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The Directors: Stephan Wever


Ruffian director on the importance of producers, triggering emotions and keeping his work close to his heart

The Directors: Stephan Wever

Dutch-born Stephan Wever fills an important part of Ruffian’s distinct global identity. His work feels instantly relatable by using realistic characters and keeping a documentary edge. This allows him to create film that’s both aspirational and believable at the same time, connecting with the viewer in a deeper way.


Name: Stephan Wever

Location: Los Angeles

Repped by: Ruffian


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

Definitely the first thing is the story. I prefer scripted stories over vignette based scripts. There was a trend of vignette based work and now we are going back to stories, with a beginning and end. With a takeaway, emotional or humorous or even visual.

How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

I try to always give my own interpretation. On the call you can hear whether the agency wants to work with you, whether they answer your questions or are open to suggestions, then you know you’re not just the fall-back. Then I try to take the concept and reshape it to make it better. Then visually, think about how to support the story as best as possible. I write it myself, I like to do most of the visuals myself as well. I like to keep it close to me as I develop it.


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? 

I haven’t had that experience. I’ve never had a brand I didn’t know. I’d love to have a brand with a very cool concept that I didn’t know. And if I know the brand but I didn’t have an affinity for it then I would probably pass on it - I have passed on my dream script which was for e-cigarettes.


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

I think the executive producer and the line producer of the production company. If they’re not supportive of your vision, and aligned with the decisions that affect the quality of the output, then there’s no way for the spot to be as good as it can be. Having them vouch for you and protect your process and vision in their interactions with the agency makes better work for everyone.

What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Definitely any concept that triggers an emotion. Whether that’s a comedic response or emotional or important message. If I could choose, I would only do work that has a social impact. It’s most important to me that it feels real and it triggers an emotional response. You can find a little part of yourself in a character, you can understand what a service or product might mean for someone.


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

People think I’m German. 


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

Not directly because I’m not a producer but I’ve definitely had scripts that were budgeted to be that script only to have the budget cut in half but still having to deliver the same script. 


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

I once found myself on a bridge in Shanghai trying to shoot two cars and the driver of one of the cars forgot to take a walkie talkie that was charged so he wasn’t hearing any of the commands that were given to him. He tried to get the walkie talkie himself in the car but there was no license plate so the police pulled him over and took the car. By the time we got it back the sun was down. So I’m afraid I didn’t solve that one - but I did take the blame.


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

I think it depends on how good the idea is. If the idea is good enough to fight for, and the end result will be worth the fight, I will put up a fight. If I don’t think the idea is good enough I will try to be as collaborative as possible. I know that sounds weird, but I’m pretty pragmatic. When we engage in a project we need to agree to protect the idea, that is what we came here for. In a way, you need to be a good politician.

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?

I’ve always done that to the degree that I can, and will continue to do that. I think mentoring and apprenticeships are an important path to understanding how production works.


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? 

I think people have become more respectful of your time. That’s time I can spend growing myself in other parts of what I do, like entertainment projects. 


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)? 

It’s useful if you know the set amount of deliverables ahead of time, which helps plan how you shoot. If I’m shooting a 16:9 spot and there is a sudden request to shoot vertical, then that needs to be accounted for in the schedule and the budget or else the other format will suffer. I’m open to any format if it is accounted for in the budget and schedule.


What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?

I love new technologies if they enhance the message and story of the film. If we are using it for its own sake, I’m not really for it.


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

Audi T Rex

It combines everything I think I’m good at. It has a sweet message, it feels authentic even though it’s CG, it’s nicely shot.


This is an early one. Was very documentary driven. I like it resonated with a massive audience of people. They took something away from it.


We shot in Johannesburg South Africa and it was about diversity and racism. I felt like we made a nice film.

I also worked on a project called Dark Ice which was a documentary about three explorers that were going to cross the Arctic ocean in the winter. Unfortunately it got cancelled because of COVID but I really liked everything we did up until that point. 

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Ruffian, Thu, 04 Mar 2021 14:54:15 GMT