Director Dave Meinert goes ‘all in’ on global Nivea campaign

‘I knew we were making progress when we finally had a recce where no one puked, bled or needed to be medically evacuated,’ says Dave Meinert of directing this epic project spanning several months and countries. Dave is already known for his ability to craft intimate portraits in remote (often dangerous) settings, so it’s a no-brainer that he was tasked to bring these ambitious hero journeys to life for Nivea. Here’s a look into how the madman maestro did it, with a little help from his South African friends.

The campaign titled ‘All In’ shares the stories of some hardcore inspiring people around the world who go all in to make their dreams come true. In Bolivia, we meet the all-female indigenous climbing team who are smashing stereotypes. Called the Climbing Cholitas, these women take to mountains over 6000 metres high in extreme weather all while wearing their traditional dresses. In Cape Town, we learn about the first black female freediver instructor from South Africa, Zandile Ndhlovu. The Sowetan-born Zandile, who is also a conservationist, social activist and filmmaker founded the Black Mermaid Foundation in Langa, teaching a community group how to swim and snorkel. And we get into the mind of the Bear Grylls of Turkey; adventurer, survival expert and sometime eater of plants and bugs, Serdar Kilic.

And here’s a little easter egg we loved finding in this campaign; the short films shot in four countries that were produced by Stink Films for the German client and agency were pulled off, in large part, by South African crew and creatives based overseas.

The Climbing Cholitas

The Black Mermaid


Dave has established himself as a director whom agencies contact when they want something outside the usual and always authentic. He has a reputation as a director who will go to the ends of the earth to get to the heart of the story, something he calls ‘telling stories that remind me why I tell stories’. And in the case of Nivea, telling the stories required extraordinary effort.

Once Dave won the global pitch, he found a cast who could share their stories of grit and endurance. Although the stories were the core of the campaign, equally as important was finding a crew who could withstand the extreme elements that came with capturing them. They needed some special thick-skinned Saffas of course! As fate would have it the ECD on the job was South African Christian Horsfall, now based in Publicis One Touch in Hamburg. The Art Director was ex-Joe Public talent Marjolein Rossouw and the Line Producer was Minet Williams, with Anthony Lee Martin as editor, Nic Apostoli on grade and online by Strangelove. Of finding the perfect DP for a job set in such unusual locations, Dave says, ‘I couldn’t find the right DP in South Africa because of visas, availability and knowledge of extreme water and mountain conditions. And then last minute I realised my DP from waaaay back film school days, Rory O’Grady, was living in Hamburg and he’s tough as nails Dullstroom stock.’

Dave adds, ‘Working with a South African crew made a huge difference from a work ethic point of view. It was months of jet lag, altitude sickness, seasickness, sunburn, hypothermia and more and naturally, I knew a South African crew could handle that.’

Dave, quite literally at times, submerges himself in the narratives he crafts. For ‘Cholitas’ Dave lived with the climbers in La Paz, the highest altitude capital in the world, for two weeks, acclimating before the shoot. ‘The conditions are so severe that at the airport they have buckets waiting for you as you land because everyone just starts chundering,’ says Dave. ‘The people who could only arrive shortly before the shoot came up to base camp and had to be medically evacuated straight away as their oxygen dropped below 60.’

Apart from the epic production challenges that the team faced, Dave needed to make sure that each of the films did justice to the human stories that were being shared. Dave spent hours interviewing each of the heroes in the films and says, ‘Everything hangs off their words for me. When it comes to telling someone’s story, it needs to be told so authentically that the people closest to them say I can’t believe I’m learning about them in a TVC. I have a set way of creating these stories, mostly it involves putting them in front of a black backdrop and just listening to them speak and connecting with them for hours, and it works.’

In the case of ‘The Climbing Cholitas’ film, the hero Elena couldn’t speak a word of English and Dave, during over 20 interviews with her in Bolivia, used a translator to communicate. He says, ‘I would talk to Elena and she would reply to our translator.’ But this wasn’t Dave’s first rodeo and one of the ways he goes about connecting with those sharing their stories is through a little device he created. Dave explains, ‘I designed my own portable version of what you call an eye-direct, so when the heroes look into the lens of the camera they can see my face. I am sitting next to the camera but a series of prisms project my face onto the lens. This allows us to stay connected, giving them a feeling of sharing with a human instead of just staring at a piece of equipment.’

‘Once I have recorded their stories, I edit the audio narrative of the film together. Then I take a step back and think about what visuals to put to the voice. So, I reverse-engineer things really, because I only shoot the images after I have the story,’ says Dave.

Having trained as a freediver and no stranger to cold water swimming (and circling sharks), Dave decided the best way to capture the story of freediver Zandile Ndhlovu, was to shoot the underwater shots in one breath rather than with scuba gear. This technique allowed him to come back up and communicate with her after every shot.

The first film in the series of four, ‘The Climbing Cholitas’, was awarded Best in Craft and a Craft Mention in January’s IDIDTHAT Craft Awards, with the one judge, Danni Pinch, ECD at Accenture Song saying, ‘(…)The story is well paced, emotional without being exploitative and feels like it is just getting every beat right. Every element has come together to create a piece of work that is more like watching one of the best Netflix documentaries than a commercial!’

It’s great to see Dave flexing his storytelling muscles to create high-end work that’s gaining attention on such a global scale. Considering the previous projects he has completed, we are not surprised though. Remember his telling of the former Angolan child soldier titled ‘Run Jose’, the Ster-Kinekor spot that follows the journey of the young man who regains his eyesight or his portrait of the remarkable Oscar-winning filmmaker, photographer and climber Jimmy Chin – all films honestly reflecting the essence of his subjects.

Dave adds, ‘I created viral work in the past about people and animals close to me and I found a way to reflect their authenticity on screen; I call it ‘arm’s length storytelling’. I noticed all my really successful work had been about either people an arm’s length away from me in my life, or people that by the end felt like it.’

Wanna (s)talk some more?

Dave Meinert

Dave’s work ranges from big budget commercials and interviews with charismatic, inspiring adventurers like Jimmy Chin and Wim Hof, to intimate portraits of child soldiers and shamans. His once-off designed camera rigs and viral work have featured in the likes of Time, Mashable, and Buzzfeed and earned several Vimeo Staff Picks and awards including a Grand Prix for Integrated at the Loeries.

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Produced by the IDIDTHAT Content Studio – Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

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