BWGTBLD is a twist on the German word ‘Bewegtbild’, which translates in English to ‘moving image’. It’s also the name of a Berlin-based production company that’s creating some pretty splendid moving images of its own.
The company was founded and is run by Jakob Preischl and Philipp Ramhofer, two friends that met on Facebook over a shared love of snowboarding. They’re filmmakers (Jakob a cinematographer, Philipp a director) and both cut their teeth shooting snowboarding films with mates. But shooting, colouring and producing these films left with them an urge to expand their creative horizons.
In late 2014, Jakob moved to Düsseldorf – where Philipp was living – and they began to experiment, not really knowing where the journey might take them. They became a limited company in 2016 and have been making waves since, starting out shooting lower-budget art films and music promos before landing their first big commercial jobs in 2017 for the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
At this point it’s probably worth noting their age. Jakob is 25 and Philipp is 27. Neither has ever had any advertising experience. They’re driven by a desire to create beautiful, memorable films and have a tight-knit roster of 10 directors (Philipp included) to make it happen. And, while they’re obviously looking to progress, they never want to become “just another factory”.
LBB’s Addison Capper sat down with the pair to find out more about their journey to this point and where they think it might lead to in the future.
LBB> You’re both relatively young - Jakob, you’re 25 and Philipp 27. Tell us about your experiences before setting up BWGTBLD. You were into snowboarding, right? And began making films like that?
JAKOB> Yup. Back in the day, I was shooting snowboard films with the homies and that’s where Philly and I got to know each other. We are the social media generation, so one day we became friends on Facebook and the other day he picked me up at my house and we went snowboarding for a week together.
I was shooting, editing, colouring, producing at a young age back then, kind of setting the base for what I’m doing now. It did not feel like work, it was just something that I was interested in and had fun doing.
The people I was with and the experiences we had together gave me a lot back then and I feel like the times that we spent on these trips shaped us into the human beings we are now and heavily influenced the way we try to run the company and how we want to be perceived by the people out there.
PHILIPP> We had 400€ for a one week trip. We were five guys in a small car with a hell of a lot of stuff. Generators, lights, snowboards and boots, renting one room for five people - sleeping on floors, couches and three guys in a bed. Days of energy drinks and cigarettes for breakfast, McDonald’s and Burger King for dinner. All these trips and experiences truly shaped us as humans and formed us into the people we are today with the same values. I would even say you can draw a lot of similarities to a production or running a company.
It doesn’t matter if you are five guys who have been up until 5am on a cold, -20°C Helsinki night trying to shoot tricks down a 40-stair handrail. There could be one guy who wants to land that one particular trick and he needs 140 tries. Everybody stays these three extra hours and helps him getting that shot. Everybody goes through it together.
LBB> What inspired you to launch your own company?
PHILIPP> I guess subconsciously we probably knew we wouldn’t fit into any existing frame, so we wanted to set a frame of our own, create our own little universe.
JAKOB> It took us some time to realise that what we were doing would lead up to an actual production company as it is now. At first it was just all about the fun, simply experimenting with different things, and needing something proper to identify ourselves with. With the people we met, the work we did and the experiences we gained, we grew into a proper company.
LBB> What are the ideals and ethos that you founded the company on?
JAKOB> We want to be a company with a face, not just with a name. We want to be perceived as humans, talents, with strengths and challenges to overcome, not as a faceless machine putting out countless indifferent content.
PHILIPP> It’s a tough ideal, in a world that continuously becomes more dominated by faceless or even somewhat non-physical companies and products. People (not just in the commercial industry) lose their grip, one job washes over the other. And even though we wouldn’t call it a bad thing to keep up with the increasing pace and always try to be first, doesn’t anyone wish for companies that are more than just another factory?
We try to - and we want to - convey that philosophy to both our directors and clients by taking a passionate approach where a vision comes first. These ideals and ethos have been growing constantly over the last three years, but I think the most basic and instinctive ideas have been and always will be:
we were and are just a bunch friends who like to create.
LBB> When did you initially launch?
JAKOB> Philipp started in his childhood room in early 2014. I moved to Düsseldorf later that year and then we kind of started the mission in early 2015.
We’ve been a limited company since January 2016 - that’s the real launch date for me. We didn’t really understand what we were doing before that.
PHILIPP> I agree, before 2016 we just worked with freelance producers because we had no idea how to calculate a commercial since we always did everything ourselves. We pretty much always had an idea where to go but sometimes not really the expertise you need. We filled that gap with Sebastian (Cordes), an experienced EP and our Managing Director, who joined us in early 2016.
LBB> Did you have any advertising experience?
JAKOB> Not at all.
PHILIPP> No, I remember being on my first agency call, talking about the script. After a while the agency producer started to talk about the ‘DI’ (director’s interpretation) and ‘recces’ and I had no idea what they were talking about. So I ended up Googling recce and DIs and stuff. We had no idea how an agency worked, why the fuck you need a director - because we were used to the DP handling everything - and what the agency was for?
LBB> Philipp, you’re a director, and Jakob you’re a DOP - do you often work together or separately?
