Nina Ljeti is a Bosnian-Canadian musician and filmmaker. A multi-hyphenate, Nina has directed a feature film, (Memoria starring Thomas Mann and Keith Stanfield), written and starred in a performance art piece with Marina Abramovic (Birdshitat MoMA PS1), composed music for a Gucci short film and has directed and edited music videos for bands like Phoebe Bridgers, Wallows, Alexandra Savior, Soko, Kirin J. Callinan and Crowded House. Nina also sings and composes the music for the band Kills Birds. Their self-titled debut was released in September 2019 through KRO Records. The band is signed to Tom Windish at Paradigm and Gary Walker at Monotone (Jack White’s management company). Nina was also recently featured in an LA Times spread as “LA’s most exciting new rock singer”. Nina is currently in development on a feature film with Imperative Entertainment and is finishing up the next Kills Birds record, which will be released in 2021.
Name: Nina Ljeti
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Repped by/in: Son & Heir and Lord Danger (film), Wasserman and Monotone (music)
Awards: Best video of 2020 for 'Kyoto' (BBC, Paste, Nylon), Best VHS videos of all time for 'Ocean of Tears' (Dazed) Screenwriter To Water for Moviemaker Magazine (2016)
LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
Nina> I typically write my own scripts but in general, I find that any script that’s able to inject a thread of humor or self awareness into the material is a more exciting project to shoot. In addition, anything that takes its inspiration from music/pop culture is exciting to me.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Nina> I like coming up with unique ideas that may challenge conventional methods of advertising. In general, I think there’s a lot of room for creativity in the commercial world if the client is open to it. One of my favorite commercials ever is the PS One commercial
by Chris Cunningham. It’s not a commercial so much as it’s art. We should do more of those.
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?
Nina> It’s always important for me to write from the perspective of the brand I’m writing for. To get in their shoes and have the same passion for the product that they do. Why make something you’re not excited about?
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Nina> Definitely with the client. There needs to be a level of trust there with every decision that’s made.
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?
Nina> I really like using music as a driving force in everything I create. Using music to help dictate the emotions/narrative of an ad is exciting and I think they also tend to be more memorable for the viewer.
I also like approaching things from a satirical perspective and infusing self-aware humour into a lot of the work I do if the product calls for it.
LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
Nina> People think that I’m limited as a director because I frequently shoot in analog formats. They tend to see analog as something that doesn’t fit within the ad world. I sometimes agree with this in principle (excluding the fashion world). But directing and editing something on analog requires a certain level of skill because you have to have an understanding of every aspect of production, since 99% of the time, you’re creating the concept, directing, shooting and editing the whole thing yourself.
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Nina> The first feature film I directed was done on a budget of 150,000 dollars, on a script that could have easily demanded 10 times as much. We had to cut a lot of corners and revise the story in order to make it work within our means. This is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do - stay true to the story while also slashing key scenes and moments. It requires a lot of brainstorming, collaboration and trust to make it happen.
LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Nina> Ideally, I have already approached the concept from the perspective of the agency, so it feels less like striking a balance and more like a collaboration that improves the project as a whole.
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?
Nina> We absolutely need more diversity. This shouldn’t even be a question at this point. Agencies should already be actively seeking and implementing a more diverse pool of filmmakers.
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?
Nina> I’m not really sure. Habitually, the only thing that’s changed is that I’ve been writing treatments with the pandemic in mind (taking into consideration what we can realistically accomplish during Covid).
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)?
Nina> I keep it all in mind as I think one of the exciting things about creating content in the present day is that it can exist in multiple formats.
LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?
Nina> Have not had the opportunity to do this yet.