I was born curious and enjoy figuring out how things work, which is essentially what I still do today as a director.
I drew a lot as a kid and wrote and illustrated comics at school. Art was always my focus, so it seemed like a natural progression to go to art school. I did a first-year foundation course and hated it, so I continued illustrating and started a freelance career to make money doing what I loved. I tried a few other things along the way, like animation, which seemed like another logical step (taking still images and making them move).
While looking for illustration work in advertising, I was offered a trial as a junior creative. I was curious, so I accepted and was hired after three months. I didn’t realise how lucky I was at the time. This job was a turning point for me creatively – advertising taught me to interrogate my ideas, and I started working with directors. I’d write a script and was able to observe them make it, which I found fascinating. I thought directing was something else I wanted to try, and I asked a director I connected with if I could help them out in any way to learn more. They said, “If you really want to direct – then direct”.
I wasn’t sure how to take that first step, but when a band I was playing in received an NZ on Air video grant, I put my hand up to make it. I instantly fell in love with the process of taking an idea from my head to the screen. This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life (a fortunate realisation at the age of 22). The music video was nominated for an award, and I quit advertising (my first and last full-time job). I went back to the freelance world – this time as a director.
The next few videos I made all involved aspects of animation, but eventually, I fell in love with the immediacy of film. I was repped by Fish n’ Clips, a division of Flying Fish films. I wanted to make a living from music videos, but the NZ scene had never been sustainable. Through the music videos I’d made, my advertising connections, and the help of Flying Fish, I started making commercials to save for a trip to London.
In the five years I worked in London, the bottom fell out of the industry (they blamed downloading). But due to the work I’d done there, I was lucky enough to win some great NZ commercial work, which kickstarted my commercial career worldwide.
I moved back to NZ and eventually joined FINCH, an inspiring Australian-owned film production company. Making commercials has supported me in branching out into other realms, like shorts and a tv series I’m developing. I’m still trying new things, ticking boxes, and having realisations.
Being a director is a constant challenge. In an over-saturated industry, there’s a never-ending balance between being true to yourself and being relevant. I’ve sacrificed a lot, and there were several stretches of unemployment. But there have also been some amazing rewards that made it all worthwhile.
There’s no ‘right’ way to become a director. You can come at it from any angle, and you will succeed if you’re passionate enough and stick at it. I never went to film school, although when I think back – I’ve always had a deep love of film that was omnipresent throughout my life. I’d forgotten that I used to animate flip book stick men, make Lego-men films with my friend on his dad’s Betacam, and although I almost failed art school, I got an A+ in the subsidiary filmmaking course. For me, everything was pointing towards filmmaking.
Everything you experience will make you the director you are. I developed an eye for composition and light through illustration, a sense of tone, emotion, pacing and energy through composing and performing music, and learned to hone my ideas and storytelling through advertising.
Nobody will make your project for you. You must take the first step and the last. But it’s also never been easier to make something and put it out there. So be a sponge, find collaborators, never get too comfortable, and stay curious.
About Wade Shotter
Wade Shotter’s origins are in illustration, where he worked on children’s books and created eight comics. From pen and paper, he moved to animation, where he worked with Disney for a stint in traditional 2D animation. Since shifting gears to film, he has directed his short film, music videos for various bands, and commercials for clients such as Fire & Emergency NZ, BNZ, Uber, Qantas, and more. He continues to play with form through his work and is drawn to deeply cinematic and visually expressive styles that engage and surprise. Currently, he is developing a pilot script for a television series.
How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with email@example.com if you’re a member and would like to share your story.
Last updated on 1 June 2023