Under the Influence: Nicolas Davenel

September 29, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The foundations this Iconoclast director builds his films on.

Ever since we decided which band names to scrawl on our school rucksacks, the stuff we’re into has come to define us. The art, music, film and hobbies we surround ourselves shape us and the things we create.

So having seen the dynamic, stylish music videos and branded content on Iconoclast director Nicolas Davenel’s reel, we were fascinated to hear about the components that feed his filmmaking.

Early 2000s Hip Hop Videos

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a director.

I didn’t even really watch a lot of movies until the age of about 20 but I was influenced a lot by music videos. I grew up in Brittany in the countryside. At the time there was no YouTube so I remember downloading music videos with my friends, which was a tough job on 56k internet. We burned them on DVDs and built up a collection.

When I was in high school I was really into American hip-hop. All those early 2000s music videos, not even underground stuff – Beastie Boys, Busta Rhymes, N.E.R.D., DMX. The video for Gimme Some More by Busta Rhymes – that crazy cartoon environment paired with all the rap clichés – I think that is a part of why I wanted to make music videos. I was excited by that.

Later I was fascinated by music videos based on a visual concept, instead of a story. Like all the Michel Gondry music videos, the one he did for The White Stripes, or the one he did for The Chemical Brothers that was a view from a train and every piece of the landscape represents a layer of the music.

My first music video was purely visual too, just a fast dollyshot through the streets of Paris. We had no money so I just used my camera and took pictures, building the fake dolly shot through Paris streets in a 25fps stop motion, that made it sort of look like a video and not stop motion.

Motor-head Subcultures

I’ve done several films about motorbikes and the communities around them. I have a passion for motor-fashions. I’ve done a couple of pieces about motorcycle gangs. I followed moped gangs in the US, spent some time with them, did a music video around a group of motorcycle stunters. I like the community around the vehicles – the passion around a specific object that can become a movement.

The thing is these people are mostly from the countryside where you have a really normal life and having a passion like this is a way to touch the extraordinary and build friendships. There’s something that touches me. It’s about being a hero in a regular environment.

There’s a rich visual environment about Motor that is really attractive and what really got me going was the idea that this vehicle becomes a huge part of their life. They decorate and paint it, it essentially becomes part of their family!

I liked also weird Motor cultures, like tractor pulling. It started with farmers comparing the power of their horses, and now people put three helicopter engines in a tractor and compete by pulling heavy loads on a 100m track. It’s really a motorsport. I like it because it might look ridiculous from the outside, but it’s deeply interesting when you look closer at it.

Bruno Dumont

He directed La Vie De Jesus, and a short series called P’tit Quinquin which is a hilarious burlesque thriller, with a lot of dark humor. P’tit Quinquin is also all about a sense of growing up in a rural, racist environment. In the first episode they find human body parts stuffed inside the asshole of a cow.

All of his films take place in the north of France, like La Vie De Jesus. The story was inspired by something he saw in the newspaper, a racist crime in a small village. Some guys had beaten up an Arab guy. He was wondering how you could end up murdering someone for his race in the countryside where people are almost all white. It’s just following a group of teenagers who hang out on mopeds because they have nothing else to do. There’s an Arab kid in the village. It’s about how this hate starts growing up.

He works with real people, casting on location so all the kids you see are actually from those towns and I love this authentic style. His work is really cynical about humanity. It’s also really touching though and really ambiguous. You never know if he’s a misanthropist or not. He has a raw style that’s really beautiful.

Andreas Nilsson

Having made music videos I’m a big fan of his work. He has an amazing talent to combine his great sense of humour with something freaky. I was really inspired by some of his work when I started, like the videos he did for Fever Ray.

I like how he’s able to do films with an intense environment, almost paranormal or fantastical and also make them funny. I love the music video for Peter, Bjorn and John for It Don’t Move Me about a father teaching a kid to dance like Michael Jackson. The ideas for his music videos are always really simple, but somehow he could fill a whole feature film about that kid and his dad. Being able to put that into three minutes is great.

