If you’re reading this, you’re probably procrastinating something more urgent. But hey, who am I to judge? We all do that; from scrolling endlessly on social media to watching pointless videos on YouTube, to swipe right or left on dating apps out of boredom, to make ‘to do’ lists you’re probably not gonna do either. Since postponing stuff is just natural, photographer and filmmaker Aleksandra Kingo got inspired and pushed the limits in Ode to Procrastination, a short film where those actions are taken to extreme, absurd lenghts. Get ready for a quirky, too relatable tale of all things procrastination.
Hi Aleksandra, thanks for speaking with us. We last spoke with you back in 2016, and we mainly discussed your photography. It’s been a long time, and now you’ve moved from still image to video. When and how did that come about?
Hello there, and thank you. Wow, that’s a long time! It really makes me look back at my creative path. I wouldn't quite call it moving, maybe it’s more of an expansion I guess? I think it was a combination circumstances and my natural artistic development. Partly, it was driven by the fast-paced world and media’s demand for moving content. A stills assignment would also have some stop frame animation with it, then I would collaborate with DPs to create short video clips for brands… and bam! Suddenly I have a full showreel and find myself shooting major brand commercials across the globe.
At the same time, moving from 2D to 3D environments in my work was a very organic expansion of my vision. As someone who developed a very distinct style very early on in her career, there’s always a risk of repeating myself. And moving image was a way to explore my creativity further while still sticking to my aesthetic, as there are obviously so many more elements to visual language in film. The story and character development, the camera moves, the edit – you name it! There’s a lot more grasp and that’s what makes it very exciting. Leading large teams of talented people who help you create something weird and beautiful that you dreamed up is one of the most thrilling feelings out there.
At the same time, I am still quite new to all this and I keep learning from all the talented crew on my sets. And this is why making An Ode to Procrastination was so important for me, because it was the first film that was purely mine, something without any client involved. The end result not being signed off by anybody but me. It was also a way to further test my creative muscle by getting out of the studio, becoming more scripted and less abstract in my work, working with dialogue, etc. The whole shebang of new things.
Let’s deepen into that. First of all, congratulations on releasing An Ode to Procrastination. How do you think the reception of the video has been so far?
It’s been great. Very, very rewarding, and that goes beyond all the awards and film festivals. The best thing for me is to hear that other creatives relate to it and recognize themselves in Sarah a little bit. I spoke about my own experiences in the video, and the goal indeed was to make something that people could connect with. I’m very happy it worked.
You’ve said that the work was inspired by your own struggles with procrastination, and that you even procrastinated creating the video itself. What visual or textual elements best resemble your own experiences with procrastination?
Most of it, really, although of course I always like to take real life experiences to the point of the absurd. But from getting carried away swiping through social media while ensuring myself it’s for ‘research’ to pouring myself a glass of wine to ‘stay focused’ – I have done all that. But mostly, it’s the general sentiment.
Everything Sarah says in the film is a bunch of self-soothing white lies. She tries to make herself feel better and convince herself that she’s got it under control while, in fact, she is absolutely terrified to start a project that she thinks might define her as an artist. What if it’s not good enough? What if it’s so good that she will always be remembered as the girl who did that one short film and nothing good after that? What if it just gets lost in the algorithm of social media content and not enough people get to see it at all? Those were all the thoughts in my head. And yes, I wrote Ode when procrastinating to try to write something else. And that ‘something else’ never saw the light of day!
When coming up with ideas for An Ode to Procrastination, did you interview or speak with other artists or people that experience the same thing? Or is the video based entirely on your own perspective?
I definitely stayed focused on my own experiences for most of it because it felt very personal and truthful to do so. Write what you know, right? Also, lots of popular psychology ‘how to beat procrastination’ articles were read, which inspired the whole ‘Stay focused and hydrated’ part. But as the script was drafted, I did send it to a lot of creatives I trusted and that’s how some final touches came about. For example, the end titles came after quite a few people felt the need for some closure for Sarah, and I agreed that giving a hint that she did in fact ‘make it’ gave some lovely hopeful touches.
Most people probably relate to how difficult it is to eliminate distractions and stay focused, especially in the era of 24/7 interconnectivity. What do you think a piece like this might mean to people who admire your work but struggle with similar issues?
Most of such conversations cropped up only after having other artists watch the film, both at film festivals and when showing the piece in person. A lot of those conversations were very precious. I feel like it is very important to know and see that even people who seem successful and infinitely talented do procrastinate, struggle, and have self doubts. And that it’s okay. Sounds like an obvious thing but it does sometimes seem like everyone in our industry makes such an effort to appear busy these days even if they are not, which can be quite anxiety-inducing for others!
Sharing Ode also inspired me to start speaking more about my mental health online recently — I use Instagram stories as a sort of journaling tool where I write down all my worries and doubts and thoughts, personal and work-related, good and bad. And the response from my followers was overwhelming. This and the film have also inspired me doing a talk on procrastination and mental health at one of the European ADC awards, and it created a very warm and trusting atmosphere for the night.
