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Ivana Bobic on the Power in Subverting Expectations


The film director at RiffRaff speaks to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about mentoring young talent, pitching on narrative ideas for music videos and taking ownership of a format without being pigeonholed

Ivana Bobic on the Power in Subverting Expectations

Ivana Bobic is a London-based director and writer at RiffRaff. She has created an array of film projects, ranging from music videos to commercials and narrative shorts. With a background in graphic design, her films blend striking imagery with perspective, fashion aesthetic and intriguing narratives. 

Her groundbreaking ad for CoppaFeel! was also the first to campaign to show a female nipple on daytime TV! This is where Ivana’s eye for detail and knack for the interplay between texture and sound shines through.

Ivana’s first video for Sigrid was voted by Pitchfork as the second best video for January 2018. Since then she has made a new video for Nothing But Thieves, two more videos for Sigrid as well as three videos for Sigrid's LIFT campaign for Vevo. Her approach to directing both commercials and music videos is heavily narrative led.

During her career, Ivana has developed a strong visual style working with brands like habitat, Axe, Stella McCartney, Mulberry, Au Pont Rouge, Adidas, Whistles, Nivea and Looks. 

LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Ivana about the process of developing her unique directing style, her relationship with creatives on commercial sets, and her experience shadowing The Crown’s Emmy award-winning director Jessica Hobbs.

LBB> When did you start directing and did you always know you'd be doing this as your job? What was your path towards directing?

Ivana> I was a runner during art school and pretty much did every job on set before I started directing. I fell in love with the whole process, and just the sheer expertise involved in every department. One memory that stands out is running on a short at Pinewood. I snuck onto Oliver Stone’s set for ‘Alexander’ and was just blown away by the scale. The idea that you could build a whole world from your imagination sparked something in me. 

LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from and what are some themes you tend to explore in your work? 

Ivana> Inspiration can come from anywhere. I have a voracious appetite for reading, watching films and TV, and seeing exhibitions. I listen to Radio 4 all day long, if you can get past the news stream, there’s a wealth of incredible knowledge on there. I guess I have an existential streak for want of a better word – a need to interrogate the lived experience, to explore an interior world. It’s something that cinema can do – to share something about a life intimately to another person, perhaps the closest you can get to that possibility. An example would be my music video for Nothing But Thieves, which was a character study that looked at desire and loneliness through a sort of absurdist lens, following a vampire on holiday. Those kinds of themes have always been there but I’m hoping to explore them in drama too. 

Stills from the Nothing But Thieves music video

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

Ivana> For me it’s the writing. It’s really exciting when a script sings. It doesn’t have to be fully fleshed out, there’s a lot of joy in developing ideas too. The ad for Axe with 72&Sunny had a particularly exciting script. There was a very clear idea but needed to be expanded to music video length, so we had a lot of fun working out what could happen. 

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

Ivana> I love that process (maybe too much, you fall in love with ideas!). And I always do my own writing. It’s a chance to get really under the skin of an idea. First, I read the brief from start to finish without interruptions. Then I leave it and do something else. That space can be incredibly creative on a subconscious level. Next, I visualise and research intensely to find what ideas, challenges and questions come up before speaking to the creatives. Once that’s all stewed together in a big pot, I write – usually on my phone so I can keep refining. And the right images are key, so I spend a lot of time finding a balance that gets the mood across.

LBB> What is the difference between creating music videos and commercials for you and which process do you enjoy more?

Ivana> Over the years, I think the process for both has become more similar. Both are commercial, both have clients so there’s a similarity to the approach. In either case I want to understand what is being communicated, the essence of the idea. I find commercials more fair in a way – there’s three or four directors pitching and a lot of care and time taken over the pitch. With music videos you never know, there could be 30 people pitching on it. But I always try to have some level of communication with artists or commissioners, labels etc., because it’s so important to understand what they want to achieve, or what the track means to them. This was one of the dream parts of working with Sigrid, she is very collaborative but also full of ideas. And lately I’ve been obsessed with pitching on narrative ideas for music videos. I have a real pull towards directing fiction so any opportunity to finesse this skill is amazing. 

