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The Directors: Nicholas Lam

The Directors 140 Add to collection
Hound Content director on capturing authentic and relatable human experiences and why Zoom is here to stay
The Directors: Nicholas Lam

Nicholas Lam is a director based in Los Angeles, by way of Hawaii and Hong Kong. Upon graduating from USC's School of Cinematic Arts, he has gone on to direct international campaigns for global brands such as Google, Samsung, Disney, P&G and Nestle, working closely with top agencies like BBDO, Ogilvy & Mather and Iris Worldwide. In the music world, he is an MTV VMA nominated director having shot videos for Nick Jonas, Blink-182, Sara Bareilles, Bastille, Jess Glynne, Monsta X and more.  

Narrative is at the heart of Nicholas' work. Known for his cinematic, emotional and kinetic visual style, his films often center on character-driven stories deeply grounded in humanity, humor and pathos told through a quietly intense lens.


Name: Nicholas Lam

Location: Los Angeles, California

Repped by/in: Hound Content (US and UK), Hamlet (China), Obvious (France), Go East (Eastern Europe)

Awards: MTV VMA Nominated, Panavision New Filmmakers Award Winner, Academy Nicholl Fellowship Finalist, American Zoetrope Finalist, Citra Pariwara Silver, regularly featured on Booooooom and frequently awarded Video of the Month on Promonews and Videostatic.


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

Nicholas> I’m most drawn to scripts with a strong narrative component – something that, no matter how fantastical or far-fetched the concept, is still firmly grounded in tangible emotion, be that joy, humour, anguish, pain or love. Without an authentic and relatable human experience to sink our teeth into, it simply becomes presentational advertising.


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

Nicholas> It always starts with the agency call, since they’ve shepherded the creative for months (maybe even years) prior to this point. Getting on the same page as them is key. After that, I discuss internally with my EPs to define creative boundaries and solutions as they relate to the budget. Finally, I’ll sit in my office with a hot cup of oolong tea and get to the business of creating!


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?

Nicholas> If it’s a brand whose values don’t align with my own, I will respectfully pass on it. Life is too short to sell my soul. I do try to stay pretty up-to-date with trends across all sectors – my interests keenly range from sports to automotive; fashion to consumables; banking to tech; interior design to wellness – and will of course supplement that knowledge with deep research. But, again, the most influential factor is the call with the agency, because that dictates where they want the ad to go tonally and aesthetically, and in some cases, that might be a completely new direction from anything the brand has done prior.


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

Nicholas> My EPs, my producer and my department heads. These are your boots on the ground who are literally in the trenches with you daily. They are the ones who have direct and immediate influence on making what you 'see' into reality.


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?

Nicholas> In terms of commercials, I am most drawn to drama. Things that tug at your heartstrings. But I also love me a bit of action – sports and automotive ads, most notably. I’d love to do more of those. I guess that’s also my taste in movies, come to think of it.


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

Nicholas> Most people think I’m older than I am when they hear me on the phone, but younger than I am when they meet me in person. In truth: I’m a millennial with an old soul.


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

Nicholas> Technically, no. But if by 'cost consultant' you mean a producer, well then yes, I’m very familiar with asking for a studio backlot and getting their back yard in return.


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

Nicholas> I was on a recent shoot in the UK where the location was the notoriously harsh English coast. It was brutally cold, pouring raining on and off, no internet reception (for client and agency remote viewing) and to top it off, strict covid protocols. Still, we got through it. Now I understand why they say filming is like going to war.


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

Nicholas> I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive. One shouldn’t look at it like a battle between the director/production company and the agency/client. Do calls. Emails. Zoom. Meet for coffee or dinner if possible. Have conversations. Walk your dog, then have another conversation. The more everybody is on the same creative page by PPM, the more collectively aligned everybody will be in executing the same vision come production. 


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?

Nicholas> As a gay Chinese-American son of immigrants, I champion this idea wholeheartedly. More than just 'diversity', it’s about representation. As directors – and above-the-line talent in general – we have the ability and responsibility to enact this change. I am also fortunate enough to have five up-and-coming filmmakers of minority backgrounds that I’m currently mentoring.


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? 

Nicholas> I think we all have a love/hate relationship with Zoom now. While nothing beats the energy of in-person meetings, Zoom forces people to get right to the point, since nobody likes virtual small talk. Zoom is here to stay.


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)? 

Nicholas> In the same way Tarantino believes there’s only one “ideal” spot for the camera at any given time, I believe there’s one “ideal” format to agree on going into the shoot. In this digital age, of course content needs to be edited and disseminated across all platforms in various aspect ratios. However, rarely can anything be all things to all people. Focus on the primary piece/s, and do the best you can given the needs of the tertiary content. Needless to say, it’s critical to have a solid grasp of the multitude of platforms that exist today so that while on set and even in the edit, you are at least formulating options in the back of your mind.


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

Nicholas> I do what I can to stay educated on the data side of our business, ie. analytics, conversions, viewing metrics and API, but at the end of the day, my focus will always remain on telling a great story, which is ultimately the heart of what we do.


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

UCLA - This was an exciting project because I had the opportunity to set up expectations as a meditative, moody spot, only to pull the rug out from under the audience and flip it into an high-octane sports piece by the end. The irony here though is: I’m a Trojan (USC alum)!

Nestle- Probably the most technically challenging shoot I’ve ever been on, I’m really happy with how all the transitions (the running gag of the spot) turned out, thanks to meticulous planning during prep, amazing communication between camera and art departments and a crack VFX team. This picked up a Silver for Best Digital Campaign at the Citra Pariwara Awards, Indonesia’s top domestic awards show. 

Kia - I love automotive. I’m a real-life gearhead who has owned and raced Corvettes and Mustangs, so being able to direct a spot for the new Telluride brought together two of my greatest passions: filmmaking and cars. I’m glad I was also able to infuse some lifestyle vignettes as well, to add a little narrative drive that I’m always fond of.

Monsta X “Someone’s Someone” - I credit my growing up in Hong Kong for my love of Asian pop music and culture from across the Pacific. Getting to direct a K-pop video for one of the biggest groups in S. Korea was a dream come true. Not only that, but we ended up getting nominated for a 2020 MTV VMA, and we were the only American crew who shot in America with a distinctly American aesthetic, against the behemoths (ie. BTS). For that, I’m extremely proud.

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Hound, Thu, 01 Apr 2021 15:25:00 GMT