Markenfilm director Viviane Blumenschein‘s latest campaign for Lufthansa celebrates nature’s vast and expansive possibilities, asking viewers, “why do you love the world?”
Swooping and soaring over incredible vistas and across sun-soaked beaches, Viviane’s camera captures the grand sweep of deserts, waterfalls, and mountains. Each spot retains a quality of intimacy, however, through the use of voiceover: the subject of each video describes the beauty of the scene from a personal, intimate perspective. The campaign shows the importance of human connection with the natural world, through Viviane’s documentary-style lens.
Viviane Blumenschein was born in Germany and currently resides in Berlin, working as an international documentary and commercial filmmaker. She has her qualifications in Cultural Studies and gained her first experiences in film through working with diverse international commercial and feature film directors as an assistant director. In her earlier works, she filmed and edited herself and became an editor for film trailers working for companies such as X-Filme, Warner and Kinowelt. Apart from directing commercials, her passion lies in documentary filmmaking where she is recognized for her moving and progressive stories with a strong visual and artistic approach.
We spoke with Viviane about how her own love of travel through South Africa inspired the locations for the shoot, improvising on the spur of the moment when confronted with challenging conditions, and embracing the collaborative spirit of filmmaking.
pictured (l-r): Viviane Blumenschein, Shelby Ncube, Pierre de Villiers, Elena Musteata, Paulo Silva
What was your initial brief for this Lufthansa campaign? What ideas did it inspire for you as a director?
The initial brief of the Lufthansa social media campaign #sayyestotheworld was finding the little moments in life that lead to happiness. The idea was to inspire the audience and take them on a journey. The claim at the end of each spot – “why do You love the world?” – intends to trigger individual memories and attitudes. Which moments were most precious on my adventures – what do I want to experience next? The stories should be told from a very personal point of view in an emotional way.
I loved the campaign from the first moment. Traveling is one of my favorite things to do in life; I am a nomad and luckily my work has allowed me to travel to many beautiful places in the world already. So it wasn’t difficult for me to remember my own experiences, and I enjoyed doing that a lot. I also knew that this project was a great chance for me to bring in a lot of my creative ideas. In general, my approach as a director is to portray very human pictures of people and to use a poetic visual language. My immediate response to the campaign was that it is about individual freedom, that it’s about love for nature, about lightness of being and very much about personal and sensual experiences.
pictured: Andrew Prince
How did you begin work on the project – what were some of the first steps?
There were no scripts – only basic ideas. So we had a lot of freedom and I wrote the scripts with the support of a creative. At that time we were still in the pitch! Yes! That’s how it goes! We finally presented 22 short scripts, VO included. Fortunately, the agency and client decided in my favor as a director and then selected 4 of the script ideas. There was still some rework that we did on the voiceover during the process during pre-production, and at the same time we started with location scouting and casting. We had a really tight schedule; in fact, we had only a little more than a month to finalize all four films.
pictured (l-r): Peter Smuts, Justin van Rooyan, Pierre de Villiers, Shelby Ncube, Heinrich Kapp
Since the client for this shoot was an airline, and the goal was to spotlight the travelers’ favorite qualities about the world, the locations must have been a high priority for this shoot. Can you talk about where each video was shot?
Originally, the client was planning to shoot in Europe. But I knew that I definitely wanted to shoot the films in South Africa because at this time of the year, in January, we could find all the diverse landscapes and the sun that we needed there. I know the country very well, since I shot my documentary film “Dance for all,” 12 years ago. I really lost my heart to South Africa, and ever since try to spend a longer period of time once a year in that area. I just love the people and the nature. In case of this project, I already had planned my holiday in SA, and thus it turned into a working holiday.
