Spotlight | Mill Director Shaun Leong-Williams

News October 12, 2021

Tell us about your career so far, how did you become a director?

My first role as a director was when I teamed up with one of my best and oldest friends Tom, at the time he was an editor and I was a motion designer. He originally approached me to handle some animation on one of his projects, but shortly after that – and with a little insistence on my part – our side-hustle was born.

We learned a lot together mainly working across branded content for fashion and lifestyle with a few music videos peppered throughout. It was chaos – but it was great! Lots of late nights. Even more, take-outs. At the same time, I was designing, right here at The Mill. During the day I’d be learning from some of the best talent in the industry with opportunities to lead projects of my own; then in the evening Tom and I would knuckle down, pitching on and pulling together entire shoots, just the two of us.

It was great being able to take what I was learning in both aspects of my life and allow them to inform one another. After this I was lucky enough to find myself working overseas for a Sydney-based VFX shop. Hired as a hybrid role of director/design director; I found both aspects of my creative life colliding once more. Again there were some fantastic opportunities to learn and work with some excellent brands.

Whilst away I also scraped together just enough time to write and shoot a short passion project, ‘Unbreakable’. It was an athlete profile, exploring themes of hope and resilience. This was important to me, not only due to my connection with its themes, but because it represented a personal expression of much of the professional experience I’d been gathering over the years.

Since then I’ve been a freelance director, slugging it out back in the UK, fighting off a pandemic with one (well sanitised) hand and writing treatments with the other.

How would you describe your style?

There are definitely a few themes and patterns I find myself drawn to within my work.

Visually, I love contrast. A little bit of (almost) nothing, followed by a lot of everything. Drip-fed curiosity before an overload of stimulus. I like the idea of tension and release. Slow sustained builds, followed by energetic payoffs; visually, sonically, or narratively. I like to find rhythms within pictures. In this sense, you could say I’m quite editorially focused. This approach is maybe best illustrated in Pepsi Max ‘Bullet’ or the accident scene in ‘Unbreakable’. I think also, there’s always some element of design present.

I try to keep quite a self-aware approach to what I’m making, and where possible inject a little humanity. This often finds its way in through humour. Not out-and-out jokes, but just a little nod to let you know we’re not taking ourselves too seriously. Although, I guess there are times when it’s just pure jokes and there’s no avoiding that.

TLDR: Kinetic. Curious. “Contrasty”. Sometimes funny.


You’ve worked on spots for brands such as Nike and Dr. Martens, what have been your favourite projects to work on and why?

Yeah, the Nike ‘Hypercourt’ project was definitely a highlight. It ticked a lot of boxes for me; it was socially impactful – the project at large was designed to bring access to basketball training to youth communities whilst also refurbishing their outdated facilities – I had the opportunity to work with an artist whose work I admired, it was sports focussed (more specifically basketball), my design team were dynamite and of course it was for a brand I loved.

A couple of other notable projects would definitely be the Balentes ‘Title Sequence’; another socially aware project, this time exposing the abuse of Sardinian land by its military. It was brilliant to work so closely with the film’s director to realise the final sequence. Notably, the film itself was recently cited as key evidence in a victorious court hearing against the Sardinian military, how amazing is that?!

And then there was Pepsi ‘Bullet’, a script I was tasked to rewrite from its live-action origins. Given its new fully CG incarnation, I really loved spending time with the VFX team geeking out on the pseudo physics of how a giant space raspberry might explode when impacted by a rocket-like can of pop. Fortunately, the team was as enthusiastic to indulge my sci-fi fantasy as they were talented!

What are you looking forward to about working with The Mill?

At the risk of sounding utterly sycophantic, it’s the people. Having been here before – albeit in a different capacity – I know these guys have your back. And I’m not just saying that. Obviously there is incredible work that comes through The Mill, but it’s the people that make it (God, this sounds like a played out recruitment ad). But really, there’s not only a dedication to great work, but a commitment to help each other achieve it. That’s brilliant. Also it kind of feels like coming home – is that a weird thing to say?

What’s keeping you inspired?

Human endeavour. I absolutely love our capacity to create and achieve. To basically dig deep and just keep trying. Stories of resilience, hope and perseverance – these things really resonate with me as I’m sure they do with so many others. When I hear of someone or some group overcoming – or even just facing up to – some seemingly insurmountable challenge; the hairs on the back of my neck form a conga line.

This was something I tried to capture in ‘Unbreakable’. It’s a theme I’d love to continue to explore. We all have our unique challenges – we’re all battling something at some point – and the fact we do this and still turn up for the rest of life, that’s bloody inspiring.

I also think currently, the idea of looking at old things/experiences/places with a new perspective. Fresh eyes. I used to chase novelty, however, there’s definitely something to be said about revisiting things you once thought you knew inside out. Maybe that’s the introspective nature of recent lockdowns talking but I think there’s something to it.

Oh and I also really like sci-fi. Robots, lasers, space; all that good stuff. AGI scares the hell out me though, just want that on record.

Shaun Leong-Williams | Mill Director

You can check out more of Shaun’s work via his Creative Talent page and follow him on Instagram @shaunleongwilliams. You can also contact us regarding your upcoming projects here.