Five Minutes With Nick Ball


Five Minutes With Nick Ball

Anything goes, just as long as it’s good.

‘The Troll’, Nick Ball’s three minute commercial for IKEA, isn’t just an ad. It’s a wholly constructed world inhabited by nuanced and flawed characters that might be more typically found in a novel or feature film.

While Nick dances his way through styles and genres in ad-making, one thing is consistent – he is always drawn to stories that can communicate an entire universe through carefully considered characters, and very deliberate details.

In fact, it might be Ball’s calling card – that, and he’s truly only interested in making ads that people want to talk about.

“With commercials, you’re always trying something new,” Ball says of his own penchant for experimentation and new challenges. “You can, and should get better every time. Memorable ads are bold, well-executed, rich in detail and have some kind of unique quality. I’m always digging around for the idea at the heart of the script and finding ways to elevate and evolve it – to capitalise on the idea’s potential”.

IKEA 'The Troll'

“I see my job as a weird kind of herdsman – taking someone else’s baby – their idea, understanding it, nurturing it, boosting it with a clear executional point of view – and then shepherding the shit out of that to the very end,” Nick says. “Everybody’s made this ad in their head before you’ve made it.  But you’re the one who actually does the making. So you take all these often differing perspectives, and funnel them into something that ensures everyone’s interests are protected whilst never losing sight of the perspective that makes you the right person for the job in the first place. Ultimately, when you’re confident, when you trust and are shown trust in return, that’s when you’re free to create the best work.”

In ‘The Troll’, a young boy helps a fairytale bridge-dwelling creature to realise his dream. In ‘Jumping Through Hoops’ for Tangerine, an exhausted man tries to escape the endless bureaucratic trip-ups that anchor him to a monotonous life. And in his world-wide smash of a commercial ‘For When It’s Time’ with Wrigley’s Extra Gum, Nick quite literally wrenched the world out of its pandemic halitosis, snogging us into the utopian promise of a post-pandemic age.

Though a lot of his early career has been focused on comedic situations, Nick doesn’t see himself as only being interested in getting yuks. It’s but one thread in a tapestry of emotional possibilities for him. That explains the more poignant work that he’s been making – including ‘The Troll’, SIMI’s “Goodness from Grit” and NZTA’s hugely successful “Rat’s Tale”.

“I’m focused on being in the good ideas business, not the good comedy business. I think the longevity of a director’s career is based on understanding good ideas first and foremost. With a well conceived idea, you can overcome anything else. If the idea is super rock solid, and you’re able to push at the edges of the idea, discover the tone and the world that supports it – that’s what drives me.”

That informs Nick’s approach to each new opportunity, as he immediately launches into deep conversation and collaboration with everyone on his team, infusing what each of them can bring to the table into the piece.

Nick Ball in his bedroom

“I expect a lot of the people I work with – and I’m only ever as good as the people around me. That’s why I love commercials. I love the process of being part of a team and ensuring that everyone’s inputs are valued – and like a great sports team, you’ve picked the right people for the job each and every time.” As a result of that process, what Nick likes most is surprise – both surprises in the work, and a surprising career that keeps people guessing.

“If I’m going to repeat myself, I’m not interested in it,” Nick Ball says.

“If I’m going to repeat myself, I’m not interested in it,” Nick Ball says.

“If I’m going to repeat myself, I’m not interested in it,” Nick Ball says.

Or put another way – anything goes, just as long as it’s good.