2009 YDA Winner Aleksander Bach Talks Commercials

Published on website: November 12, 2009
Categories: 35mm , Commercials , Education , The StoryBoard Blog
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Aleksander Bach

Aleksander Bach is an award-winning commercial director based in Cologne, Germany. The son of a photographer, Bach was born in Poland and moved to Germany with his parents as a boy. He studied audio/video engineering and piano at the Institute for Music and Media in Düsseldorf, and completed his education in the graduate program at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Bach has won two consecutive Young Director Awards at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, in 2008 and 2009, and a Gold Award at the 2009 New York Festival. The 2009 winner at Cannes was a black-and-white documentary-style spot for the Red Cross titled “Stars,” which was photographed by Peter Matjasko on 35 mm film. Bach’s resume also includes inventive music videos and a music documentary. Here, he opines about the state of international commercial filmmaking:

A lot is changing in European commercial production. That’s partly due to the worldwide economic crisis, but the underlying structure of how the business works is also completely changing. In the classic model, a director in the commercial industry is represented by a production company. Lately, I have clients and agencies contacting me directly. They call and ask whether I am interested in writing a story. If I say yes, they brief me about the commercial. The lines of communication are getting shorter, because it’s more efficient. That’s necessary since at the moment, budgets are shrinking. For me as a director, that’s great. I have the chance not only to direct my interpretation of a storyboard, but sometimes I’m also able to write the spots myself, either with the agency or directly with the client.

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Stars for the International Red Cross

The problem with most projects is the script. Agencies and clients create the ideas without consulting the filmmakers, or they bring them in too late. If directors are involved much earlier in the process, there’s a good chance the films will be better. At the moment I have a project where a client contacted me directly and asked if I was interested. The commercial machine can be so big, and then we all have to feed the machine. Right now, people are looking for ways to speed communication.

My sense is that people want to have real stories again. There is so much advertising on television, and people are tired of that. There is more competition from the Internet. Agencies and clients are trying to understand how to make a positive contact with their customers. Everyone loves watching a good film, and a good commercial. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 30 or 60 seconds long. If it’s a good film, and a good idea, people will watch it and talk about it. Quality is what is needed.

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Stars for the International Red Cross

The main challenges in choosing a project are finding the right scripts, and having the time to develop them. I am learning what makes a script good, and how to make a script better. I have to find out from the agency how much space I have. Do I have to shoot the script exactly how it is right now, or do they want my point of view? In choosing projects, I have to keep in mind that if I want to be successful in the future, I have to shoot good stuff. That is why, if it’s a great script, I will fight to shoot it. The second thing is to have good partner – a producer who understands my vision and my style of shooting.

If I am shooting something like the Red Cross “Stars” spot, which is a very visual commercial, I will always choose film. Analog images are still completely different to me. It’s another world. If you want to create something artful, with high quality, you can do it more quickly with film. You can make other formats look close to 35 mm film, but it’s still not the same. It’s not just a question of resolution. It’s just different.

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Stars for the International Red Cross

My strongest partner is Peter Matjasko. He was director of photography on the Red Cross spot, the Orange spot, and the Mercedes Benz spec spot that you can see on my website (www.aleksanderbach.com). I continue to work with him because to this day I haven’t found a better director of photography. For me, a good cinematographer is not someone who is merely able to create a beautiful picture, but who also understands my vision and is able to translate it into the world of telling stories with pictures. This is the most important thing. It’s very important that I listen to Peter and what he is saying, as a person. I don’t believe that in filmmaking I know everything. I have to steer (direct) my team and make the decision at the end. The director of photography is the master of pictures. I explain my idea, and Peter might translate it in his way because of something he sees. He is a very strong storyteller and my right hand in telling the story. I am working with the actors, and he is working with the camera, and if it comes together, we can make the best product at the end of the day.

I really love commercial work because of the short way of working. In a very short time, you can get a very creative output. The Red Cross and Orange commercials were 90 seconds, which is quite long for commercials, but I feel that I would like to have more space for drama. So, in the long term, my goal is to create a feature film in the next years. Even though I love the short format, I also want to tell longer stories. I think that will be the next step for me. In features, sometimes you spend two or even three years on one project. I think I have to take the next step into longer, more narrative ways of storytelling.


Aleksander's spot "Stars" is featured in Kodak Motion Picture's Commercials eBrochure. Click here and navigate to the "Inspiration" tab to see it and other great commercials.