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The Directors: Martin Swift


Johnny Foreigner director on being organised, good working relationships and the importance of being honest and passionate about ideas

The Directors: Martin Swift

Martin is an award-winning director with over 20 years’ experience working in commercials, film/TV titles sequences documentaries, and music videos. With a strong cinematic approach to his work, he loves to tell stories with beautifully crafted visuals. He has been fortunate enough to work with some of the most prestigious ad agencies, innovative creative teams and iconic brands including BMW, Volvo, Ferrari, Ford, Puma, Armani. Martin has also very proudly worked on thought-provoking films for respected charities covering issues including drug addiction, AIDS and homelessness. Martin consistently shows passion in his work, striving for aesthetic beauty and a strong cinematic style in everything he throws himself at. His aim is to get it right and do justice to the imagery that has influenced him over the years, whether that’s waiting for the perfect light on location or coaxing the best out of a performance. Born, raised and educated in Wigan, Lancashire, home of Northern Soul and pies, he studied Fine Art at Leeds and began his career working at Granada TV Manchester, before emigrating to the big smoke and learning his craft as a Lighting Cameraman, DOP and Director. Based in London but working all over the world, he has great production contacts throughout Europe, USA and China.

Name: Martin Swift 

Location: London, UK 

Repped by/in: Johnny - UK, - CHINA & SE ASIA, - Sweden & Finland  

Awards: Creativepool Awards 2017 – GOLD for Volvo V90 Cross Country Campaign.  

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

Martin> I love getting a script / creative brief that immediately jumps out at me, beautifully visually presented or reading an opening synopsis that conveys the mood or  atmosphere that the creative agency and client are aiming for. At brief stage, I don't mind it being vague in the details or not having any thought out structure or narrative. Story, details and structure all matter, but they can also develop naturally in the process, and often abstract and non-linear stories can be the most visually engaging for an audience. So it’s usually the visual ambition and tone of a brief that hooks me in and instantly allows me to visualise a film.  

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

Martin> Firstly I’ll make sure I’ve got all the brief files from the agency and client, if possible chat with the creative teams and agency producers and get as much info out of them as possible. And then it's a case of locking myself in a room for a few days, with a notepad and laptop. Usually the first day or two is breaking down the brief, making tones of notes, scribbling down ideas, picture research, often playing music to create an mood and basically shutting myself off until I come up for air or food. I’ll then start to organise everything into a 1st draft and start to design a layout, usually by the best part of a week and the 4th or 5th draft I’m pretty much there.

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? 

Martin> Yes I experienced this many times pitching and working in China, getting an accurate translation from mandarin to English was the first step, then taking the time to research and understand the brands identity is vital for a new brand or in a market you’ve not worked with before. I have to immerse myself a into a brands ethos and culture, understanding the key features of a product or even getting your head around futuristic technology that doesn't even exist in your own Market. This is done by asking questions and picking the brains of the agency and client if you get the opportunity. Researching previous campaigns, looking at competitors in the same market, understanding the culture of the market your pitching on. I also feel its important to retain your own identity in the work, don't try and completely reinvent the way and the style you like to work in, as after all that’s why you've been asked to pitch. It’s usually figuring out how to infuse my filmmaking style into the identity of the brand.  

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

Martin> I strive to have a good working relationship with everyone in the process of making an ad, from pitch, to preproduction, location scouts and drivers, art dept and to crew  shooting the ad and then into postproduction. It’s important to me to gain the respect from the people I work with, when a working relationship breaks down, it has a overall negative affect on any project as it needs everyone to pull together. In saying that, obviously a director and a creative and producers need to have great trust with each other, clear communication and respect. Also, in my style of Filmmaking the Cinematographers I work with have a vital part to play. Working for many years myself as a DoP, I have a great respect for their skills and an understanding of how vital prep and communication is with them before we start shooting.

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? 

Martin> I love to create work with lots of atmosphere and cinematic flare, telling a visual story in a different, abstract and often non-linear way. Whether this is for an Automotive  brand, Sport brand, Luxury or Lifestyle, I like to establish a distinctive tone that runs  throughout, either in stunning locations with an abundance of natural light or designing and crafting a distinctive studio set. It can be graceful in pace, lingering onto crafted and stunningly composed shots, or equally a fast, pulsing, paced edit to create the mood and all married with the perfect music score. I love to create visually poetic films. 

