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The Directors: Nicolina Knapp


CANADA director on the joy of memorable scripts, emotionally driven work and trying to keep both feet on the ground

The Directors: Nicolina Knapp

Swedish director Nicolina Knapp’s passion for photography and moving image intertwines with her unmistakable vision and deep curiosity – often for the ineffable. A diverse creative whose work finds perfect harmony between striking imagery and human performance, her ability to put her finger on the unseen does not go unnoticed.

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

Nicolina> More than specific elements, it’s about how certain scripts are presented. The memorable ones are definitely confident in what they want to achieve, and/or clear in where they need my input and imagination. An agency that knows what they want, even if it’s up to me 'how', that’s a type of mission that gets me really excited. Other than that, excitement is so much a matter of timing. Something may currently feel right down my alley, or propose an interesting challenge, something new to me. For that reason, some scripts I will never forget. (... some ones lost that will go with me to the grave.) The 'WHAT no way' type of ideas that simply stand out. Brands stepping out of their comfort zone, or a concept/type of storytelling that is daring for the commercial world. 

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

Nicolina> Commercial directors have such different backgrounds and skills which is something I think we should embrace and encourage, not lose sense of in creative processes. With stills being my background, it makes my mind very visually driven and so is my process in putting together a treatment. 

I generally begin with finding music parallel with picture references before anything else, that’s what sets a clear tone for me. Probably because of my specific background and interest in photography and music, that is how I find a 'world' that makes sense in my head. Trying to feel what I want to achieve. Maybe that’s why my work is quite 'emotionally driven' (as some say). It’s not uncommon that the cinematography-section is written first… 

Although, this last year has been all about practicing and evolving the skill of how I approach the idea of a script. Breaking down the narrative, a core of a concept or a story, figuring out the challenge, and writing on the script part before any other element. 

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

Nicolina> If it has to come down to key players that I need to rely on, it’s a fair tie between the producer and the DP.

When a producer and I are well-communicated, honest and friendly from the start, I can see how this trickles through the whole process positively. In giving clarity, ease and confidence to the pre-pro and on set. Most importantly, this relationship makes all the difference in setting general good energy. We are humans at work, so, good collaboration is contagious. 

The DP of a job is invaluable as they are the other half of the director. How they see the film coming to life, choices they suggest, and why, all are defining and molding what world a film will end up in. I really treasure this collaboration, on detail level. The earlier we can talk the better. 

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? 

Nicolina> This has really evolved, but I’ve always sought strong expression. When I began directing more narrative pieces, emotional storytelling has always been at heart. But I am passionate about being imaginative in how to move people, or make an impact. This makes me drawn to creating surprise elements, because I believe there is a lot of power in the unseen and unnoticeable. I love hidden symbolism. People are smart and so we can fiddle with their senses. For this reason I am also very in love with the process of sound, music and editing. It is what can set a film apart from the rest. 

I still try to keep both feet on the ground and aim for relatability at the end. Even if a choice seems abstract, the core intention will be about a human connection of some sort.

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

Nicolina> No misconceptions, rather labels I myself try to see if I relate to. This can be both rewarding and a little strange at the same time. For example when my work is talked about as ‘female-forward and empowering women’ - I’m very glad that I manage to support this type of work. But I feel like this label is often connected to me specifically being a woman doing these jobs, and that isn’t why I am directing films. I want to make work based on good ideas and good creative, and show that my skills are strong in many perspectives. 

My work is also described as ‘human, honest, authentic’ - I am really happy about this. All of these words are things I am curious about in life.

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

Nicolina> This whole line of work is crazy, it’s just great. But hmm… it might be once after the second day of a long three-day shoot, when having to recce a new beach and an open-field location with pouring rain and in pitch black darkness for the last shoot day. We couldn’t see anything. Total nightmare. “Here might be good?” we said, staring out into the night. Haha, that’s how we solved it. Turned out beautiful.

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

Nicolina> The tricky balance. The aim of balance lies in: asking them questions, listening a lot and also, saying what I believe in and sharing my perspectives. Talking to the agency is an asset. They’ve been with the project for the longest time. But having confidence in why they have chosen us is important; I sometimes have to remind myself of that, and going back to the treatment isn’t a bad idea. What did we show them from the beginning and why? 

In the end - trust is the key, in all directions. 

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

Nicolina> Home with you - Choreography Piece 

What I love about the film is the simplicity of its execution. I think this film shows a clear example of making bold, cinematic choices to benefit what is in centre (rather than outpower it), in this case, the choreography. With its staticness and still-like framing, it becomes visually strong and lets the dancing speak for itself.  

Amnesty - Land of the Unfree 

I am proud of this film because of how tricky the messaging was to take on. It should be emotional but not step over a line. It should reach out to many but still be personal and close. It should have sensitivity, but also provoke a strong thought.

Cast is key in such a film; the women featured carry the message forward more than anything. Casting is something I really spend time on until it feels right. Lastly, this type of film can only turn out real and intimate if the surrounding crew is truly committed. Present and respectful. We had magic moments I’ll remember forever on this shoot. 

IQ - Too drunk in love 

Parallel stories with an end messaging can be quite tricky to shoot and edit together. I think this film manages quite well to stitch together the characters and what they are going through to end up in something common. I will never stop liking this film. The cinematography, set design, styling, the music, editing, colours, everything. What a dream team.  

Nike - What are you working on? 

Nike is my most recent project. These documentary portraits can be a challenge as the time we get with the athlete is quite limited. Still the film should give context and feel personal. For this episode of their series, Nike and I were aligned from the start to try and make it more cinematic, visually pushed. I think this film shows how me and the DP really tried to keep that vision despite limitations. It’s also so valuable to pair up with an editor that dares to see beyond the material and wants to take it to another level. Who has a strong creative instinct, and isn’t afraid to kill stuff in order for strong parts to grow. The edit really found the emotion of this film.

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CANADA, Wed, 18 Jan 2023 11:02:55 GMT