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The Directors: Alan Friel


Arrow Films director Alan reflects on his beginnings in art and photography and bringing his unique style of polished realism to film

The Directors: Alan Friel

Alan Friel was born in Mayo, Ireland. Having started his career in fine art, before moving on to photography and then finally discovering a love of film, Alan really enjoys being creative and proactively seeks opportunities that allow stories to flourish.

He has a talent for capturing genuine performances and infusing his storytelling with authenticity.  His background in fine art combined with his skill at combining emotive performances has led to Alan creating an impressive body of work for brands such as Iceland, Organix, Bakers, Purina and Asda.




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

Scripts that have emotion tend to grab my interest and I get excited by scripts that either offer a unique creative problem to solve or that allow me to work with ‘real people’ because you always end up with something special. 

How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Before I meet the creatives I tend to do a one pager for myself outlining my approach in broad strokes and research images. The creatives will have spent months on the idea so I like to be prepared so we can bounce ideas around.

After that meeting I start with the one pager and splurge down the whole treatment in one sitting. This is a very rough first draft but gives structure to the treatment so my picture researcher can look for more images. I often do another call with the creatives to discuss any ideas that came up during the splurge and then it’s a long process of re-working and re-working to make it as clear and in-depth as possible.

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? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?

I have a weird fascination with the vast sea of knowledge that clients have about their customers. No matter what the brand I always ask them about this because it’s helpful to know our audience and it’s also a good way to get the client onboard and feel confident that I’m getting to know their brand.  

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

I work with the my producer from start to finish, I am employed to work with the creatives to bring their script to life and I have relationships with DOPs that stretch over many years and jobs. It’s important that I have a good relationships with all these people and none are more important than the other if you ask me. 

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

My style is polished realism and I like work that allows me to spend time with people on screen and get to know them. I’ve just made a film with some food producers along the west coast of Ireland and it was amazing to dive into their worlds for a couple of weeks and get to know them. I’m basically chatty and nosy so like snooping around other people's lives. 

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

Because I direct performance, food, kids and animals some companies along the way have only promoted one or two aspects of my work and this can be confusing for some people when they see my reel.

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

Not exactly ‘crazy’ but when shooting in South Africa with land-yachts the beach we had picked especially for it’s ‘guaranteed wind’ was completely still when we arrived to shoot. After a weather day the wind still hadn’t picked up so we organised ropes, cars and the crew to pull the yachts along. Me, the producers and agency all mucked in pulling the yachts along the beach watched on my amused sunbathers. Luckily the wind picked up on the second afternoon so we could get our wides and you’d never know when you saw the finished ad.

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

It’s my job to be completely honest with the agency and clients in the pursuit of making the best film possible. I am in a position where I can sometimes say things to a client that would be difficult for the creatives of the account team.

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 am completely open to it and on the projects that I have coming up we have mentoring and apprenticeships in place. 

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? 

For me it will be editing. I’ve been working with my editor over zoom and it works great for both of us as she has two small kids now, and working from home gives her more flexibility around childcare. I think zoom meetings are also here to stay.

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 a big consideration on each job now. Luckily D.O.Ps are dealing with this so much that it’s second nature to them and in my D.O.P I trust. 

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

Unfortunately the opportunity hasn’t come up for me to use anything more futuristic than zoom. I nearly directed a virtual reality short film for a brand and was gutted when it was shelved. 

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


This was shot just after lockdown and everyone was very happy to be shooting again. This spot incorporates all the elements that I like - real people, food and beautiful landscapes. 


For this film I spent two months going up to Sunderland  to get to know the people and clients at the PDSA surgery there. All of the people in the film are actual vets and clients and I have very fond memories of all of them. 


The most fun aspect of this film was walking around Camden and street casting. I wanted it to have a sense of realism so we needed some great characters that would connect with Churchill’s words.


I love this spot because it has quite an epic feel but is still low-key. We shot all around the UK and Italy and when I went for the initial meeting I thought I was going to do a meeting with the Iceland tourist board, which was a sign as we ended doing a lot of travelling on this one. 

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Arrow Films, Tue, 30 Mar 2021 10:02:01 GMT