Face-to-Face with iDidTht: Featuring Cindy Lee from Star Films

Cindy Lee has always been a storyteller, since her days as copywriter with TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, to now bringing other writer’s scripts to life as a director with Star Films. A passion for creating beautifully crafted characters, paired with her industry experience as a creative, means she’s a force to be reckoned with. Oh, and she’s a pretty damn good director too, just ask Ellen Degeneres…

Watch, ‘Nando’s Chips’, directed by Cindy Lee, featured on Ellen #Boom Oh, and Ellen, if you’re reading this (of course you are), South Africa is not part of Great Britain… 😒

Guys, I don’t even know how we managed to get Cindy to sit still for long enough to do this interview. She’s fresh off the set of directing 3 episodes of the TV drama, ‘Sober Companion’, which was nominated for a SAFTA for best directing. She also low-key directed all the social media components for Season 3 of Netflix’s Black Mirror film ‘Nosedive’ and sommer casually shadowed top female TV director, Leslie Linka Glatter on ‘Homeland’. Just to break it down for all our millennial readers outchea…Cindy Lee is lit!

We don’t believe in a preordained destiny or fate, but sometimes you just have to applaud the Universe for getting it right. Cindy Lee’s mother, Emmy nominated casting agent Moonyeenn Lee, received this casting brief around forty *inaudible mumbling* years ago: ‘Looking for confident edgy female lead. Must be able to transition from badass copywriter to even badder-ass commercials director in seconds. Needs to work well with actors, non-actors and kids. Fluent in client and agency. Curly hair a bonus.’ And so Cindy Lee was born.
Having Moonyeenn Lee as a mother, means A) you’re gonna grow up to be a rockstar and B) you’ll know the value of the casting process.
Cindy Lee: ‘I will give up my whole art direction budget, my whole wardrobe budget, just to make sure I get the right cast. You have to start there. Everything hangs on an actor, everything. You can have the most incredible script, but if you’ve got a bad actor, forget it.’

Name the 4 commercials you’ve directed that best describe Cindy Lee.

Capfin ‘We Do’

Orange Babies ‘Borrowed Time’

Nandos ‘Chips’

Rubybox ‘Come To Me’

Cindy on ‘Chips’: ‘I didn’t tell the actress to do that whole straw thing. She just did that herself. So that’s all casting.’
Cindy on ‘Capfin’: ‘If you’re trying to communicate with real people, if your market is real people, then we need to cast real people. Because that’s the only way they’re going to look at the ad and go, oh my God, Capfin gets me, they understand me. The truck driver was a school teacher. The girl who gets married, I don’t think she’s ever been in a commercial before. The father with the beard was an actor, but it was his first commercial. Casting is always about trying to find a real person who fits the character. That makes it somebody that the viewer connects with and says: ‘That’s me…’ That’s when the audience emotionally invests in your characters. ’

We threw in Nando’s ‘Happy Cop’ because it’s awesome.
Cindy Lee:  ‘That cop, when he tripped up to the window and came up with all of that dialogue, that wasn’t scripted. Again, casting.’

Nando’s ‘Happy Cop’

iDidTht’s Director’s Chair for Cindy Lee

Congratulations Cindy, you get this unupholstered 18th Century Carved Queen Anne Wing Chair Frame *crowd does Mexican wave*

Cindy has been dedicated to storytelling for over 20 years, from creating the scripts as an agency creative, to now directing them, so yes, she’s been around. Her ability to drown out the noise and focus on who her characters are and why we should care about them, sets her work apart. This is why we’ve chosen just a solid frame. Cindy gets to the truth of each of her characters and captures their authenticity which makes us invest emotionally in her films whether it’s comedy or more serious spots. This chair is full of grace, but with a bold presence and lots of history.

Below, a little peek at some of our favourite characters that Cindy Lee has created, these really are the gifs that keep on giffing…

So apart from being a casting genius, come on, rate yourself, what else are you good at?

Cindy Lee: ‘Ha! I love directing kids. I’m very good with kids, hey. Because I’m a child at heart. Actually, I am still a child.’ Having been on both sides of the industry, means she understands the mechanisms of how commercials are made, the role of the agency, what clients need, and more importantly, what the audience wants. Cindy Lee knows how to sell an ad.
Cindy Lee: ‘As an aside, a little story about a shoemaker who sent two salesmen into India to see if there was a market for their shoes. And the one salesman immediately phones back and says, ‘Sorry dude, listen, there’s nothing we can do with your shoes in India. Nobody wears shoes, so you ain’t going to sell anything here.’ And the second salesman phones back in and says, ‘Jeez, the potential! Nobody’s got shoes here!’…In short, there’s so much we can do!’

Oh, And By The Way, Cindy Lee is Also a Woman…

Ask any woman who’s been in this industry longer than a minute and they’ll tell you how little has actually changed in terms of equal opportunities, yeah it’s damn depressing.  But with people like Cindy Lee around, there’s hope. As part of the Free The Bid Movement, which ‘advocates on behalf of women directors for equal opportunities to bid on commercial jobs in the global advertising industry’, Cindy is optimistic.

Cindy Lee: ‘I think it’s really all about equal opportunity. I don’t think one should be awarded a job because you’re a certain gender. I’m sick and tired of that. We should be briefed more, we should be trusted more, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be awarded a job just because we’re female. Make sure that one out of the three directors briefed is a woman. I think we have to start pushing for that to happen. To allow women a voice, to see what we can do. We haven’t had enough opportunities to prove ourselves, because we aren’t part of the boys club.  More than half the population is female, an estimated 85% of product purchase decisions are made by women, so why should there be an overwhelming percentage of male storytelling?’

To quote another feminist with swag, ‘this girl is on fire.’ – Alicia Keys, 2012

Quickfire Round

1. Explain your squiggly Facebook profile picture

“Copywriter Steph van Niekerk drew that. That’s how she sees me, and I thought, well because I’m getting old and wrinkly, I’d rather just have one of Steph’s pictures there.”

2. Name the local director who would direct the movie of your life. Go!

“Cindy Lee.”

3. What ad do you wish you directed?

“P&G Mother’s Day.”

4. What movie do you watch over and over again?

“Amores Perros.”

5. If you could change one thing about the commercials industry, what would it be?

“That there were more female directors and more female crew members on set.”

6. What will it say on your tombstone?

“I don’t want a tombstone.”

7. What is your directing superpower?


8. If you could be any Game of Thrones character, who would you be?

“Whatshername with the blonde hair… Khaleesi! I want to ride with a dragon between my legs.”

9. Worst thing about directing a commercial?

“They don’t serve alcohol.”

10. Best thing about directing a commercial?

“They don’t serve alcohol.”

And with that our time with Cindy Lee comes to an end. We suggest we all go over to her place for some dinner and drinks. She suddenly gets a call, although we didn’t hear the phone ring, and she’s out the door. No doubt flying off to the next set on her fire-breathing dragon.

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Contact The Star Films Company

View Star Films Profile on iDidTht
Executive Producer: Adam Thal

Produced by the iDidTht Content Studio
Credits: Writer – Anne Hirsch / Art Director – Julie Maunder

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