Katya Bankowsky — Director, Strike Anywhere

Katya talks to TheNextGag about why directing is all about collaboration, the skills a director needs and why she is not in favor of the triple bid process.

Katya Bankowsky is a Director at Strike Anywhere, a production company, in the USA.

Katya Bankowsky is a director and former advertising agency executive producer/director whose work includes award winning TV commercials, branded entertainment and digital campaigns for clients including Reebok, Maserati, Verizon, the US Olympic Committee, Chase and Brazilian Brahma beer for which she directed an extensive cross-platform international launch including European TV and cinema.

Katya has worked with Maya Angelou, 50 Cent, Jay Z , the NFL and most recently directed a piece for the NY Times on French fashion icon Michele Lamy and a web series she writes, directs and co-stars in with Lamy.

In 1999, Bankowsky’s award-winning feature documentary film Shadow Boxers premiered at the Toronto and Berlin International film festivals picking up awards along the festival circuit for direction, cinematography, editing and music. Katya not only directed, produced, and edited Shadow Boxers which went on to receive worldwide distribution through Image Entertainment, but was amongst the first women ever to compete in the historical 1995 New York Golden Gloves Amateur Boxing Competition. Upon theatrical release, The NY Post described Shadow Boxers as “compelling and beautifully photographed…boxing hasn’t been shown this creatively on screen since Raging Bull”. The Los Angeles Times said simply “Shadow Boxers is the best boxing film you are likely to see.

Sports are a metaphor for life…or life is a metaphor for sports.

THENEXTGAG: WHY DO WE ENJOY SPORTS COMMERCIALS SO MUCH ?

KATYA BANKOWSKY: It’s cliché, I know, but sports are a metaphor for life…or life is a metaphor for sports. I think everyone can relate to the moment of truth that defines sports, where everything we have worked and trained and sacrificed for is played out in the hyper-real moment that is game time. In sports, as in life, the real poetry happens when one is spontaneous and fully engaged in the moment…that is when there can be moments of divine synchronicity happen and we feel we are experiencing life in its rawest and most elegant form.

TNG: WHAT SHOULD A DIRECTOR BRING TO TABLE WHEN PRESENTED WITH A GREAT CREATIVE IDEA ?

KB: A director should of course bring that great creative to life in a way that is elevating and authentic to the concept, by working closely with the creative team to make sure the original vision is respected and built upon… or scratched and reinvented if the collaboration points toward an even better direction.

No one exists as an island.

TNG: HOW CAN A PRODUCTION COMPANY HELP DELIVER A DIRECTOR’S UNIQUE VISION FOR A PROJECT ?

KB: The production company is crucial in building the team that can best support the director’s vision. We all know that filmmaking is one of the most highly collaborative endeavors and no one exists as an island.

TNG: ANY PET PEEVES DURING A SHOOT ?

KB: No.

TNG: WHAT MADE YOU CONSIDER A CAREER AS A DIRECTOR ?

KB: I spent a lot of time being both an executive producer and a director at a few advertising agencies, most recently mcgarrybowen. Eventually I realized that I wanted to focus all of my energy on directing and not divide my energy between the two endeavors. It was a wonderful position to be in, but I finally wanted to turn off the two voices and only have one.

TNG: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO KNOW BEFORE THEY START DIRECTING ?

KB: Nothing. I think certain things can’t be taught and the best thing to do is jump in and see how you like it.

TNG: HOW DID YOUR DOCUMENTARY “SHADOW BOXERS” CAME TO LIFE ?

KB: I wanted to make the film that I had always wanted to see, but it didn’t exist. A film where a female athlete would be put on the pedestal and allowed to be as beautiful, as elegant, and as savagely brutal as the sport requires…without apology. Much in the same way that male athletes are allowed to be fully human and larger than life without having to convince the audience that they are in fact normal men.

When I started boxing, I knew that I needed to make the film and Shadow Boxers came to be. Women were just starting to get into boxing and it was a sport loaded with so many interesting cultural contradictions.

I signed up to box in the NY Golden Gloves the first year they allowed women to compete and it was a media frenzy. I filmed the event and competed, and then decided I would more or less cast for the woman who I believed would be the first megastar of women’s boxing. I found Lucia Rijker before she knew she wanted to box. I knew from her European kickboxing tapes that if she decided to compete she would be the first great champion of women’s boxing. Eventually I convinced her, and Shadow Boxers chronicles her rise to the top and her world championship fight.

I ended up funding Shadow Boxers on my own by freelancing as a Head of Production and Director at ad agency Amster Yard in NY during that time. I directed, produced and edited the film then sent it around the world to film festivals and picked up several awards along the way, ultimately obtaining worldwide distribution.

At the Toronto Film Festival we met Hillary Swank. Eventually she showed Shadow Boxers to Clint Eastwood and he hired Lucia Rijker to both train Hillary Swank and play her nemesis in Million Dollar Baby.

TNG: WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DREAM PROJECT ?

KB: I’d love to do another feature film and I’d also love to direct a TV series I’m developing at the moment.

TNG: HOW CAN AD AGENCY PRODUCERS MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR DIRECTORS ?

KB: Figure out what the budget actually is, find a director you really believe in, and then single bid them. This brings out the best in everyone, knowing that all of your efforts will make it onto the screen. Directors will be more willing to jump through hoops and make impossible budgets work as long as they know the team is committed to working with them. And this sort of collaboration makes the producer’s life easier as well.

TNG: SPORTS COMMENTATORS LIKE TO SAY “YOU CAN’T SCRIPT THAT.” DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT STATEMENT ?

KB: Well, yes and no. I don’t want to define what is more powerful…narrative film or documentary film. They are both so powerful when done right. For sure it is the spontaneity of sports and the unknown that is exciting, but great fiction is based in reality and reality often imitates art, so there we are. I don’t believe either form is superior.

Katya Bankowsky

Strike Anywhere

Director

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