Behind the Title: Unheard/Of Director Chris Volckmann

NAME: Chris Volckmann

COMPANY: Unheard/Of

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We’re a production company. We make commercials. It’s a small group, which is fantastic, and a tight-knit community of directors. They do a great job of thinking outside the box and supporting the roster.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Typically, I’m provided scripts from an agency or brand and collaborate with them to develop a visual and narrative voice. I then creatively guide a production through the live-action process and often through completion.

Groupon

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Well, nearly all decisions on a production run through the director, whether it’s a direct decision or via your department heads. You might be surprised how much time is spent on things that the audience wouldn’t really think about. Like the color of a vase, or the cut of a t-shirt. We like to think these things add up to an overall tone and aesthetic that aids the story, but often we’re probably over-considering.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Finding the story. Sometimes it’s right in front of you, sometimes you really have to dig. But when you find it, the rest falls away. It becomes your North Star.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Tough question. I suppose budgets — though sometimes a smaller sandbox aids in originality. But more often than not, these days we’re just trying to do too much in a day. The value in advertising has become quantity, and that just makes our jobs harder.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I have no idea. I’ve worked in most phases of production, from producing live-action to VFX, design and interactive… I would probably be making something, and probably within the advertising community.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I wanted to make movies about as early as I can remember. I actually wanted to be an archeologist when I was young because of Indiana Jones, until someone explained that that’s not what archeology is really like — that’s just in the movies. Since then, it’s pretty much been tunnel vision.

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT ATTRACTED YOU?
It sounds cliché, but just telling stories. Like all art, it’s emotional expression. I try to find an emotional connection within myself to whatever we’re doing. Often with advertising you’re telling someone else’s story, or trying to connect to an audience that might differ from yourself. It can be easy to keep it all at an arm’s length.

Similar to acting, you need to reach back for that emotional foundation within yourself and live there for a bit so that you’re seeing the world through that lens. If you can do that, then the work comes from an honest place and that can be as rewarding as any other artistic medium.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT CONTINUES TO KEEP YOU INTERESTED?
Commercial work is actually incredibly experimental. Oftentimes, you’re doing something for the first time with each job. Whether it’s a narrative approach or an effect, there’s constant problem solving and experimentation. I started out in longer form work, independent film, etc., but I find that work extremely limiting with red tape all over the place and extraordinarily time consuming (duh). Commercial work keeps you on your toes.

Amazon Music

HOW DO YOU PICK THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH ON A PARTICULAR PROJECT?
I like working with the same crew as much as possible. Sometimes specific stories need specific talents, and the project always takes first priority — but the more you work with people, the more you get a sense for each other and your collective strengths and weaknesses.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
That’s kind of an impossible question — probably something nobody has seen (ha!). Sometimes, I’ll just make a thing without much of a plan and let it unfold in the process. No client or anything, just trying to keep things spontaneous and avoid over-considering everything. Sometimes, I’ll put those out into the world, but oftentimes not. It’s just constant experimentation. I think that type of work stirs up different stuff that keeps me sharp for client work, and it’s more the process of that work that I’m proud of than the final product itself.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My fucking phone. Adobe InDesign, even though it’s one of the most frustrating applications around. Adobe Premiere (RIP Final Cut).

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Good work isn’t stressful, it’s actually a stress release. If the process with a client becomes really difficult, and a production is stressful, the best way for me to pull myself out of it isn’t to take time away, it’s actually to make something else. Sometimes, that’s just a new job or sometimes, it’s something personal like what I described before.

Otherwise, spending time with my wife and kids — and sports. Oh, and exercise is huge. That probably should have been my first answer!


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