Director’s Corner: carolyn corben
Tell us about your unique background and path that led you to directing.
It is quite a long story so here is the abridged version: Once upon a time, after graduating from The Royal College of Art with a Masters degree in embroidery and textiles I joined forces with a fellow graduate and together we designed and made clothes for TV commercials, music videos and stills. One day we got asked if we would design the sets as well as the costumes and we said a great big “YES!” Then a lovely man who owned a production company noticed that we had a unique style and asked if we would like to direct and of course we said “YES!” Many happy years later in 2007 we went our separate ways and I have been happily directing solo ever since.
How does this inform your approach–your design thinking when it comes to directing?
As my background is in costume design and art direction, I know those departments well and love to be involved. I think it makes me acutely aware of the work that goes into every area of a production and I really appreciate it. Teamwork is key and coming up through various departments has made me a good team player and also developed my ability to problem solve quickly and effectively. I am really interested in “mise en scene”–how important every element that you put in front of the camera is to creating the overall picture.
What are some of the most inventive projects you’ve been a part of and why?
So many have required invention of various kinds. One that springs to mind is a series of sponsorship IDs for Renault. We could not show a car per se but the idents needed to suggest a car and be branded. Together with the agency creatives we produced stylish objects that were made from car parts. Each ID started on an extreme close-up of the car part and then tracked back to reveal the object in a stylish home interior. For example, from a close up of the center of a steering wheel we tracked back to reveal a man’s hands turning the wheel, then further to reveal that the wheel was the seat of a bar stool which he is moving so that his glamorous wife can sit on it. These were so well received that we developed the ideas into a second series that also had a murder mystery thread connecting them. I loved this project because everything was achieved in camera. However, I also love working on multi-faceted projects, which also involve CGI and post production. One such project was the commercial I directed for Moschino fragrance “Uomo” which features a floating staircase filled with a hundred dancing cowboys. We achieved this with just two dancers and multiple passes combined in post production.
How does your multi-faceted background lend itself to this ever expanding world of content?
I think my unique background has given me an eye for detail and makes me flexible and a lover of challenges. Today, directors are expected to do more–and having a background in design is immensely helpful to align creative and budgets, to know what can be done and how, and to craft and direct something that is visually unique, including set and costume design, without sending everyone into a mad panic. I really enjoy problem solving so I welcome these opportunities. I’m able to bring my experience to bear in this expanded content world.
You’ve worked all over the world, what intrigues you about working in the US?
I really love traveling and meeting new people all over the world. I have visited the US many times, mostly for pleasure, but would love to work here more and also get to see even more places. I think the advertising industry in the US produces some of the best creative spots in the world and I would love to be part of that.
What are some recent projects you’ve directed?
I did a cool music video where all the sets were made from paper! I designed the sets and the costumes, and together with a team of two assistants made them all as well. Another recent favorite was a series of commercials for a fashion brand shot on location in Moscow.
I hear you also have a line of custom wedding dresses?
I developed a particular embroidery technique whilst doing my first degree at Goldsmiths, University of London. Using this technique, I create fabric that is a web of threads…it is almost like painting with thread, and I can make garments in the round so that they have no visible seams. Over the years I have created a number of one-off dresses, which have been commissioned for weddings and other events. Making garments is something I have always enjoyed and I can fit this in around directing jobs.
What other creative endeavors do you do in your “spare time”?
To be honest it doesn’t feel like I have much spare time, as I am always busy with one project or another. I have been developing some short film projects. One is called Miss Caramel Macchiato and is a magic realist tale about a young woman with a magical matchmaking ability. It was my concept and I have co-written it. A producer and I are working on getting the funds together to make it in 2016. I am also about to renovate my house so I have been busy researching and collecting ideas for the interiors.
Out of the house I like to visit art galleries and museums, which help keep me thinking and inspiration flowing.