We recently invited renowned Director, Writer and Producer Karen Borger to join our Art Direction & Design students at Macleay College. Chatting informally with a small group in our Sydney TV Studio, Karen generously shared tips and tales from her 30+ year international career.
Karen Borger, Ian Thomson and I were all fortunate to be accepted into Sydney College of the Arts to study BA Visual Communication and subsequently Award School in the 80s. Over four intensive years of full-time study, we gained a solid grounding in graphic design, art direction, photography, illustration, printmaking, typography, film, creative writing and multimedia. Karen’s first love was photography until she explored and was soon engrossed by film. A stellar international education and an award-winning career spanning advertising, feature and documentary filmmaking ensued.
A lucky break winning the US Green Card Lottery enabled her to live and work as a permanent resident in America. Couple this good fortune with a love of learning and a determination to find fun at every opportunity, and Karen was soon working at the Disney Interactive Media Group in LA. Karen became the Director of Original Content (DIMG), and Filmmaker with the Disney Imagineers WDPRO (Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online). There she enjoyed extraordinary levels of creative freedom, generous budgets and also learned the business of entertainment; the delicate balance between creativity and commerce.
The advertising world has changed inordinately during Karen’s career, and she’s seen budgets for the same scope of shoot plummet from $300k to $10k. Karen still values her background in advertising and the artistry it adds to her career in cinematography and directing.
Advertising creatives gain invaluable training in learning how to get attention, tell a story, deliver a message, leave an impact, and fast! We’re trained to know first and foremost who we’re talking to and to present the single most important message (key insight or proposition) in a few words or seconds. “We make films too; 30-second stories!”
The key takeaway from Karen’s discussion involved the importance of learning visual styles and the history of symbolic references.
“Learn to notice everything.”
Why/how does something capture your attention? What did it lead you to feel, to do? If you’re creating for an era, for example, the 60s, what images conjure up that time for you? Cars, architecture, colours? Ask yourself: if I’d lived in the 60s, with what would I have connected? Cars, food, fashion, music, white goods, sporting heroes?
Using an example of a highly recognisable item of clothing – the ubiquitous Breton shirt, Karen explained its history and relevance in film and advertising. From Coco Chanel visiting the Navy docks in the 1930s, the significance of the 21 stripes – each representing a Napoleonic victory – James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, Andy Warhol, the addition of a neckerchief and beret to characterise an artist, and so on.
“Do not underestimate the importance and power of cultural symbols and styles.”
TIP: Conduct thorough research and trace concepts back to the source to gain a richer understanding and appreciation.
“This is Me” showcases Australian children in a factual and entertaining short-form format. As director of several episodes, Karen and her crew hit the ground running – flying into sometimes remote locations, spending a day shooting and flying on the next day. The result is extraordinary and moving storytelling, in 5-minute bites. The series is currently showing on ABC iview. This episode featuring Campbell Remess in Tassie has recently gone viral on Facebook.
Karen currently works between Australia and the US, producing engaging projects with international story lines. Her passion as a Producer is for the development of projects and cross-platform digital media that unites the best methodologies of film-making and the latest in interactive media.
Julieann Brooker is a lecturer in the Advertising & Media Faculty at Macleay College. Study options include a Diploma of Advertising & Media, Diploma of Digital Media, BA Advertising & Media and BA Digital Media.