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

Martin> That I only shoot car ads, which is understandable as I that's the bulk of my work and most of the pitches that I get sent ( I’m NOT complaining) ….. but I’ve also directed sports ads for Puma, beauty ads for Armani, Title sequence for feature films & TV, music promos, documentaries ……… 

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

Martin> I’m sure I have, but I don't recall any specifics and maybe my producers dealt with it directly more than me.  

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

Martin> Every production I’ve ever done, has had its own set of ‘challenges‘, talent not showing up, technology failing, unplanned weather surprises etc but there is always a solution. Some solutions are quickly resolved simply on set with a bit of patience and ingenuity; others have you praying till post-production. Many moons ago, on one of my very first Music promos, I had the brief from a band to make them a video with a narrative based on classic 70’s/80’s road movies (Cannon Ball Run, Vanishing Point , Smokey & the Bandit and the likes). However the budget was a few  sandwiches, assorted crisps and all the fizzy drinks you wanted. Obviously no tracking vehicles, Helicopters shots, or elaborate stunts could work on this humble budget.!!! But it was my first proper start as a director and my ambition was limitless. So the solution to the problem was that we would build and create a three min film with miniature electric cars. I had a Bank holiday weekend, a digi-beta , a small green screen studio and three crew members at my disposal and vitally an extensive Scalextric’s set. We built cities, created desert’s, orchestrated a high octane police chase and a Thelma & Louise style ending. The band, myself and my editor were dropped into the miniature world, and with the downtime help and persuasion of the Post House I was working at, we eventually finished the Epic promo months and months later. It was epic! We had high hopes for it in the as new Directors showcase at Cannes, but it never materialised and I don't think the band ever thanked me.. But in some respect this became my first ever Automotive shoot. 

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

Martin> It is always a collaboration with that agency and 100% the need to work closely together with the creative team and there will always be different viewpoints, it's the  subjective nature of filmmaking, but ultimately the Agency and Client has final say. However, I strongly feel you just need to be honest and passionate about your ideas, which is the best way to approach something, don't be an arse about it, but stand up for all those scenes or shots you believe in, your vision and skills as the director is what your being employed for. 

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? 

Martin> Absolutely, bring on as much talent as possible, no matter what walks of life people come from or who they are, the key is to encourage and develop their individual  talent. The most difficult thing for me when starting my career was, how on earth do I get the opportunity to work in this profession, I’ve always had creative ambition, but it took me a long time to work out, and a bit of good fortune, how to turn it into a career and who’s doors to be knocking on or breaking down, and that's a never ending  journey. 

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? 

Martin> I feel it’s had a huge impact on the work and the new way we work. I continue to develop skills to do that that safely especially with a large crew. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and steadily work throughout the pandemic, and watched how different countries; governments and productions have dealt with all the new safety requirements. I do feel frequent testing, vaccinations; mask wearing on set and traveling is here for the foreseeable.  

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)? 

Martin> It basically isn’t possible to shoot and more accurately to compose every single shot  or scene for every format, every ratio to fit into stills, social media, mobile phones,  TV and cinema and large digital display screens. And the solution is not to shoot everything wide at 8K, as that just compromises every composition. The only way is to be specific on what the deliverables are, be realistic with the time and shoot, budget and schedule for those shots specifically.  

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

Martin> Technology in all filmmaking is constantly evolving and we equally adapt to new ways of working and delivering in new formats, it's an on going challenge that continues to set new ways to visually tell stories and develop how the audience interacts with the story. I am in no way a technology geek, but I like to surround myself with a few of them when necessary and I am not the biggest fan of virtual, remote productions, I am hoping that it doesn't become the norm, as I feel being on set working with the crew and in front of a performance is still the best and essential part of the way I work.  

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

Martin> I have chosen these four spots, primarily because they best display my strength and my style as a filmmaker, different paced films but still creating a immediate tone and  cinematic atmosphere.  

1. Volvo V90 Cross Country – ‘Home'

2. Volvo XC90 – ‘Drive The Future’ 

3. Suzuki Vitara – Global Campaign  

4. Leon Paul, UK – ‘Wireless Fencing”

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Johnny Foreigner, Thu, 26 May 2022 12:25:31 GMT