He also does really funny ones like 2Chainz, Birthday Song. It links to those early 2000s rap videos, where everything is really clichéd. He’s taking that and he’s able to put a lot of humour into it. It’s a sequence shot. It’s riffing on the cliché of a hip-hop video from the beginning and you feel he and Kanye West are making fun of that whole thing.

Mud

I really like Jeff Nichols. Take Shelter and Shotgun stories are great movies.

Mud is probably not the film people would talk about as their best movie ever, but seeing that was the first time I realised the sort of feature film I’d like to make, it made a great impression on me. You can feel that every piece of the puzzle is there in the right place, every character, every piece of the story fits well.

It’s about a kid who is helping a fugitive that’s hiding on an Island in the Mississippi.

The Mississippi background is amazing and it’s about a community that is disappearing, people living in houses on the river.

That theme connects also to Beasts of the Southern Wild, which is an amazing first feature from Benh Zeitlin and also a story of a disappearing community in the bayou of Louisiana.

I guess those films have all the themes that I like. a social background treated with a bit of magic, often seen through the eyes of children who are trying to understand the adult world while at the same time becoming one.

A World of More Craft

September 28, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Editor Matt Felstead on why we should celebrate the artisans of our industry.

The British Arrows CRAFT awards nailed their colours to their mast when they started 20 years ago. They’re here to celebrate the craftsmen – the people whose finesse in their specific field manages to elevate a piece of work. And while there are plenty of award shows, the CRAFT awards’ diverse jury of experts in their field gives this one heaps of kudos.

With the last entry date looming, we spoke to one of last years’ winners and a true craftsman – editor Matt Felstead of Big Chop, who won Gold for his work on Sony, TKO.

The Beak Street Bugle: How did you become an editor?
Matt Felstead:
I started as a runner at an editing company and slowly worked my way up from there. I was lucky enough to have some brilliant editors to watch and learn from.

BSB: What do you most enjoy about your job?
MF:
Pretty much everything to be honest. I enjoy building the film from scratch, the nervousness and excitement of having lots of rushes that mean nothing individually, working through them and combining them to give them meaning and to tell a story that entertains. I get to do this in the company of brilliant, entertaining, interesting, creative people in a brilliant company with brilliant people in it. Best job in the world.

BSB: What were your first thoughts on how you would edit the TKO film?
MF:
I wanted it to have a linear story that took the viewer through the journey of a boxer preparing for and then having a fight but also had the added layers of being a music edit with action that matched the beats of the music rather than just cut to the beat of the music. I was lucky enough to have brilliant rushes from Greg Hackett (the Director) that enabled me to do that.

BSB: How did the footage shape the way you cut it?
MF:
Actually it was the music that shaped the way I cut the footage. As I said before the rushes were brilliant and I think it would always have been a beautiful looking film but when we found the music track it dictated what parts of the footage would be used and how.

The music track is just as important in a film as the film itself.

BSB: What does it mean to win a British Arrows Craft Award?
MF:
I think, for me, certainly nationally, the British Arrows is the one. It feels like it's more interested in recognising the craft and the individuals involved in making it than creating its own reputation. It’s certainly the one that seems to hold weight with people within the industry and put you up there in terms of reputation when you win it.

It was also confirmation that the decisions and ideas I have day to day are the right ones.

BSB: Why is it so important to have dedicated awards for craft?
MF:
I think it’s very important to have dedicated craft awards. A lot of individual talent goes into making the whole of a film and people put their life and soul into the work. You can have an exceptional soundtrack, edit, sound design, cinematography etc. in an unremarkable film and it’s important that the individual work is recognised within that and not lost in the whole.

Entries for the British Arrows CRAFT 2016 awards close on Friday 30th September at 18:00. Enter here

The One-Eyed Monster Grows

September 19, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

A catch-up with CICLOPE’s founder on where the festival is heading in its seventh year.

It’s hard to start something new in the crowded space of advertising festivals and award shows. The only way is to carve out a space between the gaps the others have left. That’s exactly what Francisco Condorelli has done over the past seven years.

Starting in his home city of Buenos Aires, Francisco started CICLOPE – an international festival of craft that celebrates and tries to understand the talent that goes into the best moving image.

On 3rd and 4th November the festival hits Berlin for its fourth year in its European incarnation. We caught up with its creator to find out what direction he’s taking it in.


