Morten Vinther is a Danish filmmaker with a 20+ year career. His recent directing work for ‘Arena Breakout’ and ‘The Last of Us Part 2’ has been recognised at the Clio and Ciclope awards. He enjoys extracting emotional performances from actors and synthetic humans alike. Morten is a director and creative director at The Mill, Los Angeles.
Name: Morten Vinther
Location: Los Angeles
Repped by/in: The Mill
Awards: Clio Grand for ‘The Last of Us Part 2’; Ciclope for Arena Breakout ‘Winner Takes All’
What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
I love creating story-driven content. I’m drawn to simple concepts and the scripts that trigger any kind of emotional response. Misdirects are super interesting – if you can lure an audience into thinking that they know what’s coming next and then surprise them with something unexpected.
How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
I throw everything into a treatment that will paint a clear picture of how I see the spot. It’s a lot of work and I really enjoy this part of the process. I try to make my treatments a visual journey. No one likes to read 50 pages of copy in a treatment.
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?
Research is everything for me. The game cinematics that I’ve been doing are small moments, which are part of a much bigger and complex story. It’s important for me to understand that story and the journey of the characters to make something that feels authentic and connected. I play the games, watch cut scenes, explore the history, ask questions and dive into the minds of the fans, if it’s an established title.
For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
I’m not trying to be funny, but they’re all important. It’s hard for me to pick out any one relationship which is more important than the others. As a crew, we’re only as strong as the weakest link. Everybody has to pull in the same direction for us to succeed.
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’m drawn toward dark worlds. Horror, sci-fi, war, human suffering, and a good revenge story gets me going. It’s been exciting in the last few years for me to work on projects that has dramatic physical choreography like stunts or combat with a variety of weaponry.
What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
I think that a common misconception is that as a director, I’m always telling everybody what to do. I believe that great moments are founded on very strong collaboration. My job is to pick the right collaborators and empower them to get the best out of everyone for the project.
What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Trying to cast an actor with the likeness of Ellie from The Last of Us was crazy hard. Ellie is a fictional character from a game, and I needed to find someone with similar bone structure and features, who could also perform.
How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Hopefully the client and agency choose you because they like your ideas! I very much enjoy collaborating with the creatives. By default, they,ve had more time to think about the project and more exposure to the client before I get onboard, so I’d be a fool not to pick their brains. At the end of the day, we must find common ground. Otherwise, nothing gets made and we’ve failed. You need buy-in from everybody. For me, this is all about good communication. Communicating an idea clearly to influence minds is a skill that you must have as a director.
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?
I think that’s a great idea and we’re already doing it. We all have different ways of telling stories and having a more diverse pool of talent will make the work more interesting to experience. We share a collective responsibility to pass on knowledge, educate and demystify the process. I find it fascinating how much I can learn from seeing something through someone else’s lens.
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?
The pandemic has taught me how important it is to choose the right work environment for the task at hand. I treasure the value of solitude when I need it. Trying to work on a script in a bustling office space can be a challenge when you’re trying to dive deep into your own head for example.
Likewise, collaborating, spit balling and brain storming with a group of people in person is so powerful, fast, fun and deeply satisfying. I think I’m better now at choosing what’s right for me.
Your work is now presented in so many different formats – to what extent do you keep each in mind while you’re working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
I always encourage having these conversations up front, so that we can plan ahead. For example, it’s a challenge to create cinematography and choreography that fits every format in one go. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, I’m not a format purist and I think that we must meet people wherever they are. I like the challenge of working with something new. If you study and know your format, you can play into the strengths of it rather than looking at it as an obstacle.
What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?
I’m constantly looking at ways that I can elevate the quality of my work and make it more authentic – especially when it comes to our digital creations. As an example, the Lidar scanners that we carry around in our pockets (iPhones) have made it very easy to create realistic feeling virtual cinematography. Machine Learning has made marker-less motion capture a possibility, giving us new levels of creative freedom and even more authentic performances. AI is revolutionizing the way that we are producing imagery from concept to final finish. And new ways of accurately scanning the human face many times per second for facial expressions means that believable performances in digital humans are becoming the norm.