Taking the pulse with 2021 Young Blood Award winner Zoë Neary
Q&A of the Levi's Born Wild. Made to Move. film director.
August 5, 2022
Deep in the throws of our 2022 Advertising Awards competition call for entry (final deadline is September 2, 2022), we thought we would highlight our 2021 Advertising Award winners in the Young Blood category so you can glean the calibre of talent this category holds. Introducing Zoë Neary, Film Director, creative mind behind the Levi's "Born Wild. Made to Move." campaign, 2021 Young Blood Advertising Craft winner.
What is your creative process (from idea to finished product)?
Gut-first. I’ll always have 20 loose ideas bouncing around in my brain, just knocking around totally randomly. And then I’ll hear a song, or someone will say 3 random words which will act like a key unlocking all my thoughts—and suddenly it's completely clear. It's like a tsunami wave plunging towards the beach. The floating ideas will align and the film will present itself fully fleshed-out, just like that: with all its cutting patterns, story beats, shots, sound cues, everything. Just waiting for me. Once that's slithered out of my brain, the whole filming process is one big fun game of catch-up! How do you catch up to that graphic idea in the brain, and how do you out-do it? Working with the rest of the creative team is like hooking up and downloading this living-being-idea-baby into their brains with as much detail as possible, so they can upload their own versions back into it. I storyboard everything as I listen to the song that inspired the film, over and over, until it's completely pregnant in me. So once I'm shooting, the rhythm of the cut, the emotional highs and lows, the tonality, everything lives inside of me in a really organic way. It makes it really easy to know what to hold onto and what to let go of, and how to reinvent on the fly. And then you finish shooting and it's like you're gulping down oxygen tanks full of ecstasy—it feels so good! But the next day....you hate it. Like truly, you loathe it! You hate the footage. You kick yourself for not getting alt versions or pushing in tighter, or finding a deeper way into a solution. And I stop touching it. I can't even look at it. I need time to mourn what I didn't get. And then editing is like a new life. It's deleting the entire original plan and working with what you have like a puzzle - and from there, it's always a brand new vision: better, usually more concise. And of course the essence of what was originally inside of you always ends up on screen. You release it - and once it's out in the world, I never think about it again. There are new ideas bouncing around, just waiting to align themselves.
Can you walk us through the specifics of creating this piece?
I made the spot for Levi's to evoke the grungy, broken-down quality from their ads in the 90's — I wanted it to feel like a videotape found on the side of the road: like something forgotten and outside of time. My DOP Bryn McCashin and I had a really clear vision of how we wanted to shoot it. We wanted it to feel like being out in the brush with just a flashlight, finding wild animals in the dead of night. We decided to shoot it on 16mm with a spectral front light that feels blindingly bright and falls off suddenly. Normally that hard frontal light might feel wrong or counterintuitive, but really worked for our look. We became obsessed with Nat Geo nocturnal animal documentaries - I love the look of capturing those round, high-beam eyes swivelling to stare back at you, or little colonies that scatter when you lift a rock. The contrast of those otherworldly nighttime creatures and these beautiful, poised models—dressed in a stark uniform of white t-shirts and Levi's jeans—really stuck with me. I wanted Levi's to be like their skin. I have so much respect for our models. We shot in the dead of winter in Canada — they went out into those wheat fields, up those trees, and into that lake in only tank tops and jeans. It was freezing. And they made it look so effortless. The idea is that they move together towards the city, and reach it at dawn, like a migration— just as the new day is beginning. I made it for the new Movement I can feel in my generation — for the restless yearning to be a part of something bigger, especially after the hibernation we've had these last few pandemic years. I can feel it in all of us. We're ready to move.
What is the hardest part when you are creating?
Trying not to worry about every choice I’m not going with — those doors will open into hallways with more hallways and doors. I always stick to my gut above everything else, because I know it's the only thing keeping me exactly where I need to be in each moment. There are too many millions of ways to experience an event, so sticking to my gut is the one way I know I'm narrowing it down and staying true to a singular POV.
How do you stay creative/inspired?
Watching everything indiscriminately. No movie is off-limits, good or bad. And inhaling disgusting amounts of candy. Nothing riles up a creative bender like a good ol' sugar high.
Zoë, we say: "Bring on the candy!" Thank you for joining us on this Q&A, we can't wait to see what's next for you.