The Beak Street Bugle: What is the main focus of CICLOPE this year?

Francisco Condorelli: I think there’s something really interesting going on, which is a crossover between music videos, brands and short films. CICLOPE lets the producers, directors, musicians and brands meet. As a festival we want to reflect that the boundaries are blurring a bit.

We have people coming from all those areas and we will have talks on that - the people who have made it talking about how they did it and why.

Then there’s what’s happening with the show as well – this convergence between advertising, film, music, etc. We’re inviting a lot more people from feature films and Hollywood. We have a couple of people like Mark Woollen, who you might not have heard of but he is actually one of the most talented directors in Hollywood. He makes trailers. His first trailer he made when he was 21 and it was for Schindler’s List. Fuck, man.

[He’s also done] Spotlight, Birdman, The Social Network, Batman v Superman, all these huge blockbusters. Trailers are about synthesis. I think that’s interesting for the advertising industry to hear about.

I’m curious about it. It might not be easy to sell to Stephen Spielberg what you’re going to do to his film. But what I’ve heard is there is a play between them and the studio, who is in the middle negotiating that with the director. I think it’s a huge job to come up with something that shows a little but not too much and doesn’t overpromise.

We have this guy called Sebastian Schipper [speaking at the festival], the German director who recently made Victoria – this one-take film. From an artistic point of view it was very interesting and he has an advertising background. He’s going to talk about how to keep the balance between commercial commitments and client commitments. And then there’s the APA presenting Jani Guest talking about Kidspiration [an online channel created for and powered by kids, created by the production company Independent].

Another speaker I’m excited about is Thomas Punch, who is the Global ECD of Vice Media. They own Pulse Films now, so it’s going to be a conversation between him and [Pulse CEO and co-founder] Thomas Benski about brands, content, why they made this partnership, which I think says a lot about what’s going on.

The TV and film industry don’t really respect the advertising industry, I feel. I think everyone deserves respect and I think they should because there are always opportunities for them there. Advertising is not just making shampoo commercials, especially today. The recent Spike Jonze work [for Kenzo] is an incredible example of that. I’m sure that he feels very proud of it as a filmmaker and that possibility is something that the advertising industry has given to him and is willing to give to a lot of other directors.

It’s a good moment for the film and TV industry to be more friendly with the advertising industry. Directors are directors. It doesn’t matter if they’re working on a TV commercial, or a TV series or a film. And you’re probably sick of hearing that, but it’s true.


BSB: What changes have you made to the awards?

FC: We have a different set up but we’re awarding the same kind of work – commercials, short films, music videos and now VR, that’s the new thing. It’s definitely happening so we definitely have to do it.

Most of the companies have experimented with VR lately. Some of them have done a lot of work, some just a few. But everyone does some VR now. I think the issue with VR is it’s difficult to see what other people are doing because you can’t see it online. You need to download an app and each experience has its own device etc.

I think it’s an interesting opportunity not only for people to showcase what they’re doing and expose their work to a qualified audience but also as a benchmark. It’s a way of understanding the quality of the work that’s being produced.  I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the VR category this year.


BSB: What other trends are you responding to in the festival?

FC: It’s going to be a special year for music videos as well. There’s something very interesting happening with music videos lately. Ringan Ledwidge’s video for Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers work from The Mill, Up&Up for Coldplay from Prettybird and Beyonce’s Formation video. Even the Spike Jonze Kenzo film. That is is basically a commercial or fashion film, but the music and choreography is so powerful that it looks like a music video.


BSB: Having started in Buenos Aires, you’ve been in Berlin for several years now. Why is it the right city for CICLOPE?

FC: I think people enjoy going to Berlin. It’s Germany, so it’s a very powerful market and economy. You’ve got all the car manufacturers for example. And it’s a cool city. The vibe is interesting. And it’s very cosmopolitan. Like the New York of Germany.

For people in London it’s a nice escape while still being close. Germany has a very interesting heritage and film-wise it’s a prestigious spot. Berlin is the most creative city in Germany. People go to Berlin just to show off. They make money in the south and they put offices in Berlin. You can’t avoid having a Berlin branch if you want to be cool.


