Keeping Cupid Busy
1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
We got the opportunity to work with The Global Fund in December 2015 on their campaign to end Malaria, TB and AIDS. We shot in South Africa and The Philippines, as well as some pickups in New York, where it screened at the UN General Assembly. Such an intense shoot. It kind of kicked off our love of casting real people. Each vignette within the 2-minute film was based on a common issue faced by local people within the communities we visited. Each character was cast locally and no one had any acting experience. It was a challenging experience working in those kinds of environments with such interesting subjects.
2) How did you get into directing?
We took out a bank loan for a couple of DSLRs and flew to India for 5 weeks to make a short doco called The Cancer Train. Spending 5 weeks together in cheap hostels and sleeper trains in the middle of the Indian summer, we realised we’d probably be able to work through anything.*
This kicked-started our DOP partnership and we very much muddled through every aspect of the filmmaking process, shooting a mixture of fashion and corporate shoots for a few years. We preferred to make our own mistakes along the way than plod through the traditional filmmaking hierarchy so we offered everything from audio recording, editing and even animation just to win work.
We were being asked to direct more and more, so decided to officially make the jump to full-time directing a couple of years back.
*Fun fact: we wandered onto a Bollywood set in Rajasthan and ended up being hired as walk-on extras in a wedding scene.
3) What is your most recent project?
We just finished a TV commercial with Havas Worldwide in the UK for Vanish (the British version of Tide). It kicked off Vanish’s first rebrand in 20 years; from an impossibly clean white studio aesthetic, to something more authentic and grounded in reality. And nowhere was more ‘grounded in reality’ than our landfill site location in deepest, darkest Glasgow (sorry Glasgow!). Production worked miracles – it was the only landfill site in the whole of the UK that would let us shoot in amongst the mountains of trash.
4) What is the best part of being a director?
Being able to take credit for the work of numerous talented individuals. We get such a kick out of collaborating – there are times when we look around set and can’t believe how lucky we are to work with such incredible people. In the past, this was something we shied away from because we thought we could do everything ourselves. Now the collaborative process is always front and centre from the very beginning of a project; building a strong team of like-minded people who live to make great work.
Using your imagination and being creative. This is taken for granted but many jobs have little space for this. Being on a project at ground zero gives you such creative freedom. Bringing in elements and ideas that we’ve loved from our childhood movies.
5) What is the worst part of being a director?
Seeing a project that starts out with such bold, creative potential and slowly has the life sucked out of it by fear of upsetting the applecart. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
We’re currently shooting a feature documentary about a boxer and his relationship with his father / trainer as they work towards a once-in-a-lifetime world-title shot. Our great love is for documentary, and that feeds into our commercial filmmaking, so that is something we will always do. Ultimately, we want to get to a level where we can pick and choose both our long and short-term projects based on a story’s potential or how original the creative.
Right now, we’re really focused on how we can make each of our characters unique and give them emotional heft and integrity. That’s hard to do with short-form commercial work because on the one hand, you need to provide the audience with enough context of a character so that the core message of the spot is clear, while on the hand still batting away the spectre of cliches and stereotypes.
7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
Greg: I studied photography at college and assisted the photographer, Sam Faulkner in London for a couple of years. He taught me a lot, but in terms of filmmaking, Jacob and I made the decision pretty early on that we would do our own thing and make our own mistakes. Maybe finding a mentor would have proved more productive but honestly, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Jacob: I was convinced I knew everything by the age of 18. I now realise that was a mistake. I guess my mentors have been other directors of a similar age. Watching them take off in different directions is inspiring and serves as a constant kick up the arse.
8) Who is your favorite director and why?
Greg: Paul Thomas Anderson is up there. So smart. And so confident in the way he paints his characters. Incredible writer and seems like a genuinely lovely guy.
I think both Cary Fukunaga and Alex Garland are destined for greatness. Also, Adam Curtis: his documentaries help connect the dots between thoughts you know you’ve had, but never been smart enough to articulate.
Jacob: For me it’s Ridley Scott. He’s such a master of genre. Not many (Kubrick being an exception) can go from sci-fi space horror to sword and sandals epic and pull it off as well as he does. He’s had a few duds along the way but even his weakest work shines brighter than the majority of films out there. He’s the master of reinvention and a constant inspiration.
9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Greg: Favorite movie over the past year is a tie between Ladybird and Get Out. Westworld season 2 is about to start and if it’s half as good as the first season I’m in heaven. Love Peaky Blinders for the way Cillian Murphy has developed that character over 5 seasons – an absolute masterclass.
Jacob: Close race between Heat, Oldboy and Blade Runner. I think Heat is a perfect film from start to finish. Blade Runner is the world-building perfection that Ridley Scott is a master at. That film looks better than anything today. For the TV classics it’s Twin Peaks and Sopranos and The Office. (British) Recently a big fan of The Leftovers and Big Little Lies. The atmosphere of that show and it’s depiction of Monterey was fantastic.
10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
Greg: I grew up in Essex, just outside London. Studied graphic design and photography in Norwich then lived in London where Jacob and I first met. I moved to New York for a few years and now live in LA.
Jacob: I grew up in a Bath, a beautiful old Roman town in Somerset, England. Spent my university years in London and my summers travelling and shooting around Asia. We now have a base in London and LA (slightly better weather)
Rania Hattar, Unit 9
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