KEN KARPEL: BRINGING MODERN IDEAS TO CLASSIC DIRECTING


Everyone knows that the way entertainment is created, delivered, and consumed is completely different than it was even five years ago. Things will never be the same. The “guard” that was around the production of content is absent. If there is such a thing as a “new breed” of directors, then Australian Ken Karpel personifies it. His creativity and understanding of youth culture that exists symbiotically with his knowledge of production and filming allows him to create campaigns and content that has resulted in a deluge of awards and recognitions. His methods are often unconventional and highly improvisational but there is no denying the popularity of his work or the positive effects it creates for his clients. Sometimes you need someone with the proper and authentic perspective to deliver a message. A vegetarian probably isn’t the best spokesperson to give you advice on steak cuts, a subway car driver may not give you the best hiking advice for the Andes Mountains, etc. As the in-house director/writer for the Youth, Music and Lifestyle channels at Foxtel Networks (Australia’s largest television network), Ken Karpel was continually recognized and lauded for his talent and expertise. Karpel oversaw the production of all content across Foxtel Networks relating to advertising and brand partnerships, focusing on TVC’s, Web Series, Branded Content, and TV Segments. Working with clients such as: Jeep, Kellogg’s, Topdeck, Burger King, Mazda, Holden, Ford, Nestle, Target, Woolworths, and Universal Pictures (to name a few), Ken was continually recognized for his amazing work.

The campaign which Ken wrote and directed for Jeep won ‘Best Integrated Campaign’ at the 2014 PromaxBDA Global Excellence Awards. It reached 6.9 million people on TV alone; attracted 5,203 competition entries; a Monumental 4,930,562 total impressions from Facebook advertising; and attracted press coverage across Australia. Its success also led to Jeep returning for another campaign the subsequent year. This was Foxtel's first ever cross-channel branded summer promotion which ran on the Musical Channels, FOX 8, and The Comedy Channel. The campaign asked viewers what they would do if they could relive summer forever. Ken notes, “The commercial needed to emotionally engage the audience, asking them to reflect on their own experiences. To achieve this, we needed to capture emotive, relatable, and real moments. Improvisation was the approach to creating a realistic world. I provided the actors playing ‘the couple’ with conversation points and a background story so even when we weren’t shooting they’d be ready to jump into a scene the moment I saw something interesting. By the end, the actor’s dynamic was that of a real couple.” In what can best be described as guerilla production, Ken would see something on location that captured his attention and assign some talking points to the actors. With his DP alongside him, he’s yell “shoot” and improvise the entire scene.

Ken took his on the edge reality/impov filming to another level in the campaigns he created and directed for Australia’s largest car manufacturer Holden. Karpel reveals, “I decided to cast real people at an actual music festival and improvise the whole narrative for my Holden commercial. That meant we would show up the day before shooting, walk around the campsite and find our actors. While this terrified the agency and producers, I was confident in my abilities to get authentic performances from real people and find interesting set-pieces to put them in. It worked really well on my Jeep, Adidas and Topdeck commercials. I ended up casting real groups of friends of various ages at the camp site and followed them throughout the day at the festival. As we went about the day I cast new people we ran into. As none of these people were actors I used their excitement of being at an actual music festival to guide where we went and what we shot. If we saw an amusement ride, they’d jump on it; if we walked past a hotdog stand, they’d eat there; if we saw a band they liked, I’d ask them to jump on each other’s shoulders and get in the crowd. While this was a logistical nightmare, it resulted in an authentic commercial that reflected the market position of Holden as an authentic Australian car brand. They enjoyed the results so much that they returned the next year and wanted to employ the same approach.”

The epitome of this approach is displayed in Ken’s work for Topdeck. The concept for this campaign was as follows: “Follow Billy Russell, Channel [V]'s favorite chump, as he joins a bus full of potential new friends/restraining orders in Europe. He has only three goals; eat his way through Paris, sky dive in the Swiss Alps and search for love in Barcelona.” Karpel wanted to utilize the same improvisational approach he had prior success with but apply it to a three-part branded content series traveling around Paris, Swiss Alps and Barcelona. The objective was to capture the minutia of what makes up a holiday – those completely random moments that only happen spontaneously. The result was a story that felt authentic to its target demographic because participants were actually living it. This campaign won a 2013 PromaxBDA Global Excellence Award for ‘Best Integrated Campaign’. It has been so successful for Topdeck that it is still used to promote the company around the world 4 years later.

Don’t write this director off as a one trick pony though. His work on more conventional commercials and campaigns is equally successful and appreciated. Foxtel’s Sean Vandenberg (Creative Director –Arts & Music) concurs, “Ken directed a five-part mockumentary series for Nestle ‘Drumstick’, as well as an accompanying music video for the campaign. The campaign introduced two new ice cream flavors to the Australian youth market. For the music video, Ken had live performance footage and an in-studio 360-degree dolly move, focusing on the three musicians. In the edit he made the decision to keep the focus on the musicians, using only the in-studio footage, which ultimately helping the campaign. The music video was so authentic that it was played alongside notable artists such as Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift on the Music Channels. The Nestle campaign was nominated for a 2013 Global Excellence Promax Award in the Best Integrated Campaign Category.”

Kellogg’s is a very identifiable name and their needs skewed far away from some of Karpel’s previously discussed work. The iconic company was rebranding their “Nutri-Grain” breakfast cereal for active youths and adults. Ken created a very specific and thought out campaign to enable this. He states, “For the first Kellogg’s commercial I directed there could be no improvisation. We needed to create an environment that was beyond something that existed. We decided to build a skatepark in an abandoned warehouse and populate it with a cast of 60 people. We only had one day to shoot and the agency wanted the skaters to be children, which meant we had a limited shooting window and an incredible amount of shots to get. Every single camera move needed to be pre-planned as we had real skaters sweeping through the environment around our actors; sometimes even over our actors. We had a day of rehearsals with just the skaters, DP, and myself. Based on this, I designed the blocking of the 60 extras. Every single cut was pre-conceived and we were able to get 93 set-ups in this one short day.” This spot and subsequent ones for Kellogg’s helped with the ‘Nutri-Grain’ re-brand in the Australian market. One of these campaigns won the 2014 ASTRA Industry Excellence Award for Best Consumer Advertising Campaign; 2014 Best Brand Integrated Spot at PromaxBDA ANZ Awards; 2013 Gold ACS Award (Australian Cinematography Society). The Success of the campaign led to Kellogg’s/Nutri-Grain returning for another campaign the following year.

Ken Karpel has made a name for himself as “THE” director with fresh and groundbreaking ideas. A director sought out not only in his homeland of Australia, but in Europe, and many other parts of the world. This comes as no surprise to Foxtel’s Creative Directors (music & arts) Sean Vandenberg “Ken has a very clear creative vision for each story he tells and will work tirelessly to achieve the best results possible. Whether it is directing talent, or directing camera and lighting, Ken has the confidence and ability to make any shot work. Ken is one of the strongest directors that I have worked with during my television career.”

You can be certain that wherever Karpel’s next production is set, it will be the type which sets itself apart from the crowd.

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