BSB: What have been the biggest challenges each year?

FC: Every year you have a different challenge. Things that were difficult, like making people understand the importance of submitting their work and being involved, are now no longer an issue for us. People understand why they should invest money and time in festivals of craft like this. So the challenges now are about bringing better people every year. The better the people, the higher the bar is.

My job is to bring to the table the most interesting content possible, because people don’t have time. People don’t want to hear bullshit and people are paying me to do that, which means delivering the best content ever, creating a frame for people to meet people and helping people to see where everything is going to help the people who work in this industry to understand.  We need to find the people who are doing things differently.

I think we’re on the top of the global advertising industry. The next step for us is to be on the top of the bigger industry, which is TV and film. It’s more difficult because it has different standards. So I hope to get the attention of that somehow.

The One-Eyed Monster Grows

September 19, 2016 /

By Alex Reeves

A catch-up with CICLOPE’s founder on where the festival is heading in its seventh year.

It’s hard to start something new in the crowded space of advertising festivals and award shows. The only way is to carve out a space between the gaps the others have left. That’s exactly what Francisco Condorelli has done over the past seven years.

Starting in his home city of Buenos Aires, Francisco started CICLOPE – an international festival of craft that celebrates and tries to understand the talent that goes into the best moving image.

On 3rd and 4th November the festival hits Berlin for its fourth year in its European incarnation. We caught up with its creator to find out what direction he’s taking it in.


The Beak Street Bugle: What is the main focus of CICLOPE this year?

Francisco Condorelli: I think there’s something really interesting going on, which is a crossover between music videos, brands and short films. CICLOPE lets the producers, directors, musicians and brands meet. As a festival we want to reflect that the boundaries are blurring a bit.

We have people coming from all those areas and we will have talks on that - the people who have made it talking about how they did it and why.

Then there’s what’s happening with the show as well – this convergence between advertising, film, music, etc. We’re inviting a lot more people from feature films and Hollywood. We have a couple of people like Mark Woollen, who you might not have heard of but he is actually one of the most talented directors in Hollywood. He makes trailers. His first trailer he made when he was 21 and it was for Schindler’s List. Fuck, man.

[He’s also done] Spotlight, Birdman, The Social Network, Batman v Superman, all these huge blockbusters. Trailers are about synthesis. I think that’s interesting for the advertising industry to hear about.

I’m curious about it. It might not be easy to sell to Stephen Spielberg what you’re going to do to his film. But what I’ve heard is there is a play between them and the studio, who is in the middle negotiating that with the director. I think it’s a huge job to come up with something that shows a little but not too much and doesn’t overpromise.

We have this guy called Sebastian Schipper [speaking at the festival], the German director who recently made Victoria – this one-take film. From an artistic point of view it was very interesting and he has an advertising background. He’s going to talk about how to keep the balance between commercial commitments and client commitments. And then there’s the APA presenting Jani Guest talking about Kidspiration [an online channel created for and powered by kids, created by the production company Independent].

Another speaker I’m excited about is Thomas Punch, who is the Global ECD of Vice Media. They own Pulse Films now, so it’s going to be a conversation between him and [Pulse CEO and co-founder] Thomas Benski about brands, content, why they made this partnership, which I think says a lot about what’s going on.

The TV and film industry don’t really respect the advertising industry, I feel. I think everyone deserves respect and I think they should because there are always opportunities for them there. Advertising is not just making shampoo commercials, especially today. The recent Spike Jonze work [for Kenzo] is an incredible example of that. I’m sure that he feels very proud of it as a filmmaker and that possibility is something that the advertising industry has given to him and is willing to give to a lot of other directors.

It’s a good moment for the film and TV industry to be more friendly with the advertising industry. Directors are directors. It doesn’t matter if they’re working on a TV commercial, or a TV series or a film. And you’re probably sick of hearing that, but it’s true.


BSB: What changes have you made to the awards?

FC: We have a different set up but we’re awarding the same kind of work – commercials, short films, music videos and now VR, that’s the new thing. It’s definitely happening so we definitely have to do it.

