Inside Joke-Michael Che On Gentrification

Neaman/Southworth

How did you get into directing?
Our first experiences as “filmmakers” are pretty similar. We didn’t go to the same schools, but we both grew up shooting sketch comedy pieces for high school assemblies. We both, as it turns out, liked collaborating and brainstorming with friends, enjoying knowing we weren’t just entertaining the students, but also the teachers. Brian’s rendition of Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby (One More Time), for instance, performed in drag was a hit, while Michael’s visual interpretation of “On The Road,” somehow happened to win an award for cinematography, despite the fact that it was basically all visual fx.

Years later, our paths finally crossed as assistant editors at Crew Cuts, a time during which we were both shooting independant spec spots to flesh out our editorial reels. We started to collaborate and suddenly had the resources and network to make our ideas much better; to achieve the vision we’d set out with.

What is your most recent project?
We are currently finishing a comedic web series for MTVx. Each episode features a different comedian telling a story personal to them in the location where it occurred, and includes a moderately funny reenactment. (The first episode is featured in the showcase, and the rest are pretty funny, too.) We also just finished national :30s for a couple feminine hygiene brands. (We’re not kidding.)

What is the best part of being a director?
Seeing the finished product. Both of us like crafting stories that people can identify with, laugh with, and ultimately forget about their lives for a while and just enjoy. Some directors express concerns about watching their work with an audience—we thrive on it. We like seeing viewer’s reactions, and knowing if we’ve hit the mark.

What is the worst part of being a director?
Working with anyone who isn’t passionate about what they’re doing, and, well, the potential of having good creative watered down by someone’s fears. There is a place for reining in an idea, or giving in to some restraint, but the fear of polarizing a particular demographic rather than being bold is the wrong way to create great work.

What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
It’s tough to say we have a specific focus right now. That’s probably not the right answer. Comedy is fun, but certainly not the only genre we enjoy. We have, for example, a lot of experience with visual effects because of our background as editors. We’re working on a quirky fx heavy music video and have some feature length ideas in various stages. The :30 second spot is certainly our comfort zone, and we love the constraint of concise storytelling. That said, the market is changing, and longer form content, even if its just a three minute webisode, has proven to be a fulfilling challenge that we’ll continue to pursue. If anything, our focus is on great story, whatever that story may be.

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 most with you?
Too many people. It would probably be, first and foremost, any one of the people we’ve been privileged enough to work with in the advertising, film, and content industries.  We’ve been incredibly lucky to work with editors like Sherri and Jake at Crew Cuts. They are both fantastic storytellers, and are always available to lend an eye on a cut or share some advice on the industry.

Producers, directors, editors, sound engineers, etc… It’s clear that there is no replacement for having been in any given situation before, and you can learn a lot just by watching. For example, every director has a different way of working during or between takes. When you cut as much as we do, you get to watch a lot of great directors in action, and get a good idea of what works—and what doesn’t.

Who is your favorite director and why?
Quentin Tarantino. Few people are creating the kind of suspense, characters, and entertainment he is. Darren Aronofsky is amazing as well; visual effects can be fun as a focal point, but they are most powerful when employed to push a story forward. Black Swan did this in perhaps the most seamless and magnificent way we’ve seen.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial?
Back to the Future. Bladerunner is great, too. Happy Gilmore has fantastic structure. We just saw the Blackcurrant Tango spot from the late ‘90s, and its pretty spectacular. It’s just too bad the Harrier Jets were c.g.

Tell use about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
Brian is from Watchung, New Jersey, and studied Film Production at Boston University. Michael is from New York City and studied Visual Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with coursework in Visual FX at NYU. We both grew up making films. We’ve both been editing at Crew Cuts for the past 7-8 years, and directing for the past 2-3 years. We began shooting spots while we were assistant editors to better flesh out our editorial reels. These spots started winning awards, so we figured we’d better keep shooting. It’s fun.