Interview: Zoe McIntosh
Zoe McIntosh has been winning awards since she made her first film, Lost in Wonderland, about idiosyncratic barrister, Rob Moodie, which McIntosh wrote and directed. She even has a 2019 Oscars qualifier under her belt. Understandably, Sweetshop was more than pleased to sign her in April this year.
McIntosh is busily building a Sweetshop collection of commercials to add to her reel that includes ads for ALDI, Cadbury, Sky TV, Spark, ASB and YWCA. She has just directed Colenso BBDO’s new TVC for Bank of New Zealand’s Bank of You platform.
McIntosh told The Stable the story behind the director who has gone from Cannes Lions Young Director of the Year in 2013 to a commercials-directing powerhouse.
The Stable: What is it about directing commercials that appeals?
Zoe McIntosh: There are so many elements to commercials that I adore. I love the creative challenge of telling a story in a short amount of time, and the fact that I get to collaborate with ridiculously talented cinematographers, production designers and composers who are all at the top of their game. They spark me creatively and push me.
TS: What skills, in particular from your film work, do you bring to commercials?
ZMcI: Making independent films gives me a wonderful toolkit to work with when directing commercials. I think the biggest skills that transfer to my commercials are my casting methodology and workshopping actors in a way that is powerful and playful. I pride myself on putting a lot of time and effort into finding authentic, interesting and memorable characters. This often means I’ll search beyond the casting agent books to find street cast actors and non-actors, who have that extra X factor. I then use various character and relationship building exercises to make these performances feel authentic and memorable on screen.
In 2013, McIntosh created King of Caravans, a documentary glimpse of real poverty in New Zealand, “a picture of a place where people only go as a last resort, where hopes have evaporated into a limbo of emotional and physical subsistence.” The film about life in Bignell Caravan Park in Wangangui, premiered in the New Zealand International Film Festival 2013, was an official selection in the Delhi Shorts international film festival and the Byron Bay international film festival and screened on Sky’s Rialto channel.
It inspired McIntosh to make the fictional short film, The World in your Window, which was awarded the Jury Prize at the 2017 Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, and won Best International Short Film at MIFF, Flicker Fest, Short Shorts Asia, Tahiti Film Festival and Vancouver Women in Film International Film Festival. It is also a contender for the 2019 Oscars.
TS: What was it about the making of King of Caravans that led you to make The World in your Window?
ZMcI: King of Caravans was a doco I made many years ago about a derelict caravan park. It was home to all sorts of people who were desperate for shelter and refuge. As I spent time there and observed these people, my mind kept wondering how on earth would someone get themselves back on track, feel hopeful again and get out of this miserable place. This lead me to writing a fictional story about a young boy who was determined to help heal his grief-stricken father and reinstall a sense of hope again.
TS: Your first major project, Lost in Wonderland, was a feature length doco. What was your ambition? And now?
ZMcI: Fresh out of university, I was determined to continue making independent films. However, I had no money or cameras. My mum always told me, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. So, when I discovered an article about this outrageous crusading cross-dressing lawyer, who fought for justice, I knew I had to tell his story, no matter what. My ambition was to tell his fascinating life story in a creative way. I wanted to celebrate a man who is not afraid of going against convention and sticking it to the man. I love these rebellious characters in life.
As for my ambition now, I’m keen to keep building and pushing my commercial reel, while also still developing my dramatic feature film projects. I’m very excited about what commercials and film projects are in the current pipeline.
TS: What have experience, and a lot of awards, added to the assets you bring to your jobs?
ZMcI: Coming from both a documentary and drama background has meant I have had a lot of experience working with both actors and non-actors. This means I feel quite confident working in both spaces or mixing the two together. Often in my dramatic commercial work, I like to include a mix of really textured, unique characters who have often have never acted, alongside seasoned professional actors. The combination brings an authenticity and nuance, which I believe makes them stand against some of the white-washed commercials. As for the awards, hmm… hard to say. Maybe it’s given me confidence that I’m doing something right! But seriously, it is very satisfying and rewarding when your film is given awards all around the world and in foreign places like Japan and France. A reminder maybe of how important universal themes are.
TS: Tell me about making BNZ.
ZMcI: BNZ was an extremely fun job to shoot. It’s a montage of all sorts of interesting people in their homes, photographed beautifully. These jobs are delightful to shoot, as you get to celebrate how quirky and diverse we all are.
This piece was published by The Stable on 24 July 2018.