JAKOB> We do both and have a good balance with that. I really enjoy working with other directors because there is a lot I can learn from their experience. Philipp and I started as a duo and grew into everything together. That’s why we have loads of fun and confidence shooting together. Furthermore, we don’t need to talk or explain a lot to each other because we know each other’s brains so well.
PHILIPP> Yeah, we also know the importance of working with different people. I also enjoy working with different DPs, which always challenges me because, as Jakob said, we know each other by heart. In the last three years we’ve probably spent more time together than I’ve had with my girlfriend and my family put together.
LBB> How is it for you as a director when an amazing script comes in? Do you look give it away or are you tempted to pitch for it yourself?
PHILIPP> It really and always depends on the board! Every time we get a board in we think about who would be the best fit for this job. I don’t sneak away the best boards and I am not the stopgap who does all the shitty boards that nobody else wants to do.
If I am the right guy for a script (or the agency specifically asks for me to pitch), I will pitch for it, if somebody else is, they will pitch for it. All of our directors have the same state of mind, but not the same style. They are very diverse in their cinematic and storytelling way, so it really comes down to the script.
Besides that, I also love running a company with my best friend. I made the decision for myself when we started the production company that I would always put my individual commercial directing career second and the production company first. Which doesn’t mean I am not excited to do a good script and pitch for nice projects - of course I am!
Philipp on set in Nevada for BMW
LBB> When looking at the German market, what makes BWGTBLD unique? What sets you out from the rest?
JAKOB> From the very beginning we didn’t want to be another ‘German’ production company. I don’t know if we are really that different, it’s hard to tell from our standpoint and subjective point of view.
PHILIPP> Generally thinking, regardless of whether you are a German, American or French production company, I would say that you can distinguish between production companies with a culture and an identity. There are great production companies out there with an amazing culture and soul. And then there are these big factories; these exist everywhere. And of course they also do proper work, having all the big guys and the 90s OG directors. But I think you have to distinguish between these two categories, and of course we see ourselves as one with an identity and a face.
We want to be seen as such, we want people to imagine something if they think about BWGTBLD.
JAKOB> So back to the question, what do you think makes us unique?
PHILIPP> Well, times are changing and it’s very important to be flexible and agile. If there is a project that requires lots of quick turns, snap decisions, even risks, you need to be able to handle it. I think we can cover that. I also think that every single project that leaves our hands should be special, no matter what. I never want BWGTBLD to become so big and slow that we stop caring about the stuff we put out.
JAKOB> Another thing is - and this sounds very cliché but it’s the truth - the script and the creative should always be more important than the budget. Of course you need a certain amount of budget for a certain kind of film, but in the end it’s all about the idea!
LBB> Tell us about the name - I know it’s a twist on the German word for ‘moving image’, but what inspired that decision?
JAKOB> Unfortunately not much. There was a time when it was cool to cut the vowels. And we were young. We thought about changing the name a couple of times because it is a pain in the ass. Obviously no one outside of Germany can pronounce it properly. For many it’s just B-W-G-T- something.
PHILIPP> We like to be that production company that everybody knows but nobody knows how to pronounce the name. Zeee Germans.
LBB> You’ve really made progress each year since you started the company, going from fashion films up to big-budget campaigns. Was this a journey you had in your mind from the beginning or was it more of an organic process?
JAKOB> Of course we always looked up to the big commercials and dreamed of doing them at some point. We moved to Berlin from Düsseldorf in late 2016 and faced a new environment where no one really knew us. That’s why we didn’t expect too much. In retrospect we had an amazing year, met a bunch of outstanding people and were lucky enough to be trusted to work on some great projects. Nevertheless, I would call it an organic progress. We wanted to get to where we are now and worked very hard for it.
PHILIPP> Of course you want to progress every year and this year has been our most interesting so far. During 2016 we put a lot of effort into personal and passion projects in order to show our vision and our ability to create something with substance. But even back then we knew we were able to take on bigger projects on a commercial scale, any size or budget, but people sometimes think that you can only be the ‘cool kids’, making only nice passion projects.
The idea for 2017 was always to get some proper advertising work, to show our ability to produce major stuff and proving ourselves in the commercial world. Which we did, pitching against the directors and production companies we always looked up to (and still do), and getting awarded in the end.
LBB> What have been some of your most memorable experiences from that time?
PHILIPP> At the beginning of 2017 we did our little ‘Premiere Tour’ where we screened our three short films; ‘Raised by Krump’ (Dir. Maceo Frost), ‘Equal’ (Dir. myself) and a trailer for Kristof Brandl’s war short ‘God Forgives We Don’t’. We started in Berlin, and afterwards headed to London, New York and LA. We travelled with all the directors and DPs and it felt like a rock band on tour. In every city we met up with people/friends, having dinner before and beers after the screenings.
Raised By Krump
God Forgives We Don’t
At the LA premiere, I was sitting next to Maceo in one of the front rows and all the Krump Dancers from his film were in the audience with their friends and their entire families… As soon as the film started I looked over to Maceo and saw tears running down his face. He was completely touched and overwhelmed to see his piece and his soul on a big screen, surrounded by the people who starred in the film. Just thinking about that gives me goose bumps. Afterwards it became an unplanned Q&A with Maceo, where they thanked him for the film, hugged him, and told him that he was now part of the family and the community. It was so emotional and beautiful.