The scripts already defined the locations, like the lonely guy needing to be in the desert (at Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve). For the unique places, we were looking for surroundings in lush nature and that’s why a waterfall came to my mind first. We finally found one in Porterville which was no easy task as we had a big drought around Capetown at that time. As you can imagine we had plenty of opportunities for the beaches around Capetown (Lundudno and Hout Bay), but still needed to have them with no people. Furthermore, the horizons were a little more tricky, as I was searching for different views and a high mountain (Telkom Road). There we also needed a private street to drive the car on the right side. But in the end, we did find all the places we needed.
pictured (l -r): Suzie Devanage, Kat Tsheko
Did any of these locations pose any particular challenges for you and your crew?
The biggest challenge was logistics, as we only had 4 shooting days, one per film, and we needed to travel in very different directions to find all the ideal locations. Due to budget and timing, we couldn’t go more than 3-4 hours away from Capetown. My favorite landscapes were Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal and Tsitsikamma National Park, but both were at least 7-10 hours away, so the location scouting had to be perfectly timed. Additionally, we had no extra weather day, so we needed to shoot with whatever we got. In the end, we logistically were in a good position, but we also needed to do split days for the best light in the mornings and evenings. We finally shot around 6 days, because we had to take breaks or had to travel during the day. Thanks to our Service Production SIMPLEMAN FILM and the very dedicated crew, all this could be made possible! I always create a close bond with my producers and cameraman – this is important for me on all projects. It’s the precondition for me to be creative and feel safe in that space. This is the magic of filmmaking and what I love about it: finally everything falls into place.
No one from the outside is able to see all the difficulties you have during shooting. For instance, we got stuck in the desert sand with one car and there was no reception anywhere, and another car had a flat tire during change of location. We had hurricane-like wind on the beach, clouds in the mountains with no sight, a make-up girl throwing up in the car, sun light running out, no 1st AD due to our tight budget again, and making shot lists till late night, and so on and so on…
But I guess all that is pretty normal, it’s always like: keep calm and improvise!
pictured (l – r): Carolina Klass, James Westcott, Viviane Blumenschein
What were some of your favorite moments of working with the team on this shoot?
Well, the above mentioned? No, honestly I loved every moment of the shooting. Filmmaking is teamwork and I can really say that I received great support from the team and the cast as well. It’s just this moment when you realize that there is a great dynamic in the team and that everyone is doing his/her best to contribute to a good outcome. So you huddle up during the shooting days. Especially with this shoot, we had such a tight timing, small budget and very long days. I definitely remember the moment when my DOP Pierre de Villiers introduced me to his 2nd Cam Assistant Shelby: “can I introduce you to this lovely human being?” This was exactly the spirit of the team. Pierre is himself a very lovely human being and a fantastic cameraman as well, and we were working together for the first time as well. Work is also life time, so I like to spend it in a good way as well. But if I had to choose one singular moment, it was definitely our stay in the desert at Kagga Kamma National Park, where we had to get up at 4.30 in the morning, half awake with coffee in the hand, but at the same time enjoying the beautiful sunrise. We also had production meetings in front of a fire place, and went on a Location Recce with Caroline Klass, my producer, where we raced through the desert on Quads, which was so much fun!
pictured: Kat Tsheko
The beauty of this campaign is that it captures the expansiveness of nature through four different personal & intimate perspectives. How did you find a way to balance these elements as a director?
Well, the balance is achieved by making decisions about the individual stories. We were very aware of which particular story we chose to show a broad diversity in places and content. Elements like earth, fire, water and air were decisive, as they are the basis of our world, and nature is the place where we as humans initially feel alive. I think, that’s why these films nurture our souls in a way – we are all longing for the experience of being close to nature, close to ourselves. This is the reason why I enjoyed making these films so much.
pictured (l – r): Viviane Blumenschein, Andrew Prince
Did this shoot allow you to try any new tech or work with techniques you hadn’t had the chance to work with before?
In fact, I had already used the complete technique that we used on other shoots before. We had 2 Sony FS7 Cameras, a Sony A7s for the motorbike POV, one cam was handheld, the other was always on a Movi Rig, so we could switch all the time. We also had a drone with an operator, a very talented one. All these tools gave me the chance to work fast, and as I come from documentary, I mainly used available light. That gives me a lot of freedom in directing people in a natural, authentic way.
You’re a documentary filmmaker who has crossed over into documentary-style advertising work. Can you talk about how you were able to move into commercial directing?
Actually, it’s a bit more complex, as I operated on several tracks…
Originally, I studied cultural sciences with the intention to become a journalist and documentary filmmaker. During my studies, I worked in commercial films to finance my studies and ended up working a lot and lost sight… I started as a runner, driver, production assistant, etc., climbing the ladder; then I worked for many years as an assistant director in commercials for directors like Ralf Schmerberg. I actually worked for him for 4 years. Finally, in my thirties, I returned to my original intention and started making documentary films, which fortunately were shown in cinemas and even won a few prizes. I also started editing and was responsible for the “Behind-The-Scenes” films of feature films like “Good Bye Lenin”, “Herr Lehmann”, “Alles auf Zucker” and other bigger German feature films. I became a self-taught camerawoman and editor of all those “making-of projects”, thanks to the smaller and cheaper cameras and Final Cut Pro. Finally, I edited trailer for cinemas on behalf of companies like Warner and Kinowelt.
Normally it is very hard to get into the commercial world as a director, but because of my prior experience in commercials, the success in the documentaries and the support of a few amazing producers, I started to get work here as well. But it was a slow start, and at the beginning I got only small jobs. All of them linked to my doc-style filmmaking and interview experiences – but never forgetting that this whole period lasted more than 15 years. So slowly I moved towards bigger productions, and also more staged films. And last but not least, I am very curious and for the future I want to explore so much more.
pictured (l – r): Viviane Blumenschein, Arnaud Stefani
What similarities & differences do you find between documentary film and commercial shoots (budgets, equipment, crew, etc.)? What lessons have you learned from documentary filmmaking that can be applied to your commercial film work, and vice versa?
There are not so many similarities between those two, except my personal style of shooting. It’s actually worlds apart, speaking in terms of budget and entailing possibilities. Commercials are fast, whereas making a documentary can take 2 – 3 years and some people even spend 10 years making them. Doing documentaries means you usually have a small budget, but a lot of freedom. It’s your personal project and you’re your own master (not speaking of TV docs – they are also commissioned) where many people work for little money and a lot of enthusiasm. Commercials, on the contrary, are commissioned work. Here, you always have a client and agency behind your back. Some jobs are more free, but normally you have to deliver, and it doesn’t matter how creative the project is. This is totally fine and I am in the lucky position to being offered really interesting work in commercials, often with content, and there is always a Directors Cut as well. It is a possibility to work with the best people in the business, and they support my docs as well. The style of my work in commercials and documentaries is almost the same. In both worlds, I like small teams, available light and a very cinematic, moving and aesthetic camera. For me, it’s always about catching a real moment, getting to the essence of the people and their emotions. I learned a lot from my documentary filming where the moment of observing plays an important part. People need to be given their own space, they need to feel safe and respected. Only then they will do their best. And if you do camera as well you know what you need in the editing. It’s a good learning process when you are missing close ups or other angles and have to realize that later in the edit. You will never do the same mistakes again. I guess that I also learned a lot from commercial productions for my documentary work. In general here, you pick up how to work effectively as well as professionally and my demand on quality has since become definitely high.
pictured (l – r): Viviane Blumenschein, Carolina Klass
You’re an editor as well as a director – does your experience as an editor influence your work as a director?
