Spotlight | Mill Director Tim Spence

With a background as a Director of Photography in documentaries, promos, features and commercials, Tim has worked with some of the most respected directors from around the world.
Thought April 16, 2020

Now combining his skills as a Director, DoP and Stills Photographer, Tim’s attention to detail with technical and post-production knowledge has made him a particularly sought after Director for beautifully lit, highly technical and precision FX shoots.

With a passion for food, the arts and an eye for beauty, Tim Spence specializes in the tabletop genre of directing, focusing on food & beverage products, liquid visuals, and beautiful creations. We caught up with Tim on tabletop directing, his in-house studio and working in the current lockdown situation.


Tell us about your career as a director so far

Having started directing on the 2nd Unit on ‘Brazil’, I became more interested in working on TV commercials. For the last ten years I’ve been working in association with The Mill, while still working on other projects with independent production companies and Advertising Agencies across the UK, Spain, Lebanon and Dubai.


What is tabletop directing?

The name implies projects that are slightly limited in scale, more often on a surface and studio based. Generally, there would be no performance other than the need maybe for a hand artist.

The Tabletop directing and photography I’m involved in covers a wide range of disciplines;

Food, Liquids, Product photography, special effects and beauty, capturing images from the size of a range of products to super macro and microscopic photography.


What are the benefits of filming a project in this way with the current climate of limited people contact?

It means I can work remotely at home, without the need to travel to a studio or be in contact with people. My wife is a Producer, so she can also help out if I need an extra pair of hands.

By using video conferencing and live streaming we can link up to those who would normally be on set from the Agency/Client and The Mill.


Please show us your favourite tabletop project.

An early project I completed for The Mill was a series of commercials for Diageo, a can of premixed drink was fired into a tank of liquid. In the TVC we see the can as it becomes submerged, re-acting with slices of lemon and ice cubes. The technical requirements, shooting at high speed, the logistics of using a tank over a cubic metre containing in excess 1000 litres of water, was a significant achievement and one I thoroughly enjoyed shooting.

You have an in-house studio, what does it look like and what does it allow you to do?

My home studio allows me to shoot tabletop stills and moving image. Fully equipped with studio lighting, surfaces, colorama and props. I also have a lovely home and garden that can be used if a location set-up is required.


What kit do you use at home?

Shooting moving content my camera of choice is a Sony A7r11 4k. I generally use Zeiss, Nikon or Canon K35 lenses. Depending on the project I may also use Mamiya Shift Lenses.

For shooting stills, I would normally use the same Sony A7 camera, 42mp being sufficient for most projects, occasionally we would shoot on medium format for specific work.


Tim’s in-house studio

How do you collaborate with a client while shooting remotely?

It is more important than ever that the Client is aware of the creative intentions and what is currently achievable. Working from an approved scamp or storyboard and having had discussions on how this can be achieved in advance, we would set up a live remote link to my computer desktop in the studio during the shoot, so that all those that need to sign off the shots can view and feedback in real time.


What is a key learning the current lock-down situation has taught you about how you work?

I have always been calm, flexible and patient, but in today’s climate with this current lock-down situation we are more challenged, and we need to be more patient and adaptable. I am a problem solver and always work collaboratively with the creatives to find solutions. We are working at a slower pace these days and must take one day at a time, planning and deadlines seem to have relaxed. We can spend this time developing ideas, helping each other, working together and being supportive, to make the best of the present situation.



You can check out more of Tim’s work on his Creator page.

Visit Tim’s website here and follow him on Instagram @tim_spence.