Most of the companies have experimented with VR lately. Some of them have done a lot of work, some just a few. But everyone does some VR now. I think the issue with VR is it’s difficult to see what other people are doing because you can’t see it online. You need to download an app and each experience has its own device etc.

I think it’s an interesting opportunity not only for people to showcase what they’re doing and expose their work to a qualified audience but also as a benchmark. It’s a way of understanding the quality of the work that’s being produced.  I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the VR category this year.


BSB: What other trends are you responding to in the festival?
FC:
It’s going to be a special year for music videos as well. There’s something very interesting happening with music videos lately. Ringan Ledwidge’s video for Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers work from The Mill, Up&Up for Coldplay from Prettybird and Beyonce’s Formation video. Even the Spike Jonze Kenzo film. That is is basically a commercial or fashion film, but the music and choreography is so powerful that it looks like a music video.


BSB: Having started in Buenos Aires, you’ve been in Berlin for several years now. Why is it the right city for CICLOPE?

FC: I think people enjoy going to Berlin. It’s Germany, so it’s a very powerful market and economy. You’ve got all the car manufacturers for example. And it’s a cool city. The vibe is interesting. And it’s very cosmopolitan. Like the New York of Germany.

For people in London it’s a nice escape while still being close. Germany has a very interesting heritage and film-wise it’s a prestigious spot. Berlin is the most creative city in Germany. People go to Berlin just to show off. They make money in the south and they put offices in Berlin. You can’t avoid having a Berlin branch if you want to be cool.


BSB: What have been the biggest challenges each year?

FC: Every year you have a different challenge. Things that were difficult, like making people understand the importance of submitting their work and being involved, are now no longer an issue for us. People understand why they should invest money and time in festivals of craft like this. So the challenges now are about bringing better people every year. The better the people, the higher the bar is.

My job is to bring to the table the most interesting content possible, because people don’t have time. People don’t want to hear bullshit and people are paying me to do that, which means delivering the best content ever, creating a frame for people to meet people and helping people to see where everything is going to help the people who work in this industry to understand.  We need to find the people who are doing things differently.

I think we’re on the top of the global advertising industry. The next step for us is to be on the top of the bigger industry, which is TV and film. It’s more difficult because it has different standards. So I hope to get the attention of that somehow.

A Pint With… Anna Smith

September 9, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Geeking out over some craft ales with Iconoclast London’s EP / MD.

Finally venturing out of my familiar square mile of Soho, Anna Smith and I met at The Fox on Kingsland Road, craft beer specialists just a short hop and skip from where Iconoclast’s new offices will soon be. It’s a favourite of hers as she’s a bit of a hophead. We started with a couple of pints of Gamma Ray – a jazzy American pale ale from the Tottenham’s Beavertown brewery. It got the conversation trickling along nicely before we anxiously checked our emails and moved onto a pair of Duets, another pale ale by Bristolians Left Handed Giant, celebrating my southpaw identity.

…It’s essential to know the best local spots to eat and drink. We’re moving to new offices in Dalston soon, so that’s an excuse for me to visit every restaurant, coffee shop and pub on this stretch of Kingsland Road. You’ve got to know where’s good to take people for meetings.”

…I’ve wanted to work in production since I was five. One of my first memories is watching someone winning an Oscar and realising ‘I want to do that.’ I would love for my next feature to win an Academy Award. I have worked with some really inspiring people who have won academy awards including Steve McQueen so I take much of my inspiration from them!

…Having friends all over makes the world feel so small. I’ve been blessed with a life that meant I had to adapt at every turn. I grew up in Hong Kong and when I went to school in England I always went back for the holidays. Later I lived in Malaysia, the Bahamas, New York and I’ve been able to shoot just about everywhere else.”

…British advertising has always excited me. Growing up in Hong Kong and then coming to England, I would watch advertising with my siblings and be blown away. The depth of story, the visuals, the jingles… It changed our world. They were like mini films to us because we didn’t have anything like that on Hong Kong TV.”

…New York is magical. I lived in the Lower East Side in 2008. I was producing for Psyop. I worked hard and played hard for about six months. L.E.S. Artistes by Santigold was the soundtrack to my life. The city represented everything I’d missed about Hong Kong – the vibrancy, living on top of each other, the cosmopolitan attitude. I felt so at home.”