The set and styling of the video is very retro-looking, and many of the scenes have muted backgrounds with bright pops of color on the actress. It could be said that this composition represents the bright, distracting things that cause us to procrastinate. Was this an intentional decision, or just a style/look that makes the piece more interesting and dynamic?
It is definitely a combination of the two. Ode was my first personal project that wasn’t shot in the controlled studio environment but was set on location instead. So its art direction was a way to visually keep it within my visual aesthetic. Amy Friend did such a great job with that, it really makes a difference when the director and the production designer creatively click. That’s when the magic is made.
At the same time, it was absolutely intentional that we see Sarah curate the space around her in such a meticulous way. She also wears a brand new, carefully-put-together outfit in each scene – these decisions are less about styling elements being a distraction to her but more about the fact that Sarah procrastinated while taking time to put that space together and to curate those fashion looks in the first place.
Your photography and filmography are filled with bold colors, unique objects, and dynamic posing. How do you decide what elements to include or which elements to emphasize in a particular project? I’ve noticed that blue and red are very common colors in your photos. Are you partial to any specific colors or elements?
I love using colour as a visual tool to communicate the moods but also to control the viewer’s attention, whether it’s making the main subject contrast the scene to making small elements tonal for them to be noticed later. Mostly it helps me tell the story. Occasionally, however, those decisions are purely based on the aesthetics, especially when we talk about the commercial work – as of course, then we work with brand colors or particular products.
I definitely go though color ‘eras’ when particular hues dominate my work as well as the life around me. Like, if I’m obsessed with red, it then creeps into my makeup, clothing, interior, and work. And I am partial to blue indeed as it is bold but at the same time very airy. I have to stop myself from using it sometimes in order not to repeat my own work! Also, I recently directed a short film in a bright white studio for the first time simply because I hadn’t done that before.
Many of your photos mix the bizarre or absurd with realistic elements, creating rather surreal yet enticing final products. Your photo for Virgin Atlantic, for example, features two women on a romantic airline date… who also appear to have three legs each. What was the idea behind this photo and other surreal examples in your work?
That particular Virgin shot… As far as I remember, those legs were a little personal touch from the creative director I worked with. The girls were eating spaghetti, so we thought it was funny to have their legs entangled like spaghetti too. The Virgin Atlantic job was a wonderful creative collaboration where we created those tropes together with the agency and it was wonderful that such big of a corporation would be so receptive of all the quirky ideas we had.
Generally, I love creating layers in my work, there’s always an overarching concept but then it brings me extra joy to hide Easter eggs – sprinkling those extra quirky details where I can makes my art multilayered, relatable, and fun. I like getting people to look twice.
Where do you take inspiration for your work from? What people, places, or things inspire you the most, and how do you incorporate that inspiration?
Fashion and comedy are my two favorite things ever and that’s why my work balances in between. My main inspiration really is the world around me and the things that happen to me and those around me. I constantly take notes on my phone and save them for later. Like when I saw a man wearing a blue hat with the same blue hat tattoo on his neck during my last holiday. Or when I remember wanting to be a snowflake for New Years in kindergarten but ended up being a snowman and cried. All sorts of things. Sometimes these notes randomly come handy months later, other times they organically come together into coherent stories.
Memes and the internet culture are another big source of inspiration for me as memes are somewhat of a mirror of society’s perception of the world. People tend to laugh about what scares them or about what’s important to them. Same with me, I love taking serious themes or something that worries me and wrap it into shiny, humorous, color-coordinated candy wrapping. TikTok and reels are also big ones. One important thing though is to feel the line between research and thoughtless scrolling (laughs)!
How do you approach personal projects and commissioned projects, such as the advertisements for Target that you’ve shot, differently? What does the creative process look like for each?
I approach both with love and excitement, honestly! I absolutely love being on set and I feel like an excited puppy each time. I feel like I am very lucky to mostly be getting work assignments that go in line with my creative vision. That way, there never is too much compromise on what I want to do. But of course, in commercials there are soooo many more elements to keep in mind: the clients, the agencies, the sales targets, etc. But it’s easier in a way because, usually, you are given some sort of starting point to play with. Also, a creative agency to bounce your ideas off and and a particular deadline, which makes procrastination minimal.
On the other hand, personal work is a little bit more scary for me because you are the only judge to whether it’s actually good and it always feels like there’s more at stake as it’s more defining of your vision. I tend to trick my brain though, creating some deadlines to myself and perhaps getting people on board early on so I feel responsible for them. That makes me work harder.
How did you become interested in photography and film? Are there any past experiences that inform the way you create now?
I feel like art was a way of escaping reality for me as a teenager when growing up in the suburbs of my hometown of Vilnius, Lithuania. Quite early on, I found escape in movies (Amelie and Science of Sleep were the first ones), which makes me think that that’s where my reds and my blues might be coming from. Soon enough, I got myself a film camera and started creating little scenarios with my friends in them. The rest is history. Years passed, projects got bigger, but the excited little girl with a camera is still very much here.