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The Directors: Peter Szewczyk


NERD director Peter on the attraction of ambition, a love of VFX and having faith in the best ideas

The Directors: Peter Szewczyk

Since the start of his film career at George Lucas’ famed Skywalker Ranch, Peter has had a front row seat to the crafting of Hollywood blockbusters by the modern masters of cinema. 

Peter contributed as an artist, animator, and designer to the legendary franchises of Harry Potter, Shrek, Star Wars and Ice Age, but it was not until his time on James Cameron’s Avatar that he felt he was ready to leave the trenches of digital production, for the challenges of directing. 

Peter quickly earned a reputation for delivering jaw-dropping spectacle worthy of the big screen, while telling stories of magic realism and urban fairy tales. He has the rare ability to depict character-focused narratives blended seamlessly with intricate VFX.

Name: Peter Szewczyk

Location: London, LA

Repped by/in: Nerd Productions

Awards: Kinsale Shark, Epica

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

Peter> I think I'm most attracted to ambition. Having worked as an artist on enormous summer blockbusters, I was always entranced by the process of taking the seemingly impossible, and breaking it down to the achievable. This zeal for scope and spectacle carried right over into my directing career.

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

Peter> Lately I have been creating mood films, and I find this highly effective. If time doesn't allow for it, then some bespoke concept art or film tests are useful. This is, of course, in addition to a full treatment. Aside from showing that you are willing to go that extra mile, you have already begun the problem solving, so you are going to hit the ground running if you win the job. What's key is to face the challenges of the project head on, and get comfortable with that quickly, so that once you have that well in hand, you can now reach for the discoveries that no one has had on their radar. It's only when you have conquered the preparation, that you are free to improvise.

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?

Peter> My research on brands I'm unfamiliar with doesn't actually go that deep. I'll look at the last few years, and stop there. You often see that there are seismic changes to the brand over time, and the older work is often irrelevant. I also want to avoid getting influenced by what was already done, and prefer to bring in a flavour from the cinema or art world. If it’s important to you, how do you do it?

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

Peter> Without a compatible shorthand with your own producer, you are dead in the water. That's a given. I love working with cinematographers, because in a parallel universe, I probably am one. The actors are always such a source of humility and reverence, because they put so much of themselves out there, time and time again. But to be honest, the senior creative on the agency side is probably the most important person. No one can remove obstacles, increase budgets. and green-light changes in the script better than they can. And if you are both on the same wavelength, and there is a trust, then the project has unlimited potential. 

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? 

Peter> Since I am a VFX guy at heart, I would love to take a crack at something epic, like a Sony Playstation ad. There you have the opportunity to achieve something truly cinematic. Something inspiring awe.

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

Peter> Probably the biggest source of confusion is the duality of my work. I am equally comfortable doing wacky slapstick cartoons, as I am an edgy psychological thriller. The common thread is that they both tend to be big canvases with complexity and detail to make the senses swoon.

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

Peter> Never.

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

Peter> I was shooting a second unit on a TV show, and gypsies took over our base camp. I left that problem solving to the EP, haha! 


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

Peter> Over the years I have embraced the idea that we are on the same team, and both want to craft something we can be proud of. I have faith that the best ideas, regardless of who they come from, rise to the top. I trust that the agency will respect mine, and I certainly embrace those that are strong from them. Being stubborn could cost you some terrific discoveries.

LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent?

Peter> I've been seeing this happen in VFX for years. Great artists open shops in every corner of the world. I think the competition raises the bar of the whole industry and makes you reach higher, and demand more of yourself.

LBB> Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set? 

Peter> Absolutely. I missed the boat when it came to finding a mentor in my early career and it really hurt the pace at which I matured. I would love to pass on all these hard fought lessons to the next generation of filmmakers, and see what they can do with it.

LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? 

Peter> Well I'm really looking forward to working from home as much as possible. Half of my work was already of this nature, and now nearly all of it is. I already had the disciple to do it, so I'm in my happy place. Aside from the logistical changes, the pandemic made me reflect on the projects that felt natural, versus those that felt like a bad fit. It forced me to finally let go of that which wasn't clicking, and focus on where I can make big strides based on my unique qualifications. 

LBB> Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time? 

Peter> The only trick of WFH is creating a delineation between your life and your work. So what I learned is the importance of designing your space so that it keeps the compartments of your life separate.

LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working?

Peter> It's never far from my mind. I would never design a shot or block action without considering the format and ratio. That's just basic cinematography. And if there is one format that may suffer from a decision, then I consider the reach of that format.

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

Peter> A huge part of what I bring to the table is tech. I spend a little part of every day reading up on what's the latest breakthrough. What I search for are technologies that, up until now, have only been available for the elite. Bleeding edge software and apps are always finding ways of trickling down to the consumer level, and that's what I pounce on!

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

  • AirWick
  • Leading Ideal one
  • Freederm Goose

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NERD Productions, Wed, 25 Aug 2021 08:28:57 GMT