Jess Kohl Directs Nike's Inspirational Football Film 'Think Outside the Blocks'
Jess Kohl is the rising star directing talent behind a motivational film shot for the first episode of Nike’s new ‘From the Grounds Up’ series of films. The director captures the moving story of Hackney Wick FC founder Bobby Kasanga.
The film starring Bobby Kasanga and members of his football team Hackney Wick FC, forms part of a campaign to launch a new Nike app. The Production Company was Girls in Film and PRETTYBIRD UK.
Jess Kohl has directed a really moving, sensitively treated short, with a 40 second spot delicately carved out of the longer film, following the narrative of Bobby Kasanga, an inspiring figure who runs the Hackney Wick FC and motivates his youth teams to use football as a way of avoiding getting involved in gangs. Kasanga served time in prison when he was younger after getting involved in the wrong crowd, and wants to give the young people on his housing estate a way of escaping a similar path through the motivational power of football.
There’s a naturalism and emotion to Kohl’s direction, which lends the film a feeling of authenticity, and respects the stories of the people in the Hackney Wick FC community. Bobby Kasanga founded London’s Hackney Wick FC in 2015 to help tackle gang violence through football. For Bobby, part of that effort is to share his own story. He encourages children on the estate to take part in football to avoid gang violence.
Here, Jess chats about her involvement in the film and how she captured the unique nature of Bobby’s character and story.
Q> How did you get involved in this film - did Nike commission you?
Jess> Nike bought the story to Nikola who runs the wonderful Girls in Film. She suggested that I direct the film. It was amazing coming on board a project which had such a moving story attached to it, and to be a part of crafting the approach.
Q> How long did this shoot take, and did you spend time with Bobby and his football teams before you decided on the direction of the film?
Jess> The process from start to finish took a good few months. As it’s a very sensitive story, we wanted to give it the time it needed to develop.
We met with Bobby as an initial part of the process, as I listened to him speak I thought about how to communicate his story in an original and engaging way. He told us about the pep talks he gives his teams before games, and I asked him to talk to us as if we were his team.
As soon as he started I knew this was how I wanted to approach the campaign - seeing him talking to the next generation felt like an emotive way to communicate his story, and allowed us to show the different personalities involved in Hackney Wick FC through the simple set up of a pep talk.
Q> Were you familiar with Bobby Kasanga before you worked on this film, and how did you approach the narrative of his story?
Jess> I wasn’t familiar with Bobby and his story ahead of the film, but since working on it I’ve met lots of people who are. His story is unique and he’s very charismatic, so it makes sense that he’s been documented quite a bit. My challenge was to find a fresh approach. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to tell his whole story in the short time we had, so I wanted to focus on a specific element that we could hone in on. By using the microcosm of the kids team - the next generation - we were able to tell the wider Hackney Wick FC story.
Q> Your directorial style always has great empathy for the people you are portraying. How do you get people to be so honest in your films?
Jess> I think the process of making a film with someone gives them a platform to get honest and open up about themselves in a unique way. The people in my films are often those who have been historically overlooked, so having someone care enough to want to help tell their story helps to create an authenticity that is visible to the viewer. Asking direct questions also helps!
Director: Jess Kohl
Producer: Nikola Vasakova
Executive producer: Juliette Larthe
Production company: Girls in Film and PRETTYBIRD
1st AD: Eno Enefiok
DOP: Steve Annis
Steadicam: James Burgess
Focus Puller: Eira Wyn Jones
2nd AC: Kairo Jones
Cam Trainee: Joe Medlock
Gaffer: Alex Gibbon
Grip: Aaron Porter
Sound: Bridgitte Bradshaw
DIT: Ashley Hicks
Runner/drivers: Ben Cole
Photographer: Blue Laybourne
Driver: Anthony Bugge
Editor: Gary Forrester
Online editor: Kit Harwood
Grade: Simon Bourne
Music: Roger Goula
Additional cinematography: Thomas Hole
Camera assistant: Jerome James King
DIT: Ellie Bright
Additional sound: Chi Limpiroj
Runner / Driver: Josh Govett
Category: Sports and Leisure , Sports clubs
Genre: Dialogue , People