Everything comes together in the editing room. My editor is as important as the cameraman. I love to collaborate, and therefore I gave up editing myself on my professional projects. Nowadays, they are fast as hell anyway. It would be hopeless to try to compete with them. Plus, it’s so important to have a partner with whom you can exchange ideas. It’s really great when they surprise you and come up with something completely new. With Lufthansa, I was so lucky again to work with a young and talented editor from Capetown, Stephen Du Plessis. Working together for the first time, we really bonded and had the same vision, which is not necessarily given. I can also be a real nerd, but I need to trust the people I work with. My own editing experiences definitely helped to understand more about creating a good scene and which scenes and angles we need to tell a story.
What examples of your commercial work would you say are most representative of your vision as a director?
That is a difficult question because I have very diverse interests. For me, the most important thing is a good story, and a good story is always an emotional story that people can relate to. That can be anything, because nowadays also the genres in commercials have changed. There is a lot more content, short films, Instagram stories etc and it’s really cool to have all these tools and possibilities to tell a story. So I really like my last Lufthansa campaign, because it’s a lot about personal reflections, told in a very beautiful way. But then there are also projects that a more interesting content wise, they can trigger you, ask questions and reflect the world that we are living in. For example, I did a project for Swiss RE, which is a Swiss reinsurance company on the occasion of their 150 years anniversary. For this job, I traveled for about 1o months around the world, conducted more than 100 interviews with experts as well as people like you and me about the question: “How do we live in 2050?” The main topics here were about how we prospectively will deal with climate change, food, aging and sustainable energy. This almost sounds like a documentary film, but it was a long feature commercial of 17 minutes. Those kind of projects really interest me as they are challenging on all levels.
pictured: Suzie Devanage
What’s next for you? What would some dream projects be?
I just want to proceed on the same path and want to be able to explore and experiment more in the commercial world. I also have a documentary film in process that I started with and that I’d like to continue this year. It’s a short documentary about a musician friend who is half-French, half-African. She has found her mother after 35 years of separation, so she went back to the Ivory Coast to meet her new family and her 6 siblings. It’s going to be an essayistic doc film about finding your roots, your identity, motherhood, but also about the culture clash between Europe and Africa and where you belong. Basically it’s a story of loss, search, hope and reunification. I am very excited about this project, because I will be able to create a very artistic piece of work with an amazing protagonist. For the future, yes, maybe I will make a feature film as well. Maybe I will do this faster than I think…
pictured: Viviane Blumenschein
Free The Bid is committed to advocating for diverse perspectives and points of view. What do you think are some of the benefits to diverse representation on both sides of the camera lens?
I think this is very clear. We are living in a diverse world where we as human beings definitely benefit from these differences. We always need Ying and Yang, male and female, shadow and light, softness and strength, color and black & white. Each one of us inherits both strengths, and that’s what I want to see everywhere. Equally. And in the film business there are not enough women in key positions such as directing and camera, so we need to support them, us. We need to connect and make ourselves more visible.
But this also has to start in a very early age and within the whole society, how we are being raised. Only then will we have a different and enriching female narrative in the future.
What advice would you give to a young director reading this interview?
Being persistent is really important. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. For me, it was very important to find good collaborators, good people with the same spirit and the same standards that want to support you. And speaking for myself: you definitely don’t need to study film to become a director – there are many ways to reach your goal.
pictured: Viviane Blumenschein
Client – Lufthansa
Agency – neulandherzer
Director – Viviane Blumenschein
Production :- Erste Liebe Film
Producer – Carolina Klass
Assistant Producer – Antonia Burchardt
Service Production – Simpleman Film Capetown
Exec. Producer Simpleman- Jaco du Plooy
Producer Simpleman- James Westcott
Production Manager – Matshepo Maja
Cinematography – Pierre de Villiers
Drone Operator – Luke Maximo Bell
Sound – Heinrich Knapp
Art Direction/Stylist – Kaley Meyer
Styling Assistant/Make up – Monique du Toit
Editor – Stephen du Plessis
Colorist – Nic Apostoli
Post Production – Upstairs
Music/Sounddesign – Nicolaas van Reenen@Fieldsound
Stills Photographer – Christian Engels