Top director: Henry Lu

Henry Lu.jpgEvery fortnight Campaign Brief Asia is turning the spotlight on a hot director that is currently in the news. Last year Moxie Films set up an office in Thailand - Campaign Brief Asia speaks to Henry Lu, one of their New York-based directors, who recently finished a campaign for the Japanese market.

Henry Lu, producer of Nike's inaugural 'Just Do It' spot, spent a decade as an agency producer at Wieden + Kennedy, Portland & Tokyo and BBDO before he switched to directing in 2003. He's signed with Moxie Pictures, which has offices in New York, Los Angeles, London and Bangkok and represented directors including Wes Anderson, Jim Sheridan, Jared Hess and Cameron Crowe. Prior to working in advertising, Lu studied film at Ryerson in his native Toronto and directed short films set in Buenos Aires and Hong Kong that have played at film festivals including Sundance, Mill Valley, Sydney, Soho and the Worldwide Short film festival in Toronto. He grew up in Toronto, but his heritage is both Taiwanese and Chinese. He now splits his time between New York and Toronto.
 
Kumon.jpg You've recently directed four spots for Japanese language institute Kumon. What was the most challenging aspect of this job?
The recent Kumon project was perhaps one of the most rewarding things I've done in the last few years. I've been fortunate to work on five out of the last seven Kumon campaigns. The most challenging aspect was to keep the campaign fresh and present my current point-of-view of what Japan is like in 2009. I think we achieved this in a very artful manner. This year's Kumon campaign was unique because we re-interviewed kids that we had filmed five years ago. The kids were incredibly thoughtful. It was truly interesting to see how each of these kids had grown and what their new dreams were.

Have you directed many other spots out of Asia? Is this a region where you are actively seeking work?
I have been fortunate to work with Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo on Kumon and Lotteria. I would like to continue filming in Japan - it is a special place for me. But I would also like to use my basic Mandarin skills and do something in China. Then I could tell my mother that I was able to use my broken Chinese for work and she'd be really excited.
 
You started out as an agency producer before making the switch to directing. What prompted the career change? Was it difficult to make the transition?
Working at Wieden +Kennedy Portland was like getting my masters in commercial production. Not only did I work with many of the top directors like David Fincher and Ivan Zacharias but I also worked with some of the best agency creatives. I left the agency after seven years because I wanted to be challenged again - I was getting too comfortable working on million dollar campaigns with some of the best directors around. So I started shooting some small pieces for W+K and this lead to shooting some more small pieces and then it lead to me doing Kumon and a Nike Soccer campaign. It was a seamless transition into directing because I had spent most of my life on set anyway. I had known Robert Fernandez at Moxie for the past seven years and this helped me tremendously. Knowing what he stood for and how he approached projects meant we were in sync from my producer days and this has continued on to this day.

How has your background in producing affected your directing style? Are you more conscious of budgets, etc?
I would say having my background as an agency producer does give me a certain advantage on my jobs. The biggest benefit is knowing how to talk to everyone from creatives to clients and being mindful of what everyone's function is on a project. As far as budgets are concerned I think I'm very responsible and can work pretty efficiently. I often like to work with smaller crews but this is more about getting an intimate performance from my actors and not about cost.
  
What was your first big break as a commercials director?
Nike Soccer. There were so many good ideas that the client couldn't afford to produce them all so the creatives took a chance and we did them one weekend and they ended up being broadcast right beside the big budget spots - you could never tell the difference.
 
Warchild.jpgWhat's the three most memorable spots you've directed?
This is a really difficult question. I love the aesthetic of the Nike Football spot and what it makes you feel. I really enjoyed the process of this year's Warchild PSA and it has actually made a tremendous difference for the cause.
And I am really proud of this year's Kumon campaign - I think it was heartfelt, engaging and will make people think.
 
What do you love about directing commercials?
I really enjoy the process of sharing ideas with everyone from the agency creatives to my DOP and production team. It is a shared experience that only gets better and better when everyone is actively thinking about pushing the idea.
 
Your short films have been shown at film festivals around the world. Do you have any other film work in the pipeline?
The short films I have done are a real labour of love. I shot my first one in Hong Kong, the second one in Buenos Aires and the third one in Tokyo. I am continually fascinated with human nature and how we can all relate to one another no matter where we come from and what language we speak. I think my short films reflect this. I have been filming a documentary over the past 16 months. It is an incredible challenging and rewarding. I hope to have something finished at the end of this year.
 
What are your favourite three commercials?
I'm going to cheat and say that I admire the work of Jonathan Glazer and Ivan Zacharias. So pick any three of your favourites and I'm sure they would match up with what I would say.

You can view Henry Lu's current reel here.

Previous featured directors.
Top director David Gaddie (The Sweet Shop)
Top director: Amy Gebhardt (Exit Film)
Top director: Simon McQuoid (Revolver)

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