Wade Shotter And His Realisation


Wade Shotter And His Realisation

The FINCH Director Talks His Process

Midway through 2021, Wade Shotter had a realisation. The New Zealand-born director, who has worked across short films, music videos, and commercials, was in pre-production on ‘Firefighters Don’t Like Fire Movies’, an award-winning spot for Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

The spot is crafted around a powerful, simple voiceover, in which a worn-out but courageous speaker contrasts the house fires depicted by Hollywood – slow-burning, escapable – and the brutal reality that firefighters face every day. It was that voiceover that Shotter fell in love with when the brief first came to him, and that voiceover that he knew he had to stay true to in the final film.

“I got tingles down my spine twice when I read this voiceover they’d written,” Shotter says over Zoom from New Zealand, in an office space he has retreated to because his neighbours have been renovating and the sound of hammering is driving him nuts. “It was really powerful. And I just wanted to put that onscreen.”

Shotter realised that he could add to the script with clean, minimalistic creative choices. No complex camera tricks. Nothing that would draw attention to itself. Just the elegance of the idea, shining through. 

For instance, at one point in the spot, the narrator notes that during a house fire, the smoke gets so thick that trapped families can’t see far enough ahead of their feet to find the door. As those words are spoken, Shotter made the decision to cut to black. 

“What they’re talking about in the voiceover is horrific,” Shotter says. “Nothing that you can show image-wise is going to match it. Nothing you can show sound-wise is going to match it.” It was part of a process that Shotter describes as “boiling a script down” to its essence; getting to the heart of the thing, as quickly as possible.

“I go from the concept first,” Shotter says. “It’s not, ‘I’ve got this technique to try, to shoehorn in.’ It’s, ‘What does the concept require?’ And then, ‘What’s best to achieve that?’”

The realisation for Shotter, then, was one of the power of emotional simplicity. Of cutting to black. And of making every creative choice service the idea and the feeling. Using his technical and visual background, he took a feeling and transposed that onscreen – a process he found deeply rewarding. 

Describing himself as a conversationally tangential person, jumping from idea to idea, Shotter is something of a polymath. He is an art school graduate, with a love of painting, though he describes the formal education he recieved in bleak terms. “I fucking hated it,” he says. “I was 17, 18, and being asked to say things about the world. And I was like, ‘Fuck, I don’t even know myself yet.’”

He plays music. He is an illustrator, who has worked on children’s books, and his own drawings – he’s published eight comics, all of which speak to his whip-smart sense of humour. He is well-versed in animation – he worked for Disney for a while, in traditional 2D animation. He was a full-time creative for four years, as an art director, and as a writer. Ultimately, as Shotter puts it, he likes to “figure out how things work.” 

Indeed, it was music that drew him to advertising, in a roundabout way. As a young man, he was the drummer of the New Zealand band Augustino, best known for their thrumming single ‘Into the Grain’. When the band had the opportunity to make their own music videos, Shotter, having grown up on horror movies and sci-fi, immediately put his hand up to direct. The experience was one of immediate gratification.

“I fell in love with the moving image, and the immediacy of film, and how nuanced it could be,” Shotter says. “That’s pretty much how I came into film. I just love that it’s a mixture of all these other things I love.”

Entranced by the creative process – by its version of puzzle-solving, in which the expectations of the audience must be balanced with the personal taste of the filmmaker, and negotiated, in the world of commercials, with the brand message – Shotter moved to London.  

The move taught Shotter about how to do a lot with a little. He did what he describes as some of his best music video work in the country, often on a shoestring budget, which led to an increasing demand for his talent in the advertising world.

“I am really sensitive to the ways in which something might come across; the subtleties of that,” Shotter says. “And that’s proving to be really useful.” He is alive to what the writer Susan Sontag describes as “the myriad of ways that things can be taken”, attentive to the full spectrum of how images can be interpreted, processed. 

“During the very first few moments of anything you’re going to watch, you are open,” Shotter explains. “I read an interesting article with Damien Chazelle recently. You have a willing audience right from the beginning of your film, and it’s about trying to draw that out for as long as possible. It’s totally true.”

That means that Shotter is “constantly thinking about how the viewer could perceive the work.” But he also believes that, at the end of the day, the director makes the decisions – they are the one who is “responsible” for the final product. It’s about finding the ways those two things interconnect: the ways that audience expectations can be managed, and filtered, and sometimes subverted, by the taste of the director.

That approach is key to most of Shotter’s creative pursuits. These days, along with his work in commercials, he’s an occasional touring member of the New Zealand band Voom, and he’s working on a pilot script for a television series that has already attracted the interest of HBO. 

“I play music with a bunch of friends every month,” Shotter says. When the jam breaks down, and the music gets a bit shit, Shotter likes to try to figure out why. “It’s like, ‘Why is this not working?’ And the answer is, ‘Well, it’s because I’m not really listening to them.’ Or, ‘he’s not listening to me.’ It’s exactly the same thing in [filmmaking], just a different medium. And I’m constantly learning from that, which is really lovely.”

Before signing off the Zoom call, Shotter returns again to the subject of his neighbours and their renovations. He’s lived in his house for ten years, on the edges of the CBD, and he’s had to deal with the sound of progress, as the city expands closer and closer to him. But Shotter is used to change. He is, after all, rarely staying still. “I want to tell stories,” he says. “I want to tell them better. That’s where I am now.”