By Katie Chambers
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to new member Katja Haecker!
As an experienced and award-winning creative for the advertising world, Katja Haecker had her calling in 2015. Since then, she writes and directs not only commercials within the luxury world but also personal film projects, like Endless Orange Me, a car/fashion short, or Laps of Honor, a documentary about the protagonist’s passion for fast cars.
Katja also attended Cinematography and Screenwriting courses at the London Film Academy. A German native, she moved to the U.S. in 2007 and, since then, has worked between continents or wherever her passion for filmmaking takes her.
Driven, experienced, focused, and open to all kinds of topics, from racing cars to daily life, she always has thrillers and suspenseful plots in mind, with an artistically trained eye.
Katja spoke to us about her most daring commercial projects and how her lifelong love of fast cars shows up in her professional work.
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
As a film director and writer, with an advertising creative director background, filmmaking is the perfect platform to express my passion for compelling storytelling, visual impact, and for cars, speed, thrill, and suspense.
You’ve worked with some major brands and agencies throughout your career in advertising – Disney, Pantene, Hugo Boss, Volkswagen, Christina Aguilera Fragrance, UNICEF, Lufthansa, and Forbes, to name just a few of the many! How do you bring your creative sensibilities as an artist to a business-minded project like advertising?
When an open mind is nurtured by the arts, the result can only create great work. I always stretch or even challenge my client vision, offering forward-thinking and innovative concepts because you can always cut down on ideas if necessary while keeping my vision alive.
Like an artist, one needs to feel, breathe—or even ‘live’ —the client’s mission, vision, and DNA to be able to create something new and set them apart from competitors.
I align my artistic visions with the brands’ needs and identity, creating memorable advertising campaigns. And there is nothing more exciting when those campaigns excel expectations and are talked about.
I have to ask – looking at your website, it seems your ad campaign for Pot Noodle created quite a “stir” (so to speak). Can you give us the story on that? And what were your takeaways from that experience?
I had just moved to London and no one there was waiting for a German creative, as the Brits are renowned for being the best storytellers. No one but Steve Henry, one of the owners of HHCL: he actually was looking for a foreign creative. He needed to get a fresh perspective and new thoughts for the re-launch of PotNoodle. The client brief was the best I ever came across in my whole career: short and simple, about five sentences long, simply asking to re-establish the brand, attract younger customers, do whatever it takes to sell a carb-loaded product, giving us full creative freedom.
We watched many movies with the sound-off to get inspiration, discussing and brainstorming, taking long walks, and visiting pubs and galleries. As a non-native English speaker, I frequently had to turn to the Oxford dictionary, looking for some expressions and words, and was reading them to Steve. That’s how “Spanking gorgeous” came up for the “Prison Saga!” We presented four concepts, all of them being tested, and our Prison concept was chosen. Peter Cattaneao directed it. The launch was on a Saturday evening and made the headlines in the Sunday editions of the main newspapers. Some were calling us geniuses while others thought we had lost our minds. The client loved it, and within three days, on million products were sold.
What I learned? Follow your instincts, don’t be afraid of provocation and to challenge clients and audiences. It is always good when your work makes people wonder.
Now, let me add that my “advertising cradle” was Springer & Jacoby agency in Germany, a super creative agency that would fire clients when they were trying to dictate the creative output. And clients begging to hire the agency again after a while!
So, that PotNoodle stir only added to my disruptive approach to advertising and creativity.
What has been your favorite project to date and why?
There are too many.
Generally, I love it when I can help reshaping brands, their identity and perception like PotNoodle or Argyle/Rio Tinto, Todd Reed giving them a ‘face’ for their customers, or Henri Daussi who gave us the go to direct ourselves, which was literally my first take on film directing. I enjoyed working on the repositioning of Volvo, from its old, boring, and safe perception to a luxury status. Altogether, the projects I like best are those where clients trust you and give you the most artistic freedom.
In films, my documentary Laps of Honor, featuring Herbert Engel, is my favorite project so far. As it was my first doc, it was a huge learning curve. It was not scripted: you think you know the answers to the questions you ask, but your protagonist never gives twice the same answer to the same question. So, you shoot but end up sitting in front of a gigantic puzzle. You could go on and on, but at some point, you know you’re done, and you have achieved a great story. Laps of Honor truly was a great experience, and I loved every moment of it.
I noticed your photography portfolio on your website is all cars, with a strong emphasis on McLaren and Formula 1. Are you a fan? How did this come about and what is it about racing that inspires you as a photographic artist?
Cars have always attracted me. Their design, their power, their speed, their character—yes, to me they all are characters. As a child, Barbie was mostly a female racer to me, and I eventually ditched her for racing cars on my mini Carrera electric race track. At age five, my father—a car enthusiast and photography lover—gave me an Agfa camera that became my most loyal companion. I was shooting my parents’ cars, my pets, my brother’s friends.
My father loved watching F1, so I assume I got the bug from him. The sound of the roaring engines, the tension of the racing — I just love it.
When the PR agency of Mercedes Benz was looking for a photographer to document the launch of the SLR/McLaren, I didn’t hesitate a second to put me and my photographer friend Tatiana forward. She worked with precision, like clockwork, whilst I positioned myself on rocks, trees, or alongside roads, and sometimes shooting “blindly” with my camera holding behind my back, always on the go, ready for the perfect shot.
What drives me most is the thrill of the hunt for the best scene, artistic and unusual angles, and the most perfect moment, capturing those man-created beauties, their alignment with the forces of nature, their personality, and their story.
What kinds of projects excite you?
I am always drawn to projects that challenge me, asking for a new, fresh angle and a vision. In the advertising world, I am known as a problem solver. Film directing and scriptwriting provide me the perfect tools to execute my ideas and bring my vision and passion to life – from cars, racing to daily ordinaries, to thrillers and suspense.
What is the best advice you ever received? And the worst?
To sum them up:
Don’t let them drive you crazy.
Stay calm and true to your beliefs, stand up for your ideas and vision, be fearless yet open to change.
As for bad advice, I am fortunate enough to have received none. My instincts have never betrayed me. Setbacks can easily be transformed into steppingstones.
I know you were already a member of Women in Film LA. What inspired you to join NYWIFT? How do you hope to engage with the organization?
I first discovered Women in Film LA. But I am mostly based in NYC, so joining NYWIFT was a must, as NYC being my home turf, and today I share my time between NYC and LA.
My hope is to connect with like-minded individuals for future projects, narratives, or documentaries, get contacts, advice and support to propel my film and scriptwriting career ahead. And offer my expertise and insights as an advertising professional.
I look forward to contributing to NYWIFT’s mission, supporting and exchanging passionate ideas and thoughts with fellow members, and making a positive input in the world of film and storytelling.
And what is next for you?
Positioning myself as a female director within the world of cars and speed, to break up a mainly male dominated category. Combined with a touch of suspense and thrill, in the narrative film world.
I am currently prepping the second episode of Laps of Honor, aiming to transform this into a mini-series. Whilst actively seeking funds for my short narrative ‘Chicane’, set in the racing world, intertwined with ransom and murder, centered around a female racing driver – with the goal to turn this into a feature.
I am also in the third draft of a feature length suspense thriller about a female serial killer. And yes, of course, there are lots of cars and driving scenes in the script too.
All these projects reflect my deep passion for storytelling, suspense and cars, which I hope bringing to life.
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