Sam Pilling on his cinematic approach to directing

Sam Pilling has crafted brilliant music videos and ads for everyone from DJ Shadow to Ikea. Here, the director discusses the importance of grabbing any opportunity that comes your way when you’re starting out and the beauty of a creative brief based on a single idea

Combining a love of film with a methodological mind for craft, over the last decade Sam Pilling has carved out a position as one of the industry’s most in-demand directors. In that time, he has created music videos for big-name artists including Chaka Khan, J.Cole and DJ Shadow, along with a spate of high-profile ad campaigns for the likes of KFC, Audi and Ikea.

The common denominator of Pilling’s work is his ability to create striking cinematic moments; his stylised videos typically combine wildly original concepts with big set builds, embellished with clever visual effects. He wasn’t always destined to work behind the camera, however, starting his creative journey on the graphic design course at Central Saint Martins in London in 2006, with a view to becoming a professional illustrator.

“They did something which is amazing, and I think more universities should do it, where basically we spent a whole term doing a week of typography, a week of film, a week of advertising, a week of graphics, photography, illustration, and at that point I fell in love with filming things,” he says. “With illustration, you’re telling stories through drawing, and then suddenly it was like, I can do that with with a camera.”

By the time Pilling was in his third year at CSM, he was already doing running jobs for directors including Christopher Sweeney and D.A.R.Y.L on the side. After he graduated, he sent out hundreds of emails to all of the production companies he knew that existed in London, and ended up getting a reception job at Pulse Films.