Making beautiful music (videos)

26 Apr 2018

Author: Alex Lalak

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Director Kinga Burza has made her mark on the competitive music video and commercial film industry though hard work, persistence, a willingness to take chances – and a healthy dose of Australian charm.
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As a director of commercials and music videos working in an industry that still skews strongly male, Paris-based Australian Kinga Burza has had to leap more than her share of hurdles to achieve success.

And while luck and good timing played their part in launching her career, there’s no doubt a robust combination of hard work and persistence rendered her the first choice of artists as varied as Katy Perry, Dua Lipa, Chinese superstar Chris Lee, and Norwegian newcomer Aurora.

“Nothing can really prepare you for the world of music videos, so you have to prepare yourself for being thrown into the deep end,” Burza says. “When people ask me how to become a director, there’s no way to really become one, you just have to be one and hope you get noticed.”

A promising start

A fake-it-til-you-make-it approach was a crucial part of Burza’s early career, although it took her a while for her to find her groove. After moving to Australia with her Polish parents at just six months old, she found early success as a model that culminated in a post-school gap year in Paris where she discovered that she loved being in creative environments, but hated being told what to do.

She returned to Australia to study an arts degree, majoring in theatre and film, at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and struggled to fit in until in her second year she stumbled upon a filmmaking course that changed everything.

After learning the basics of shooting and editing, and creating a music video for her final project that she wryly describes as “horrible”, she began making amateur videos for her friends, many of whom were up and coming musicians. 

“They gave me amazing access and it was very organic, very intuitive,” she says. “It just sort of fell into my lap in a way and felt natural. Once I started doing it, I had more confidence to keep going.”

Burza flirted with the idea of continuing on to a Master’s degree while working in the local music video industry, but instead opted to go to London to fuel her growing ambition.

Leap of faith

After a stint working as an assistant in a film production company and a lucky break winning a paying gig to direct the music video for a rising independent artist, things started to change. 

Soon she was signed to the prestigious production company Partizan and directing videos for then-unknown artists including Kate Nash, before she was handpicked by Katy Perry to direct the video for her breakthrough single ‘I Kissed a Girl’. 

“I’d only been directing officially through the production company for a year and suddenly I was getting commercials and everything just moved really fast after that,” says Burza.

She quickly became an in-demand director for both music videos and commercials in the UK, US and Europe working with brands as diverse as Kate Spade, Ellery, Target, Vo5, Kelloggs, Chloé and L’Oréal, and her career has continued to blossom since moving to Paris to live with her French husband. Her bright aesthetic has certainly helped to distinguish her directing style, but she credits her relaxed Aussie approach as being one of the key elements that sets her apart from her competition.

“Being Australian has helped me, especially here in Paris, because people are always saying they think I’m cool to work with and really easy-going,” Burza says. “But actually I don’t think it’s necessarily me, it’s my culture and I think growing up in Australia makes you more relaxed. I think there’s also something particular about Australians working outside Australia, because we have to prove ourselves even more.”

Balancing act

Burza balances her work with being mother to a three-year-old daughter, and she’s open about the challenges connected to her job, which often requires her to work to absurdly short deadlines and under extreme pressure. Yet, despite the fact her industry has not been traditionally welcoming to female directors, who are still few and far between, she feels ultimately her gender was an asset in getting her career of the ground.

“In the beginning I was unique as there weren’t that many female directors and, at the time, I think that worked in my favour because I was a bit of a novelty,” she says. “But it’s really changing. Now production companies actually want women and people are asking specifically for female directors, and I get so many more scripts.”

Looking ahead, Burza’s eager to continue to explore her craft and says she still has ambitions for her career that include moving into creating short films and feature films, and possibly one day putting her mark on the industry back home.

“I was back in Australia recently on holidays and started thinking about how much I would like to shoot there because the locations are amazing and it’s always sunny,” she says. “Maybe one day I’ll go back to Australia to work on a narrative project.”

Read more about Kinga Burza.