Born in Hamburg, Germany, at the age of 20 Marc Bethke moved to Los Angeles to study filmmaking at the NYFA Universal Studios Campus. He found his passion within advertising and became a creative, writer and director.
His work strives to find the raw truths in the beautiful imagery within the fictional and stylized worlds he creates. Storytelling is paramount in his work which focuses on inspirational lifestyle products and automotive work. Coming from a fiction directing background he enjoys working with actors immensely and it's key to his process.
Powered by a deep love for the craft of filmmaking his attention to detail is second to none and this fuels his enjoyment of the whole process from page to screen.
His list of work for clients such as BMW, Audi, MINI, Porsche, Genesis, Bentley, Skoda, Volkswagen and Toyota speaks for itself.
Marc also writes concepts for fiction formats and is currently in the development phase for his first TV series. His fictional directing debut, short film ‘Mikelis’ starring the legendary Scottish actor James Cosmo, screened in over 30 festivals around the world.
- Name: Marc Bethke
- Location: Germany
- Repped by/in: Dog Eat Dog (UK), BITE Management (Worldwide)
- Awards: NY Festivals, Cannes, Clio, One Show, several Short Film Awards
Q> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
Marc> I believe it’s all about perspective. Once you manage to look at something from a different point of view, then you get people interested and excited and involved. When shooting cars, you must be very aware of the perspective on so many levels to show the uniqueness of the particular model. But if a script allows me to extend that approach beyond the car, that’s when it becomes truly exciting for me.
Q> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Marc> I try to focus on what I can bring to the project instead of repeating what’s already in the brief. Sure, you still need to write about the film as a whole, but I really like to emphasize on my input. In the end, this is what I want to be chosen for. So, my treatments are hopefully a tempting invitation for a wild ride you don’t wanna miss out on.
Q> 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?
Marc> Regarding a brand, I must understand what sets them apart from the competition. And then I let that be the thread within my approach. I try to get a good idea of the do’s and don’ts in a market that’s new to me, but that’s about it. I don’t want to involve myself too much in strategic and contextual matters, because I have seen many times how things that were discussed for months before the shoot fly out the window of the editing room because something else suddenly simply feels better.
Q> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Marc> I have the most fun with my DOPs, because that’s my way of creating a bond, and I need that Batman and Robin vibe to be at my best on set. I usually have to function on so many levels and communicate in so many directions at the same time, that when I am next to my DOP, I simply must be able to relax and know that he understands me and has got my back at all times. Because the days can be long and exhausting, sometimes full of unexpected events.
Q> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
Marc> I initially studied fiction direction, so working with actors and telling stories resonates deeply with me. On the other hand, I love the action-packed or sheer beauty car jobs I am doing a lot of. Currently I am getting more drawn to the human reaction to a product and what it does to the world of the individual, because I believe this is where advertising must be heading.
Q> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
Marc> As a commercial director, you are always considered to be a specialist for making one sort of film for one specific type of product. It really drives me mad. I consider myself a filmmaker, meaning someone who has learned a craft which I can apply to fulfill different requirements. As a director, I know what buttons I must push in order to create a certain result. I understand if there are other directors out there who simply decided to work in one specific field and feel no desire to branch out. But the habit of agencies looking at reels without asking who’s really behind the work leads to a general misconception and is something that keeps a lot of directors limited below their actual potential, and that’s very unfortunate for everyone involved.
Q> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Marc> There have been problems on almost every shoot I have done in my life. I simply don’t get nervous, but instead I try to embrace the problem and see where it leads me by adapting to it. I believe Francis Ford Coppola once said in an interview that the most memorable scenes in all of his films came out of something going completely wrong. I really like that thought, it simply shows that whatever you thought of beforehand is certainly not the only solution, and probably not even the best one in some cases.
Q> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Marc> By talking to them and involving them in the process, meaning informing them a lot during the shoot and sometimes simply catering to their ideas, whether I am a fan of them or not. Because that’s part of my job. Once they become collaborators instead of just spectators behind a monitor, it’s a lot easier to win them over for my ideas. This way, I can make sure to capture the required content both for their needs and for my individual vision of the film.
Q> 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?
Marc> Yes, because I am sure I can learn something from someone who comes to my set with a fresh pair of eyes and a healthy naivety for what we are doing there. I always loved how collaborative the DOPs were when I was visiting the ASC clubhouse in Los Angeles as a student. It’s important to share the knowledge, because everyone will use it in their own way, anyway.
Q> 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?
Marc>I hope that we can streamline the whole process even more by doing video calls instead of traveling half a day for a meeting and such things. Or using online tools in post-production that are serving as a platform for various departments to basically work simultaneously, which I am currently experiencing on my latest job, and I love it. Other than that, it’s still gonna be a bunch of people and a camera, and I like it that way.
Q> 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)?
Marc> I never had a job where I had the time available that’s needed to think and stage for different formats, even though it was required. So something is always compromised, and that is obviously a shame. Again, it’s about perspective and composition, and you must certainly frame differently for 16:9 opposed to 1:1, for example. The framing influences so many elements, like the Art direction or the blocking of the actors or the placement of a product or the choice of the right lens. So I hope that agencies and clients learn to understand this and consider it in the framework of a project and stop compromising on the quality.
Q> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?
Marc> I was involved quite heavily into a virtual production project, researching the technology, doing screen tests, writing a script and so on. Unfortunately the film never got made, but I think virtual production for example can create astonishing results. But you should be aware that it simply shifts the budgets from one side to another. I am completely open to working with new technologies, based on what I have written above, saying that as a director you should be able to adapt and evolve your craft to different forms of making a film, making the best use of what’s available to you.
Q> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
MINI - Countryman
Marc> I love this film, because we shot it with a very small crew, consisting only of six people. It shows how much you can achieve if you embrace what you have available and put your heart and soul into it.
BMW - X7
Marc> This is a true director’s cut, because I allowed myself to assemble the material in a completely new way. I loved using only sound design, and I came up with a completely new narrative for it. But this film embodies what I love doing when shooting cars. And I have to give credit to my editor, without whom this kind of work wouldn’t be possible.
BMW CHINA - THE 3
Marc> This film consists of so many elements, from shooting with two cars on a racetrack, driving shots on city and country roads, super high speed shots, shooting on stage with LED walls, working with actors in a studio and on location and so much more. I really enjoyed working in so many different scenarios and orchestrating the content in a way that in the end, they feel as one.
Short Film - MIKELIS
Marc> My passion project. A fictional short film starring the legendary Scottish actor James Cosmo. It relies heavily on dialogue, has very slow pacing and tells a story in a completely different way compared to my commercial work. Coming from a fiction directing background, it was a pure joy working with these incredible actors and on the finest details of their performance.