This Week 'We Sit Down' with director Steve Cope.
Steve has been at the top of his game for some time now and still manages to surprise and deliver incredible work. He is well known for creating highly crafted, cinematic commercials with story-telling at their core. All that with a splash of humour too. We have long admired his creations and remember well seeing his BBC 2 'Elvis' film for the first time. Steve seemingly works with ease on heavy VFX shoots, but is as comfortable directing less post produced work too. He is a true all rounder.
As a busy Director we were delighted when Steve was able to take some time to chat to us about being a director, changes in the industry, his recent work and the one job that got away.
So, enough from us. Over to you Steve...
1. You are an established and very successful commercials director, how has the role of the director changed since you made, for example, your infamous BBC Radio 2 ‘Elvis' film?
The role for me hasn’t really changed, and I can’t really speak for other directors. The thing that has changed for me though is I think you keep getting better, more experienced, more versatile, and more adept at script interpretation and working in collaboration with the agencies. Also over the last 10 years I’ve been embracing all the new technology, learning more about audio, cameras and lenses, investing in equipment so I always have the freedom to shoot and experiment.
2. You recently shot the Range Rover ‘Fireflies' commercial for Spark44, how did you create the fireflies? and has there been any significant advances in technology from when you made the Benadryl ‘War’ spot?
3D CGI is still roughly the same technology, it just has to be much more detailed because we’re dealing in higher 4K resolutions now. I’ve always liked to mix CGI shots with real footage as it makes everything so much more believable. I worked closely with the visual effects supremo Mark Robinson at JAM VFX and we both researched the sex lives of fireflies. All that flashing stuff is signalling to a suitable mate out there and warding off competitors.
Also, we didn’t have the budget to hire a specialist crew to film fireflies so I read up on macro photography, studied some of the David Attenborough films on insects and also invested in some macro lenses and a 4K camera. Later on, a couple of days before we were due to shoot with our large international crew, I found myself at sunset in the middle of nowhere on top of a Slovenian mountain with my very hands-on producer Chris Cable from 2AM, who endured a multitude of nasty insect bites whilst running around on my behalf with a large butterfly net trying to catch real fireflies – It’s stuff like that, that shows true dedication!
We set up the cameras and waited patiently and filmed some lovely macro shots. I was really pleased that some of the shots ended up in the finished edit.
3. And you also shot the follow up Range Rover ‘SVA’ film, how was that intricate camera move achieved?
We did lots of tests using these new fancy gimbal rigs, the types that you see Go-Pros attached to but because the camera and lenses are so big and heavy because of the data resolution needed, we resorted to steadi-cam outside the car and a handheld camera with some post-production stabilisation inside the car. The job was originally a two day shoot, but we had to squeeze it into one long day due to the budget changing shape. (i.e getting smaller.)
I think these days as a director you have to be flexible, adaptable and a serious problem solver to enable you to get the shots you want without the budget ideally you’d need to achieve them.
4. You obviously excel in post production and special effects, but your award winning HSE ‘Quit Smoking’ film has no obvious effects in it, what was the story with that film?
The idea of the “I Will Survive” advert, might not be new, by that I mean we’ve all seen lip-synching to songs before, however for me the excitement was getting stuck in with a load of real characters from deprived inner city areas of Dublin, working with street casting and getting people who had never acted before in front of the camera. It was lots of fun, and challenging in equal measure. As a director I needed to really re-assure these novice ‘actors’ to relax and be themselves in front of the camera.
5. What was The One that got away? I.e. what was the one film you didn’t get to make - either the pitch didn’t go your way, the job was cancelled or was never aired etc.
I had a script a couple of years back, before “the Donald” from UNICEF which involved Barak Obama talking to camera about the work they do. As he talks he ages from 50 years old to 150 years old.
I had to develop lots of ideas how to achieve this “Benjamin Button style” effect, and had some pretty cool tricks up my sleeve, stuff which we never had a chance to develop, and also which had never been achieved before. Then due to timings or something the whole project was shelved.
6. Away from commercials what are you currently watching?
I’ve just watched the 5 part series of Patrick Melrose based on the novels by Edward St Aubyn, It is a brilliantly conceived and acted piece of work about drug addiction and abuse staring Benedict Cumberbach, who I’ve never really liked too much before, but now have absolute admiration for. I read that there were two roles that Cumberbach wanted to truly explore. One was Hamlet and the other was Patrick Melrose.
8. Finally, what advice would you have for new commercials directors?
Try and make your work un-skip able. Try and get attention in the first few seconds of the ad.
To view more of Steve Cope's inspiring work then visit: