The Directors: Tom Beard
Tom Beard is a London born writer-filmmaker and photographer. His background in photography paired with an observational and intimate approach to filmmaking has culminated in a style exclusive to himself. Beard uncovers the surreal in the everyday idiosyncrasies of life.
With a deep-seated (but healthy) devotion to the values and processing of film, Tom spent his teenage years touring and snapping countless defining images and record covers for the likes of Florence & the Machine, Adele, The Horrors and Jamie T. His portrait of Florence for her 2016 Album 'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful' earned the artist a Grammy Nomination in the artwork category.
Tom’s natural transition into filmmaking began with directing music videos for Florence, alongside artists such as Klaxons and Jessie Ware, translating the candidness of his subjects from his portraits into moving image.
Name: Tom Beard
Repped by/in: PRETTYBIRD / UK
Awards: TwoForJoy won the FIPRESCI critics award at the Festival del Cinema Europeo in 2019
What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
I love adverts with a surreal twist which also manage to tug at the heartstrings - I look for those subtle and emotive scripts which look to play upon human and collective emotion; Scripts which look to reflect the everyday humour and idiosyncrasies of life its characters and their relationships.
How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
I always like to start with photography. Coming originally from a photography background I always find that images help to articulate my ideas better than words and help begin my creative process, taking the kernels of ideas from the creative and placing them on top of them, allowing me to plot a visual journey, imagine the scenes and express the emotion I want to capture. Pictures allow me to create movement, develop a tone and palette that I want to achieve and helps others to envision the world within a storyboard which ebbs and flows.
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 think we’ve seen in the past year how sometimes brands can miss the larger social context of who they market their product too. For example, it’s impossible to ignore the enormous impact that the BLM movement has had in improving the conversation and representation for POC on our screens and I still think that more can be done in bringing marginalised voices into the picture. It’s these marginalised voices and themes that I have been trying to shed a light on through my short films and into my first feature. Even more so than drama, advertising has an opportunity to hold a mirror up to society and reflect life on a deeply intimate level.
For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
At each stage of the production collaboration across every dept is essential to making great work. Having synergy with the creatives and the agency is a must. It’s so important that you are all on the same page visually and contextually so when it comes to executing the script there is nothing left undecided. I find this actually allows for more freedom on set as once you have the shot you want you are able to find variations in delivery.
What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
I love working with narrative ideas, writing scripts, creating character, emotion and tension so working in feature has been my dream from day one. I love the challenge of translating the skills of storytelling I’ve learnt into the constructs of a short form advert. There is no room to hide and every second counts. Charity adverts often allow for this and I really enjoy communicating a message and hopefully inspiring people to get involved.
What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
That my work is too ‘gritty’ and serious! This comes from the hard-hitting themes that I have dealt with over the years through my short films and into my first feature. I think maybe agencies are too quick at times to pigeon-hole directors and therefore it’s rare to receive scripts outside of that box. I would love to be given the opportunity to do a wider range of genres.
Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?
Not directly on a production, but I feel that ultimately corners shouldn’t be cut in getting the budget on screen and the creative fulfilled.
What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
I could write a book! Every production I have ever been on has its own unique set of challenges and dealing with them is part and parcel of the job; But I think one of my favourite conundrums may have been a fire breather who couldn’t breathe fire. Ha. Bless him, he had been incredible in his day but had just run out of puff. I should have seen the warning signs when I saw him chain smoking outside the casting. We got a couple of shots out of him and it was a case of really warping the footage in the edit, so it appeared we had much more footage than we really did!
How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
I love being collaborative and working with a team, so I never find it a problem. R&D is always such a great opportunity to learn and develop skills and I find it enjoyable to work closely with creatives in bringing their ideas and vision to life. I like to treat each spot I get as a mini project, so really getting a handle on all the information and data available is exciting for me explore and is a massive help when translating it onto the screen.
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?
Absolutely, I think it’s long overdue. I think being on the job and being involved in the production is the best way to learn. I am a self-taught director and so I know first hand just how invaluable the experience of being on set can be.
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?
During 2020 I have been lucky enough to be in development writing my next feature so I’m yet to step onto a set under the new Covid measures though in many ways working with smaller units is part and parcel of my approach to filmmaking, so I feel that I am already quite well adapted to that.
Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working?
Ultimately for me it’s always about capturing something undeniable and poignant, the more people it can reach the better as long as the message doesn’t get diluted.
What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future facing tech into your work?
I am a performance and narrative based director so that is always the thing that draws me in. Give me a camera, an actor and a script and I am good to go!
Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
I have chosen four very different pieces of work across the different disciplines I work in. The first is the trailer for my first feature, Two For Joy, writing the script and getting it to screen has been my biggest achievement to date and the project I have learnt the most about myself and my voice from.
Second is a spot I made for PCUK, it was shot a few years ago now on 16mm film and just has such a wonderful energy and intimacy to it, it makes me smile every time I see it.
The third is my music video for FKA Twigs - Papi Pacify which won us a UKMVA. We made it for literally nothing and it just shows how a simple concept can become iconic.
The fourth is a fun spot I did for the NHS - Give Blood Campaign, I’ve done a couple of spots for them but I think this was my favourite, the blood delivery in milk bottles was just that kind of surreal twist I love.