…Horror is my all-consuming passion. I think it’s better to express darkness through other people’s eyes than do it yourself! The fact that someone can dream up something so horrible makes you feel so much better about yourself.”

…It’s a gateway genre for filmmakers. It shows that you can do tension, drama, comedy. It’s a really expressive genre for talent in every department there is in filmmaking – from make up to art department, performance to stunts. You have to push yourself both narratively and on set for it to be considered believable, tangible and seamless.”

…I work with a lot of geeks and I like to celebrate that. You should be proud of your passions, no matter how weird they are. I admit to people I’ve been to X-Files conventions. That’s who I am. A lot of people might be worried about being cool, but I think it’s really important for people to express their inner passions. I am only who I am really because of my severe nerdy-ness!”

…Production needs to go green. We joined AdGreen a while ago and we’re trying to engage with it, but it’s difficult when crew are often resistant to even simple changes. Even emailing out a call sheet instead of printing it freaks people out.”

…Anna Smith is an extremely generic name, but now I’m married I have a much cooler one to use when I want to [Anna Smith Tenser]. My father-in-law was one of the first horror and exploitation producers in the UK back in the 60s & 70s. He produced a selection of British classics and some of my favourite horror films for directors including Roman Polanski, Michael Reeves, Burt Kennedy. So now whenever I do anything related to horror (or film in general) I have to make sure ‘Tenser’ is included in the credit to honour his legacy.”

…I’m never direct enough with people. Every now and then I wish I could slam my fist down and say something pissed me off. But nothing pisses me off. Even when stuff goes wrong I don’t blame people. I just want to solve it.”

…Sometimes it’s great not to talk about work. We all work in this industry because we love it and respect our peers. But I want to learn about people, have a nice conversation. Often you can know someone professionally, but never get to the real person underneath.”

Anna Smith is EP / MD at Iconoclast London.

Signed: Georgi Banks-Davies

September 8, 2016 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

A director since the age of five, Skunk’s newest recruit has had a lot of practice.

Georgi was born in the middle of England, to a Dad who made cars (the ‘bond’ car no less) and a Mum with a very Irish accent and love of getting your ‘whites white’.

When she was five she went to the cinema for the first time. She left declaring to her mother that she wanted to make movies.

A Super 8 camera, reluctant ‘actor’ sister, and some very random ideas later – the young Georgi was on her way to making realising the dream. (Home movies took on a whole new meaning!)

At 14 she started training under the mentorship of the very talented director Helen Miller. Spending every weekend in her London studios, with a 16mm wind-up camera and a Steinbeck – learning the true craft of filmmaking and story telling.

This invaluable training sent her on her way into Newport film school, where she graduated with her graduation film being chosen to represent the class at the Cardiff Film Festival.

Georgi’s career as a director started shortly after in the BBC creative department, creating promos. Her deep passion for directing short form showed, and shortly after she was approached CNN international and asked to join the creative team as lead director. Here she created short advertorial films, idents, sponsorship bumpers and commercials for the Network, and its clients, including South African Airways, InterContinental Hotels, Orange, Fortis and Shell.

This role saw Georgi travelling the world, creating captivating short films which shared the stories of remarkable people such as noble prize winning Muhammed Yunus, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Architect, Daniel Liebskind, politicians, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Gorbatov, and HERO Martin Scorsese (a career highlight).

It was here that Georgi learnt the art of telling people’s stories. Connecting with amazing tales, however big or small, on a personal and intimate level.
Georgi also continued her passion for filmmaking, making short films, one of which, ‘Theo’ was supported by CNN, and played out on the network, as well as at film festivals globally. She also began development on a feature project with esteemed writer Ariel Dorfman, and his son Joaquin.

Four years ago Georgi left CNN (with a fully stamped passport!) to continue to pursue her passion for advertising and filmmaking. She combined the two and successfully began a career as a commercials director. In a relatively short time she has shot campaigns for Coca Cola, Nike, O2, AT&T and Chivas Regal.

She is now repped for commercials by Skunk in the UK... and her sister (and now nephew) are still reluctant stars in her films.

Watch some of her work here: