“An ‘aircastle’ is a daydream or something that’s just a bit beyond your reach. In a way, a film starts as a daydream of sorts, and making it perfect is always going to elude you. As an old woodworker once said, ‘If you think you’ve mastered your calling, find something else to whittle.’ We like the idea that film is something that’s impossible to perfect.”
Will Beauchamp and Jamie Cussen – more commonly known as Aircastle – share almost everything. They share the same talent for directing. They share the same creative outlook. They even share the same phone plan.
“It is true!” they say. “We have the Rogers ShareEverything + 10GB plan. This is not an endorsement. If anyone knows of a better shared plan, drop us a line – we always destroy our data and argue over who went over. The plan’s name is pretty fitting though – we’ve also been known to share deodorant and underwear…”
Most recently, they shared the same sleepless nights as they came to terms with the scale of their latest project. Hailing from Canada, the directing duo was tasked with making the latest instalment of the Canadian Real Estate Association’s (CREA) “oooooooh” spots. Most dauntingly, they had to somehow create a humongous heavy metal festival as part of it.
Centred upon a couple who’ve purchased their new home without a realtor, only to move in and discover that their backyard backs onto Metalfest, the film is a testament to the pair’s ability to create genuinely funny commercials packed full of heart. Six years on from their commercial debut, it should come as no surprise that they nailed the brief – it’s something they’ve been doing together since they became Aircastle.
The pair got into directing at York University where they both undertook the film program, but until they met they’d taken very different paths. Growing up in Toronto, one of Jamie’s early jobs was selling ostrich meat at the Canadian National Exhibition and tending to them during his down time – and, I’m reliably informed, “ostriches are pretty mean”. Several time zones away in Edmonton, Will was a child magician who performed at children’s birthday parties.
Throughout their formative years, they’d both been making short films for fun. When it came to university, Jamie decided not to become an ostrich rancher and chase film dreams instead, while Will transferred out of a theatre program and moved to Toronto to go to film school.
Over the years they’ve shot individually (although not yet in the advertising world) and I’m told that Jamie’s beard has grown and shrunk in length over the years, while Will remains strikingly consistent with his facial hair. But with their relationship having already lasted longer than most marriages, I’m curious as to how they’ve grown – and what’s keeping them together.
“What has evolved and what we’re really proud of is our own internal creative process,” they explain. “When people think of two directors, they maybe picture some kind of creative battle. For us, it really comes down to constantly being each other’s senate, killing any ideas that don’t feel right and gut-checking each other through the process. It takes a lot of ‘growth’ and ’evolution’ to do this and stay close friends.”
Represented by Soft Citizen in Canada, the pair signed to Rattling Stick for UK and US representation last year in a decision fuelled by pastries. “They were just so sweet the way the offered each of us one,” they say. “Rattling Stick feels very similar to Soft Citizen, our Canadian home. In our eyes, a great production company is one that’s not only making great content, but is also comprised of smart, down-to-earth people who will challenge you, protect you and stand by you. A bit like a ragtag family. We feel the most comfortable in a culture with this vibe.”
They’ve clearly found the right families, thriving since their first foray into the commercial world with Catvertising, way back in 2011. Having dabbled in short narrative films and broadcast documentaries, Aircastle teamed up with local agency john st. to create a “serious documentary on an emerging cultural phenomenon”; the agency’s – and the world’s – first cat video division.
“Serendipitously the project came our way and we really liked the premise. Chris Murphy, a good friend of ours who is a commercial editor and collaborator, mentioned the project to us and had told john st. about us. We thought the idea was great, and the john st. gang trusted us to do it. We had a very clear creative approach on that one. It was a story that needed to be told honestly and with integrity. Then everybody who watched it laughed, so we pretended it was a comedy and have continued doing so to this day. Cat’s out of the bag.”
The rest, as they say, is history. The film has amassed almost 2.5 million views on YouTube so far and has been covered by press from across the world.
Since then – and whether intentional or not – the pair quickly carved out a distinctive comedic voice. As well as the recent CREA spot, they’ve directed properly funny films for brands including ScotiaLife Financial, Neutrogena and, my personal favourite, Café de Colombia. They’ve got a knack for making people laugh, that’s for certain, but was comedy a genre that always appealed to them?
“Comedy with heart is something we’re definitely attracted to. We’ve found that comedy is a really quick and effective way to pull a viewer in and get them to care about our characters. It’s such a powerful storytelling mechanism,” they say. “Ultimately, our strongest governing principal has always been to find and tell great stories. Finding a good piece of creative work, no matter the genre or format, is the most important thing to us.”
With their eyes on an exciting future, it’s clear that they’re still on the lookout for “kickass scripts” and the opportunities to work with, as they put it, “awesome, talented, hardworking wizards”. Aside from their commercial projects, they’re kept fervently busy by a grant-funded short film that’s been in development for a while – and they’re not stopping there, with hopes to get their hands (all four of them) on a feature one day.
“We’re searching for the right actor to play the lead in the short, but the requirements have made it an intense challenge. Our bots are scouring the earth as we speak. Of course, we would like to try our hands at a feature in the not-too-distant future. It really does come down to falling for a great story.”