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New Talent: Kiran Koshy

London, UK
Innocean Creative Director and film director chats about his best work, transitioning from wannabe bureaucrat to creative director and advice for budding filmmakers
Kiran Koshy truly knows about the struggle of creating great advertising work from brief to deadline. An established creative director who’s recently begun a career as a director, he’s worked with dogs, cats, kids and chemistry majors, on shoe-string budget projects and in some cases no-budget films to create a solid and intimidating portfolio of work with major brands. 

Perhaps his background in economics has helped him to learn how to use money wisely and harvest the greatest potential from his commercial filming projects. Looking at his impressive portfolio of work for brands like Atomic Candy, Super Bowl commercials for Bridgestone and Hyundai and also his recent nomination for an LIA award, this appears to be the case.

We’re glad he's using his analytical mind for creativity instead of joining the world of finance. LBB’s Jason Caines grabbed a few minutes with Kiran, who’s creative director at Huntington Beach-based agency Innocean USA by day, to chat about his career, some of the most exciting pieces he’s created and his words of advice for budding filmmakers who want to turn heads in the industry.

LBB> Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child?

Kiran Koshy> I grew up in India, mostly in Bombay. A bulk of my childhood was spent drawing things, notably the fertilizer plant on the horizon, and the orange plumes of Sulfur it spewed out every evening. And I climbed a lot of trees, which probably explains why I had more than one pet squirrel growing up.

LBB> Tell us a bit about your background. You started as an art director. How did you initially get into that? 

KK> With degrees in Economics and Public Administration, I was on my way to becoming a bureaucrat in the Indian government. But, my mom thought otherwise. She felt I’d be happier in a creative field (a rare thing in ‘90s India.) So, she called a friend who had a son working at Ogilvy & Mather and got me an interview with the creative director. That was it. The moment I stepped into Ogilvy, I knew advertising was for me and that I’d stumbled into my calling. The CD happened to be a chemistry-major-turned-copywriter from my college, so we really hit it off. He gave me a creative test, and a week later, hired me as an art director.

LBB> And you've recently turned your hand to directing. What inspired the change? When did you first think that it was something you might like to do full-time? 

KK> Paul Arden’s book, ‘It’s Not How Good You Are…’ inspired me. It got me thinking about what I wanted for a future. I loved advertising, and wasn’t looking to stray from it. It struck me that I was my happiest on set, bringing ideas to life with a director and crew, and had developed my filmmaking instincts over the years. Directing started to feel like a natural next step for me. Building a reel from scratch, however, seemed too daunting a task. But then, a student of mine at the Texas A&M ad program had an idea for the One Show Student Contest that I felt would make a fun spot. So, we went ahead and shot it as a class. It was my first directing experience. We won Gold. I knew I was onto something then.

LBB> Have you been making films on the side for a while or is this quite a new thing? 

KK> I’ve only being doing it in a focused manner for around three years, on the side, so I guess it’s a relatively new thing. 

LBB> Which directorial projects are you most proud of and why?

KK> The Thousand Dollar Shave Society film: It was my first real directorial piece. It’s a 90-second film that demanded a very high aesthetic quality, given the nature of the brand. We didn’t have a crew, or a real budget. And the client was the principal actor. Our dolly was homemade from PVC pipes. Given the constraints, we (Mike Jensen - my DP, and I) managed to create something rather special. It got into CA and won a Gold Adweek Watch Award for ‘Videos Targeting Men,’ among other things.

Atomic Candy’s ‘The Shed’: My first two-day shoot. Once again, we didn’t have a real crew, or a budget, so I had to call on one of my former students, a cosplay junkie, for help with the make up. Another re-skinned the piñata, while I built its sphincter. My copywriter played the clown, and composed the music. It won us a Bronze Epica. Particularly thrilling because some of my heroes – Peter Thwaites, Jim Jenkins, Ulf Johansson – won Gold and Silver.

And, there’s the Organic Doggie Treat campaign, and my latest long-form film for Atomic Candy.

LBB> And how about from your time as a creative? 

KK> If I had to pick just one, it’d be my 2009 Super Bowl spot for Bridgestone, featuring the Potato Heads. The spot survived a 36-team battle at the agency to make it to the client. I got to make it with the great Daniel Kleinman, and the incredible team at Framestore London, led by William Bartlett and Michael Stanish. It won Adbowl, and was No. 4 on Admeter.

LBB> Can you tell us about the dog treats campaign that you directed that won a Clio award?