Being able to produce these films, to help my friends experience these moments (or even experiencing them together). These little big moments make it all worth it, these are the moments why we bust our asses every fucking single day.
Although I have to say, when we won our first big car job for Mercedes-Benz, with the agency antoni and our director Pantera, I was also very pumped.
LBB> What do you look for when signing new directors?
JAKOB> Philipp and I are both emotional people and can tell really fast if we connect with someone or not. Then we take the conversation from there. It’s not just about the director’s reel, it’s way more about the individual himself. We don’t sign with the director’s work, we sign with the director!
PHILIPP> We are not looking for anything in particular - there is no strategy or checklist. All of our directors are very individual, very different and yet they all share common traits we value. Usually we jump on a FaceTime or Skype call to just say hi, which gets followed by a meeting to see whether there is some chemistry between us. As Jakob said, and I said before, our directors are our everything. We don’t work with contracts, because I truly believe that if a director doesn’t feel in the right place he or she should move on, which is most beneficial for both sides.
At BWGTBLD, we believe in personality and honesty. With that you can talk about everything, and as easy as it sounds, this makes the difference. Not having 30+ directors on your roster lets you have a close relationship with every single one.
I’m trying not to sound arrogant on this one, but there are some really great and big directors out there which we would never take on our roster even if we could. It’s about state of mind, a state of mind of working with a deep motivation from within. The reason we all started this.
LBB> You recently signed Matthäus Bussmann, a director that’s been around for 20 years - that’s a big coup for a young production company. What do you think tempted him to join your roster?
JAKOB> There is a reason that Matthäus has been doing top notch work for that amount of time. He knows what he wants and he is always looking left and right. We’ve been following his work from our very beginning so it felt like a milestone to rep him. It is a very exciting relationship as we can both learn a lot from each other. We, the future generation of production companies, and him with 20 years of experience, just seemed like a really good fit.
PHILIPP> Concerning Matthäus and the link up, I want to take the opportunity to thank Esther from BiteManagement who introduced us and who’s a really inspiring woman.
LBB> Which recent projects are you particularly proud of and why?
JAKOB> Well I had loads of fun shooting some of the music videos for German rapper RIN last year. A bunch of friends on very rock ’n’ roll shoots. Reminded me of the old snowboarding days. You go out there and don’t know what you will get. Very refreshing in between the commercial work.
PHILIPP> As a director definitely the BMW spot I did with VCCP and DP Kate Arizmendi in the States. It had a pretty tight budget but we still managed to shoot it on Super16 and the whole job was really fun. Very intense but fun!
LBB> And one older project that you’re particularly proud of?
JAKOB> The music video for Charlotte Cardin’s ‘Like It Doesn’t Hurt’ by Kristof Brandl. The whole shoot in Quebec was terrific and it recently won best newcomer at the UK MVAs.
PHILIPP> I think it’s our commercial for Snipes and the NBA’s Dennis Schröder. On this shoot we met Kristof Brandl for the first time.
LBB> What are your plans and ambitions for the coming year?
JAKOB> I hope we get the chance to prove ourselves more often and get to do some good, creative work. Additionally we are working on some projects besides the commercial world, and there is also a big interest in producing longer formats. We just co-produced our first feature film in London last year - let’s see where the journey takes us.
PHILIPP> Producing some good and proper commercial work but also continuing to do music videos and shorts, as I think it has the same importance for our directors. I believe people will forget about commercials more quickly but music promos or shorts can be become timeless.
LBB> How do you see the state of the German advertising industry in 2018? Does it need to improve?
PHILIPP> I think Germany is in a really good state. Also, having not been in the industry for longer than two-three years, it feels wrong to judge the German market properly. But speaking for what we see and what is on our radar; I think there is a lot of stuff happening.
There is a reason why all-time classic spots are classic. Nike - Jogger, the Jonathan Glazer spots, Spike Jonze´s. All the Guinness spots. Even today you have these amazing Channel 5 commercials, the Daniel Wolfe Honda Civic one, or all the Old Spice ones to name a few.
JAKOB> Germany and Berlin will be a melting pot in the next couple of years. Let’s see what Brexit does to the industry. Germany in general is always a bit behind and conservative, sometimes it feels the same in advertising. So I feel a bit more courage to push for more innovative work would do no harm in the country of engineering.
LBB> Where do you see BWGTBLD in five years? Whats your ultimate vision?
JAKOB> Puhh, that’s a good one. Either we make it or we fuck up big time, all or nothing.
PHILIPP> We want to keep growing organically and aim to become something out of Berlin. Get the best work out of Europe and someday go overseas to be able to chase the best creative work worldwide.
But in the end it’s very simple. The overall goal is to keep on the journey with your best friends and all the people you meet along the way. Stay true to yourself and to your roots.
I also feel it doesn’t really matter what we call it, as long as it feels right, we will go with it.