Getting Real with Director Alexa Wilson from Arcade Content 

Since officially joining the family at Arcade Content less than a year ago, Alexa Wilson has already shown her versatility as a Director. She has showcased great insight and sensitivity when working with her performers and a firm grasp on the advertising industry and its needs. After working for several years as a director’s assistant at Egg Films, she’s since gone on to carve an impressive solo career for herself, but it seems it was her destiny all along…

After doing some deep stalking research, we discovered that Alexa comes from a family of filmmakers; her father being a Director and mother a Producer. Oh, and she also ended up marrying a Focus Puller so yeah, she’s all in! But Alexa always intended to forge her own career path and explains: ‘Because of where I come from, I wanted to make sure that I wanted to be in the industry, not because it was all I knew, but because it was what I wanted to do.’

“With locks, you have to listen, they speak to you when they are ready to open.”
Alexa Wilson on lock picking.

After just 8 months, Alexa’s versatility has already proven to be a huge advantage and her impressive start in the industry means she is a Director to keep a close eye on – having already delivered compelling work for brands such as Standard Bank, Edgars, Castle Lager, MTN and Momentum. ‘My Fearless Next’, her brand films for Standard Bank via VML, even got listed amongst iDidTht’s ‘Work to Watch’ for December 2018.

iDidTht: Coming from a filmmaking family, what are some of the memories you have as a child growing up in the industry?
Alexa: I have very distinct memories, like the smell of smoke from smoke machines, how sticky gaffer tape gets when 18k lights start melting the glue or the taste of sipping Game around the craft table. Sadly nobody serves Game on set anymore.
iDidTht: We think they figured out that it’s really bad for you…
Alexa: So bad, so delicious.

iDidTht: What were the invaluable lessons you learnt while climbing the ranks at Egg Films? 
Alexa: I’ve learnt how to come up with ideas quickly and reject them just as quickly. To adapt and not be precious about things. I worked closely with Director Slim and he was incredibly meticulous when planning during the pre-prod phase and his discipline has stuck with me. He also had this really humble attitude and just cared about the craft and how to best serve the board and the product and that will always stay with me. I learnt how to never leave anything to chance, I always have a plan B.

Alexa’s latest spot for Momentum was not the first in which she had to direct non-actors. For both Castle and MTN Alexa was faced with the daunting task of extracting authentic performances from her cast who had no previous acting experience. For her, this meant hours and hours of conducting pre-production Skype interviews with each of her performers, which lead to Alexa now sitting on over 30 hours of archived interview footage in her Dropbox.

*Alexa, in our bid to help out, here’s a link where you can upgrade to more Dropbox storage #ThankUsLater

Momentum ‘Two Sides’

Castle Lager ‘Reconciliation Day’

MTN Supersonic ‘Streaming’

Alexa on Momentum: The brief was to tell a story between a financial advisor and his friend, with a single slide as inspiration. They knew what they wanted and gave me the freedom to craft the story. The two people were not actors – they grew up together in Durban and they went to school together, ended up separating and came back together as friends and client and financial advisor.

iDidTht: That’s a nice open canvas. What was your process to create this ad? 
Alexa: I did what I always do when I work with non-actors – I interviewed both my leads because with real people you can’t build a Director/Performer relationship unless you speak to them before production starts. A hook between the two of them was this idea of providing for the next generation, so I kept coming back to that. They both came from different backgrounds so I wanted to find a unifying space. The beach was also a great metaphor of what we were talking about; the crashing waves and what life feels like when it gets hard and when things calm down. So that launched the whole story. I wrote the piece and then we had one day to film. I think I lost 5kgs on that day because of all the running up and down that beach with the kids.

For Alexa’s Castle #SmashTheLabel commercial, she asked a group of strangers to describe someone solely based on their photo. What she didn’t tell them was that they were then going to meet the person in the photo. She knew the story needed to be about reconciliation, but she needed a contrast, she needed to have brokenness so she could have that reconciliation at the end. Dealing with sensitive issues and people from vastly different backgrounds and lived experiences can be challenging. Add to that the fact that the performers had no idea about the plot twist they would face on the day, she feared that the ad could be borderline gratuitous. After personally interviewing over 50 people, carefully navigating her way through tough conversations to gauge their feelings and experiences around labels and stereotypes, Alexa chose her final six performers and produced a sensitive and thought-provoking piece for the brand. And it certainly didn’t hurt the brand that the commercial was a viral hit, with over 8 million organic views on Facebook alone.

Alexa on Castle: With Castle it was also very important to brief the crew on what to expect and the issues we would be dealing with on the day. If you ask people to open up you have to create a safe environment where they can.

For MTN the brief was simple; shoot six spots in one day and use influencers, not actors #Faints

Alexa on MTN: I really don’t like to tell people that we shot all six spots in one day, because I’m terrified I’ll be asked to do that again, haha. But thanks to careful planning, using only one location and the experience I gained from Slim on how to problem-solve, we finished 3 minutes before wrap time.

iDidTht: What do you look for when casting ‘real people’ or rather non-actors?
Alexa: An emotional intelligence, those are the people who can connect the dots and will have the ability to respond to direction on the day.


iDidTht: What are your plans tonight?
Alexa: Wine…

iDidTht: Out of all the South African ads, which ads do you wish you did?
Nelson Mandela Foundation & Philips ‘There’s a Madiba in you’
Chicken Licken ‘Sbu 2.0’ 
Western Cape Government ‘First Kiss’ 

iDidTht: What’s your secret talent?
Alexa: Lock picking.

iDidTht: Tell us EVERYTHING about lock picking!
Alexa: I discovered this talent on a job with Slim. He couldn’t get into a lock so I watched a bunch of YouTube videos and now I’m a really great combination lock picker and also that one with the hairclip. With locks, you have to listen to them, they speak to you when they are ready to open.

iDidTht: Straight after this interview, please send us a video of you picking a lock.

iDidTht: What was the last book you started but never finished?
Alexa: I started a book about the Tudors because I just discovered that I’m related to Anne Boleyn who was decapitated…
iDidTht and Alexa: HAHAHAHAHA

iDidTht: Okay, how did you discover that?
Alexa: I decided to do that family tree genealogy thing after getting a few leads and now I’m obsessed. I become obsessed with random things.

iDidTht: What else are you obsessed with at the moment?
Alexa: Learning how to play the harmonium. It’s a weird ancient instrument with like a bellow and a piano. I’m teaching myself off YouTube. I have a harmonium at home. And I also teach yoga on Thursday evenings. When I started at Egg my signature was ‘Good at lots of random things’.

iDidTht: Okay, so straight after this interview, please send us a video of you playing the harmonium.

iDidTht: Let’s briefly back up to this Anne Boleyn business for a sec…
Alexa: I basically tracked back fifteen generations and found out I’m related to Anne Boleyn’s brother, Lord George Boleyn who was also decapitated in the Tower of London. Look, when you find out why they were killed it’s actually quite horrific. Um, they were up for treason and incest…
iDidTht: This is literally the best way to end this interview.
Alexa: Agreed!

Spending just an hour getting to know Alexa, proved to us that she is nothing if not resourceful – whether it’s getting those performances from real people, her meticulous planning of near-impossible shooting schedules, dedication to the craft or learning how to pick locks (and pretty much anything else) from YouTube videos, she’s your gal! What she has accomplished as a Director in such a short time period is damn exciting and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead…

*Please note that ‘lies ahead’ was in no way an intentional wordplay on the whole Boleyn decapitation situation.
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Producer: Will Nicholson
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Produced by the iDidTht Content Studio
Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

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