes sense for the idea and not just for the sake of, where the intention matches the idea, I will be game. I haven’t had the opportunity present itself yet, so I am yet to incorporate future-facing tech into my work. 

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

Lauren>  This first link (Game, Name Dropping) is only about 15 seconds of live action and in that short time it shows off a lot. I feel that I was able to show off working with talented actors who were able to take a pretty basic script and turn it into something entertaining. From an aesthetic point of view I think the 'cinematic-ness' of this simple one location set-up really shines in both cinematography and art direction. 

This second link (Telkom Business, Beat It) shows off both my technical and performance directing. I loved the challenge of directing someone who is talking to camera throughout the ad, giving the audience a lot of information and then making it entertaining and fun. This piece also shows off my visual directing abilities as this ad has many locations but the camera moves fluidly and seamlessly transitions from one location to the next so that you don’t feel the cuts. 

This third link (IEC, Dope Saint Jude register to vote campaign) is one piece in a series of six. I've chosen this one because it is the most bold. This campaign as a whole was so special because the message was strong. The main message of course was getting youth to register to vote but it was an inspiring campaign as we got to showcase diverse South Africa youth who are in unconventional exciting industries. What made this shoot special was the tiny budget I had to work with and the short amount of time I had with each person and what we were able to create with the little that we had was phenomenal. 

This fourth link (Ford, Fordpass) I’ve included this link for Fordpass as I would love to shoot more car  brands. This piece may seem like a simple studio shoot however I really love the opening sequence, I worked with my DP and Gaffer to get this awesome chase lighting effect over the ford while the camera was moving and it is a technical and visual sequence that I am super proud of directing and would like it to show off that I can indeed shoot a car. I also really love the performance direction between the lead character and the voice-over and I feel that their interaction also shows off my performance directing. 

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