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

Ivana> With the creatives. I love the collaborative aspect of filmmaking, so I enjoy understanding where the creatives are coming from, what they want for the idea, how they’ve arrived at it. It’s a team effort and the more open and trusting this relationship, the better the outcome. The creative team at NCA for Habitat were a great example of this, a really solid, clear idea that we could build on together. Likewise, I loved working with the creative team at Uncommon. We shot a project that unfortunately was never released due to the war in Ukraine, but the journey was inspiring. 

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?

Ivana> I think genres are helpful, but I’ve been drawn to exploring these with a new lens. Recently I wrote a feminist western (short) and a psychological horror about Brexit (feature). I think there’s a power and freedom in subverting expectations and taking ownership over a format. It’s important to turn things over and question them and find your own way into that story. 

LBB> Your work seems very sensory - a lot of clever sound usage and close ups. Why do you take that approach and what about it attracts you? 

Ivana> I want to pull the audience right into the centre of the idea and impart the experience, the feeling of that world. It’s about saying look at this, listen to this, think about this in a way you perhaps can’t in real life. Sound does this in a very visceral way. You can see this in my films for CoppaFeel which was all about how amazingly sensitive our hands are. This trailer for the London Short Film Festival was a feast for the ears, working with editor Ben Campbell and sound designer Phil Bolland – and we won Best Sound Design for Cinema Advertising, which was pretty amazing. But for me film is about using all the senses, it’s one of the main things that drew me to it as a medium. 

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

Ivana> That my work is poppy or feminine. I think directors can be pigeonholed for making a particular type of work. When I started out it wasn’t so open for women, so I did a lot of fashion and beauty and while I found something in that work, I’ve always wanted to express myself in the full gamut of briefs and genres – commercials, music videos, drama. And I’ve always fought hard to not be categorised as ‘female’, but I guess I’m still fighting that! Now I’m a mother too and navigating a new way of working — actually most people are very supportive, and I find I’m far more productive with less time! 

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

Ivana> Ha. There are so many. Calculating how to fit a techno crane into a studio without my DoP, shooting on Snowdonia with different weather every minute. A chameleon who was missing his girlfriend. A cat who couldn’t meow. A model who couldn’t drive, driving a vintage muscle car in Saint Petersburg (with a police escort). Jelly that didn’t wobble. Artists not turning up to shoots. I mean, it’s a miracle anything ever works. 

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

Ivana> For me it’s always about the idea. If everyone's thinking about what’s best for the idea and why, then the conversation is focused on the right thing. So, it’s about knowing what that is before you start and having all those difficult conversations early on. Sometimes you have to explain, other times it’s good to show people how it’s going to work, so you get your team to help visualise as much as possible. I think it’s about communicating and taking time to figure things out together. Mulberry is a good example of this – direct to client but working with the late, great production designer Michael Howells to visualise the mirror room, the real grass in the building. 

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?

Ivana> It’s crucial. Production has to reflect the world we’re in, in all roles. So, there’s no excuse for not having a diverse pool of talent. Unfortunately, the film world still relies on a lot of nepotism and low paid, insecure jobs that are exclusive rather than inclusive. I have taught at universities and schools for 15 years and believe that education is a powerful tool in giving people from all backgrounds the opportunity and confidence to explore a career in film. The next step is about getting people on set and paying them. I want to support this in any way that I can. And it goes both ways – last year I was lucky enough to be mentored by Emmy-award winning director Jessica Hobbs (‘The Crown’) through Directors UK. The scheme was also about opening up drama to people who normally wouldn’t get the chance and I learnt a lot from her. 

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

Ivana> Honestly the jury is still out for me. Chat GPT or Midjourney can be very useful tools for a director, but I believe you still have to work with them. Creativity is the last frontier in a way. For example, I asked Chat GPT to flesh out a feature synopsis and suggest cast and it was so generic that while it passed as conceivable, it was completely bland. So, I’m all about AI tools and using them for experimentation but wouldn’t personally rely on it to do the thinking. For now, anyway. 

LBB> If you had to define your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

Ivana> Big Screen Dreams. I love cinema and I hope to get to work there too. 

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Riff Raff Films, Mon, 24 Apr 2023 15:24:21 GMT