Director Sarah Chatfield Breaks New Ground for Nike and Allianz

A passion for production design and choreography drives her vision

Sarah Chatfield trained as a dancer before moving into filmmaking, launching her directing career in London with music videos for bands like The Cribs and the Filthy Dukes. A clip for Lily Allen's "Alfie" put Chatfield on the map as a director. She would go on to helm projects for the likes of Little Mix and Kelly Rowland. 

Chatfield found satisfaction in making music videos because she could indulge a passion for "the big colors, the big choreography and the big production values" the medium often provides. 

Chatfield, who grew up in a small town in southern England and now lives in Los Angeles, eventually expanded her repertoire to include fashion films for brands like Yves Saint Laurent, plus commercials. She's found a niche in the ad world, shooting sports-themed fare for Adidas, Nike and Bodyarmor Lyte.

Chatfield's penchant for production design and choreography is on glorious display in her latest work, Nike's "Joga Pra Sempre." The spot, which broke ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup this summer, is a playful romp set at a hotel that's been taken over by members of the Brazilian National Women's National team who celebrate their love for soccer.

The director's reel also includes a colorful music video for Dance Lessons' song "New Job." Chatfield shot it on an iPhone during some of the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic when Los Angeles slogged through lockdown. 

"It was a case of needing to do something creative but also setting myself this challenge to do everything myself on set, which I haven't done since my first music video," she reflects. 

Chatfield cast dancers Gbari Gilliam and Shantel Urena, a couple she found on Instagram, to perform from daytime into nighttime on the streets of L.A.'s then-deserted Chinatown.

Below, Chatfield, who is represented by Station Film, discusses the influences that permeate "Joga Pra Sempre," delves into the camera work and visual transitions seen in spots for Allianz and New Balance. She also reveals the one brand she longs to work with.

MUSE: The Nike commercial starring the Brazil National Football team has such vibrant production design and so much energy. Can you tell me about the look and the feel you were trying to achieve?

Sarah Chatfield: Because the concept of the girls having a friendly game at the hotel and causing chaos is so playful and fun, I wanted it to have a little bit of the flavor of those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons. That's why there's little touches like the vintage music and the little star that appears on [Débora Cristiane de Oliveira's] tooth when she smiles. The color palette—it's slightly cartoony as well. Wes Anderson and [interior designer] Dorothy Draper were the big references that I was looking at for production design. Some of that wallpaper is very Dorothy Draper.

The athletes seemed like they were genuinely having fun.

I've worked with a lot of athletes over the years, and I’ve learned that they're not all at home being on a film set. It's not their natural place. So, I find it's really important to kind of get in a bubble with them, shut out the noise of the shoot and all the crew and create this world that's just between me and them. We can have a laugh, play some music, try to get the fun vibes going, and have them relax and get into character. You never have a great deal of time with athletes. It's always restricted. So, that's one of the key things to focus on—to get them in a comfortable space and get them to trust me right from the beginning. I make that a priority, and they seem to thrive.

Can you talk about what you were trying to achieve with the camera moves in New Balance's "Rewards Come to Those Who Run." I felt like I was running with everybody.

It was about trying to bring out the intensity of the run as much as possible in the way the camera moves. It's highlighting the emotions that they go through when they're on a run. It's very unique to each person. A runner that would run by the coast, or on the lake, is different from a runner who would run in the city. So, I was trying to capture those different vibrations and feelings with the camera work.

In the Allianz spot "You Write It, We Underwrite It," a girl is writing on a chalkboard in a classroom what she wants to do when she grows up—and that's swim for Ireland. After the other kids laugh at her because they think she is dreaming too big, that line on the chalkboard transforms into a swim lane in a pool. And we watch her swim for Ireland. That was such a creative visual transition from one scene to the next.

The whole point of the spot is, if you write your dreams down, you can make them a reality. If you intend it, you can make it happen. So, it was really important that ... as she'd written that line down, it literally transition to her making her dream come true. I'm always trying to think of visual cues—visual transitions—between scenes that can help drive a story forward. That was a really nice one.

I assume you're a big planner.

I'm a pretty intense storyboarder and planner. I love the craft of filmmaking. I love visual techniques and transitions as well as how that combines with music and sound. I like to plan all those details deeply. I'm always saying to my producers, "Can I have a bit more time?" I just want to hone in on all those little details that are going to make it special, take it to the next level of being unexpected. That's what I'm always trying to strive for—how can I do this in an unexpected way?

So, if you met someone at a party and had to tell them what you do without being able to show them your work, what would you say?

If I was trying to explain it to someone in my family, because my family's not filmy at all, I would just say, mostly [I make] sports commercials. But if we want to go deeper than that, I like to think of my work as expressing human stories where experiences are heightened, where there's adrenaline and movement and energy.

Is there any kind of work in the advertising world that you would like to be considered for that maybe isn't coming your way?

I'm loving exploring the sports brand world because I think they are really starting to push it. Sports advertising is becoming so much more imaginative. I'm really excited that I'm in that space. But I'd love to work with Apple on the Apple Watch commercials and especially the AirPods commercials, which are about movement and energy and transitions and choreography. It's always choreography with a great surreal twist. So, I'd love to do that work. I'm really excited by choreography and want to do more because of my dance background. 

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Christine Champagne
Muse contributor Christine Champagne is a writer based in NYC.

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