Zhou Ning 周宁
Director Zhou Ning is an adman. Coming from advertising agency background, he shoots distinctive commercial films, and doesn’t seem to harbour movie ambitions like many of commercial directors. He evades to say exactly how long he’s been in the industry, but it’s long enough to remember the times when China had about only a dozen of local commercial directors. SHP+ met with Zhou Ning to talk about his work, his style, his ambitions and ended up discussing so-called difficult directors, humor, music, real emotions, creative thinking and Chinese style of advertising…
Having made a successful career as creative director in Ogilvy and JWT, Zhou Ning came to a point when he needed a change. The thrill of coming up with ideas for advertising was gone, and so was the interest to repeat same type of work. At the same time, the demand for more social, digital commercials soon skyrocketed as well as the demand for local directors. Zhou took his chance and took the other side.
“It took me 2-3 years to shift from agency-type of thinking to director’s thinking”, shares Zhou Ning. “When creatives make storyboards, their objective is to be clear and to deliver a message to the audience. Often they lack visual knowledge, visual experience to know that you don’t have to be that explanatory. In camera you can achieve the same objective by letting the audience to make associations”. The experience of working from both agency and production sides is an advantage, that allows Zhou Ning to be very convincing.
Honor | 七夕节特辑《影像情书》
His recent Honor commercial is completely different from the original script. “The subject was very good, but not the story. You can say I was very willful to shoot according to my ideas, but I saw it would benefit the final work, and it did. In the end, the client loved it”. This situation is an exception. By his own account, Zhou Ning is a non-conflictual person who listens to what others have to say respectfully and tries to keep everyone content. But lately he’s been doubting if those character traits do him more good than harm. “Does a director have to have inner strength, be inconveniently persistent, to create better works?” This question lingers in the air, because some directors have high standards, and insist on doing things a certain way not on a whim, but because it will benefit the quality of the spot. Yet they are considered “hard to work with”.
Zhou Ning is very careful also with words. When we mention there’s humor in a lot of his works, he’s not too keen on using this term. For him shooting purely comical commercial would not only be very difficult, but even painful. But when there’s a subtle humorous moment in the ad that lowers the degree of seriousness making it natural — that’s more what he’s after.
Zhou says his style is often positioned as “real life, more down to Earth”. He likes to make his actors playing more authentically, translating raw and real emotions, exactly like it would be in real life.
百威 x 爱不止一种 爱只有一种
Music is noticeably very important to him. He seems to be inclined to soulful sounds, old jazzy classics and vintage tunes. One of his favorite musicians right now is Tom Rosenthal, whose music he’s used in some works, surprised and excited to find out that the artist would be able to sell the rights of usage for an affordably reasonable price.
对他来说音乐显然也很重要。他似乎偏爱充满情绪的音乐，爵士经典和复古的曲调。汤姆·罗森塔尔（Tom Rosenthal）是他目前最喜欢的音乐家之一。他在几部广告中使用了他的音乐, 当发现这位艺术家不仅愿意出售使用权，出价还童叟无欺时，他真是又惊又喜.
Zhou admits there is lack of recognizable style of Chinese advertising compare even to the Asian neighbouring markets like Japan, Thailand, Singapore… And puts on a 2005 Nike commercial, the first Chinese ad to receive Cannes Lions, as a reference to the style that commercials made in China can be recognized for.
Zhou Ning once again is an adman. He says, he “always liked this industry, because despite the value of relationships in China, the only standard is good work. Everything is judged and justified by your portfolio, and that’s the only thing that matters”. He also gives us a response to “Why do you continue wanting to be in advertising?”, a question he was first asked back in his creative times at Ogilvy to which he answers: “I want to contribute to elevating the aesthetics of younger generations that grow up influenced by ads. Like it or not”. Zhou Ning continues the mission and like the only ad standard he accepts, his portfolio speaks for itself.