“I like realism.” Comedy Director Ste Hinde on directing, writing backwards and having a laugh.

We talked with Ste Hinde, a comedy director with oodles of experience, about how he directs comedy, and the importance of dialogue in selling a story.

How do you think your varied background has influenced your current style of work?

It’s helped me become more adaptable. What I've understood from every meeting I've had with different clients is you have to show a multitude of skill sets. They’ll ask you if you’ve dealt with a problem before and chances are the more varied your experience, the better chance you’ll have at solving that specific problem. Every shoot is a problem to fix at the end of the day — it sounds a bit corny but it’s true — and if you can bring wider experience to them, you’re more likely to succeed.

Who has the biggest impact on your career?

There’s no one particular person — there’s a multitude of people who have been supportive. My university tutor, Sue, was one of the first people who really sort of pushed me and showed me how to go against the grain and the support to excel and we still speak to this day.

Another mentor, Ed, who I worked with at Kream, is someone else. In fact a lot of people at Kream — that was just a great company to work for — were very supportive and influential to what I wanted to do. When I went into advertising from TV they were very supportive and influential to what I wanted to do when I went into advertising from TV. There’s a lot of people a long way, it’s hard to pinpoint. 

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People generally see working on sets as a love hate relationship type of gig. Is that realistic?


I don't think there is a love-hate relationship, I certainly don't allow it on my sets. I want everyone to have a laugh and have fun. I've been on sets where it's been very sort of negative. And the energy's been a bit low. But I feel like that's changing — there’s a lot more of a social connection on set these days.


How do you ensure you make sure your set doesn’t slip into that more negative space?


It's just by listening to everyone and being inclusive. It’s not brain surgery, people’s lives aren’t at risk on set (well not all the time anyway), so why not have fun and be as creative as you can be. Get breakfast together, whack some music on, it’s a good time.


What’s a stand out project you’ve been on recently?


My first comedy job was with a Family Creative — who I’ve just been signed to. From the moment I met them, we had a lot of fun. The first job I was able to bring to them was very playful, and the client was very open to new creatives and new ideas. I also got an actor on board who I knew would bring his best performance, and the whole shoot was just hilarious. We were all in tears laughing.

As a comedy writer, how do you make sure that comedy in the advert lands? They always say irony never prints right?


So as a director, you're not really in control of the script, and you aren’t really ever going to be able to change it too much. But that’s ok because more often than not — from a dialogue point of view anyway — adverts aren’t really able to push dialogue that far. In these types of projects, it’s all about the behaviour and the expressions, and so it actually is more about getting the right actor to perform it in the right way. That’s where the comedy gold is, because the script is rarely going to be able to be changed. 


What about the overall score? How do you work with music?


So in advertising, again usually that stuff is decided beforehand. You can show examples of what you might like to demonstrate a feeling, but more often than not a lot of those things have been decided. But that’s always fine with me, as I quite like that challenge of working what the sort of setup already is and then piecing it all together. 


But when it comes to writing your own stuff, you have as much freedom as possible even if you've still got to get that across the line and sell that to someone else. 


Tell us about working on your own material.

When I’m writing my own material: I like realism. I like people's genuine response to stuff. I like people swearing. I like people overreacting. That everyday stuff is funny, and I like exaggerating those scenes because it makes the dialogue better, and in my opinion you can sell a script easier based on dialogue than you can on just setting a scene.


You’ve got to really sell those characters and who they are, the rest of it comes later. Which is why the dialogue is the first thing I focus on. A lot of people like to structure a film in the sort of basic way of the narrative arc. But if I can start off with a bit of dialogue, or replicate something I’ve seen in the real world that I think will be perfect for whatever it is I'm doing, then that’s where I'll start, and work backwards from that.

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So the usual story writing arc rules don’t always apply?


Most certainly not! I don't believe there are set rules. I don't read books on how to write I don't read this. I like experiences. I think some people overthink the process. If you can get it down on paper do it, and work backwards from that initial — raw and real — point. Before worrying about anything else, the bare bones of your idea needs to come from what you were thinking, not worrying about what someone else will think.


So keeping everything grounded in reality from the get go?


Exactly. That's what I try to do. Everything I focus on in comedy is grounded in reality. I appreciate other methods of comedy and other things that get done in film. But the one thing I like is real moments. I like retelling stories down the pub of things that have actually happened — with a few minor tweaks, obviously, you’ve got to sell the story — those are the best sort of stories. 

Is there a risk of becoming pigeonholed as a director?


Definitely. As a director you're trying to get as much experience as you can, and so you take any work you can at first. You might have done a food video, followed by another food client, and all of a sudden you’re the food guy with the really good food reel. So if someone asks you if you can do any sports things — they’ll think you can’t, and that your whole thing is food.


But then you might actually be able to break out of that mould, and then the other risk presents itself: of being jack of all trades and the master of none. You’ve now got the other problem that you have so much diverse work that no one knows where to put you. It's a very complex sort of structure. 


This is why I've focused on comedy. In the past, I had so much varied work, and in my head I was like “When am I going to get that comedy piece?”. I was waiting for it to happen. But of course it never did, so then I took the plunge of leaving my company and going to get signed as a comedy director.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to become a director?


Be impatient. As a filmmaker, you are having to fake it till you make it. You've got to go into those meetings very early on. You have to sell them that you can do whatever it is that needs doing but that’s ok because you definitely can do those things. 




Ste Hinde

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