KK> About a year or so ago, I was stuck in traffic en route to LAX, in an Uber. Being the chatty sort, I got talking with the driver, Don, who (despite having been through more than his fair share of economic hardships) was an incredibly jovial guy. He mentioned that he’d just started a dog food company (because he was a dog lover), which was struggling to take off. I had to help. 

Over the next few months I developed the campaign, and shot it with various dogs on SoCal beaches. Don really didn’t have a budget to spend, so our main expenses were gas, coffee, product samples for volunteer dogs, and about $6 in beach parking. I used up every favor I could to produce the three spots in the campaign, even recording the voice for the pug on my iPhone because I couldn’t find a sound booth. It took a year to complete and was well worth it. Besides the Clio, the spots also got me into SHOOT Magazine’s Annual New Directors Showcase. 

And Don is selling more bags than he can handle.

LBB> The national chewing gum day piece that you made for Atomic is really cool. Can you tell us more about it?

KK> A friend sent me the script. Another heard it and suggested I shoot it in an abandoned school. I loved that thought, and set about trying to find one. We focused on Detroit due to the sheer number of abandoned schools there. The search took us nine months, as the city wouldn’t permit most of the public schools our location scout found. So, we turned our attention to abandoned schools within the Catholic Diocese. That worked. 

We flew into Detroit on a Saturday, scouted the two options we’d narrowed our search to, picked one, and shot all day Sunday. We shot in natural light on a Red Weapon in 8K. It was a cloudy day, which was perfect for the mood we wanted. We didn’t have a crew. It was just the DP, our producer, a PA, our location guy, and I, with our incredible talent – James Rubiner, a 92-year old practicing attorney from Detroit who’d never really acted before. He’s a friend of our producer and I’d only seen pictures of him before shoot day. He had to chew the gum very carefully due to his dentures. We didn’t really need any production design as the location was so well preserved, in dust. The film ran in full-length on National Chewing Gum Day (September 30) in theaters, in Denton, Texas, where the store is based.

LBB> What other pieces of work have you been involved in that you are most proud of and why?

KK> I directed a pro-bono piece for the ‘Day Without A Woman’ movement, which was really challenging, and fun. It involved shooting 13 cats and their actor owners, in six locations, in a 12-hour day. All without permits or a budget, with an all-volunteer crew. The concept really needed the director to get the tone right, or it risked falling apart. And, I had to do it with a cat dander allergy.

As a creative, my campaign for MetroPCS (a telecom company) was incredibly satisfying. It was bold, provocative (got hate mail), and relied on offbeat humor to stand out in a segment dominated by a few giants. It ran for two years and changed the trajectory of the brand,for the better.

I’m rather proud of my recent car launches for the Hyundai Ioniq, and the Hyundai Sonata. Car launches are incredibly hard nuts to crack, with a lot riding on the broadcast spot. And you know if your idea has worked pretty quickly. They were both resounding successes.

LBB> Who are your creative heroes and why? 

KK> Frank Budgen. Daniel Kleinman. Ivan Zacharias. Bob Barrie. Bob Isherwood. David Lubars. All superhuman creative chameleons who can do anything without imposing a telltale style, while making the work unique and beautiful. 

Roy Andersson. Tom Kuntz. Gerry Graf. For their comedic vision.

LBB> What does the rest of the year hold for you?

KK> I hope to be shooting my last reel-building piece in November. It’s an idea I’ve been living with for about six years, and am finally close to making. It’s pretty ambitious for my limited means, so wish me luck. 

LBB> What do you like to get up to when you’re not making films?

KK> It’s usually quality time with my wife and two kids, and our community of friends in Long Beach. I spend a lot of time cleaning and listening to my vinyl. Oh, and table tennis…as often as I can. I cut and glue my own paddle rubber, and go to a serious club with 26 tables and 400 members.

LBB> Anything else you'd like to add for budding filmmakers out there?

KK> 1. Make what makes you happy, and you’ll develop your voice.
2.You can’t do this alone. Build a community of like-minded souls from other disciplines who want to help you. My life changed after meeting Mike Jensen, a Flame artist looking to build a DP reel. He overheard me talking about wanting to direct and volunteered his services, and his Red camera.
3. Start small, and build on your successes.
4. You will fail. It’s a part of the learning process. Just make sure it isn’t too expensive, or crippling, a failure.
5. Be nice. Be enthusiastic. It’s contagious.
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