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LA Unconfidential: Is the City of Angels Heaven for New Directors?

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For a director LA appears to have it all – big name brands, A-List talent and beautiful filming locations. So LBB’s Jason Caines spoke to four new L.A-based directors to uncover if all is really as it seems

LA Unconfidential: Is the City of Angels Heaven for New Directors?
Advertising in LA is fast-paced and directors there are constantly pushing themselves to redefine their output. The city is a hub for directorial talent. Everybody is busy and loads of innovative work is constantly being produced in the city. However, it can’t all be all laid on a plate, there must be difficulties being a director in a place with so many people seeking similar goals with a finite list of clients.

LBB’s Jason Caines wanted to find out more so he reached out to Sam Smith, from M ss ng p eces, Nora Kirkpatrack at Tool of North America and Russell Brownley and Will Mayer of B-Reel Films (BRF) to discover what the real experience of being a director in the City of Angels is actually like.


Sam Smith

What's your full name and what do you do at m ss ng p eces?
My name is Sam Smith and I’m a director at m ss ng p eces.

What's your favourite medium of film to work in and how did you get into it?
My favourite medium is VR. I got into it by working in VFX and also directing at the same time, so when VR hit it was a more technical medium that engaged both my directing and VFX background. It challenges my technical side and my creative side at the same time.

Is there a certain sector that you've honed your craft in?
In VR. I’m working on my 10th VR project right now. Within that, I’ve done everything from fully CG Unity-built projects to live action projects, documentaries to narrative.

Have you worked in advertising in other cities other than LA?
I’m from Texas so I got my start by working in post production in Dallas; I was working as an editor and also started learning VFX there. It was a great start before moving to LA.

What projects have you been involved with that have particularly resonated with you?
I would say the Facebook Spaces job which I did recently; it’s traditional film-making but about a social VR application. I think social VR is super interesting right now and I was happy to be a part of that.

Also the Expedia job I did was really beautiful and had great storytelling, so that’s another one that resonated with me.

What makes directing in LA unique?
Directing in LA isn’t that unique – there’s a reason so many of us are here and it’s because it’s a great place to be. Especially now that there’s a resurgence in production, it’s a very exciting time to be here as a director. One thing that does make it more unique is that you really have access to the history of film and you feel that all around you.

What is your favourite LA-based film and why?
Punch-Drunk Love. It’s set in the valley, and it shows a side of LA that’s a little more real compared to what people imagine. I prefer when LA based movies shoot the city in a way that makes you surprised that they were shot here. 

What does LA offer to directors that other cities don't?
Access to some of the best and most talented people in the industry. The crews here are second to none and you don’t always see that same level of experience in other cities. 

What's the hardest thing about being a director in LA?
I think being a director in LA is probably easier than other cities because you do have that unfettered access to crews and talent. LA is very densely populated with people who want to create stuff.

Any LA-based directors or films that inspire your work?
Paul Thomas Anderson, he’s one of my favourites. He’s focused on storytelling and interesting characters and all the things that I love. He’s one of the great filmmakers of our time right now.

Are there any emerging trends in LA film-making that you've adopted or stayed away from?
I don’t think it’s particularly an LA thing but I tend to shy away from super shallow depth of field unless it really helps tell the story. I think when everyone started getting DSLR camera’s there was a big surge in shallow depth of field because it wasn’t something that was easily achieved on an economical level before. So I'm kind of revolting against that surge. This thinking also goes hand in hand with VR where you can’t really have depth of field.

Plans for the future?
To continue to push storytelling in both VR and traditional media. Just focus on story, story, story.


Nora Kirkpatrick

What's your full name and what do you do at Tool of North America?

What's your favourite medium of film to work in and how did you get into it?
I'm a comedy person. For me, comedy is the quickest way to know if a scene is working and the emotion is coming through. Laughter can be your lightning rod. I've been working a lot in Virtual Reality lately which has been a great combination of theatre, sketch comedy and TV and film.

Is there a certain sector that you've honed your craft in? 
The biggest projects I've directed so far have both been in Virtual Reality. I'd say the main differences between TV and film directing and VR directing are 1. How you interact and consider "the viewer" 2. The number of camera angles 3. The fact that the scene has to play through all the way each time as you'll most likely have minimal cut points or no cut points, which makes it feel like theatre a lot of the time.


What projects have you been involved with that have particularly resonated with you?
I produced a short film that was written by juvenile inmates in prison a few years ago that was a particularly interesting process. I went into the prison with Gabe Cowan and workshopped the script and story with the inmates. Then Gabe and I went outside, cast and shot the film they wrote. I really loved that experience, getting to spend time with them, and watching them filter their experiences into dramatic moments and narratives. That was a wonderful experience.

What is your favourite LA based film and why?
I think the opening few scenes of The Three Amigos takes places on one of the lots in LA. I love that movie and I credit it to shaping a large part of my comedic sensibility as a child. 

What does LA offer to directors that other cities don't?
There are so many different types of locations within the 30 mile radius of LA, it's easy to sell this city as many others. I think that's a unique trait to this climate and highlights the diversity of this city.

Is the cost of making films in LA more comparative to other US based cities?
I think the tax credits may be less than let's say New Orleans, but in general the cost can often be less because of the availability of crew members who live here.

Plans for the future? 
I'm currently in pre-production for my first episode of a live-action choose your own adventure VR comedy for Hulu called, Door No. 1. This project is produced by Lee Eisenberg (The Office), Jarrad Paul (The Grinder), RYOT studios, and myself. I'm very excited about this project because you, the viewer, will be the lead character. In this episode you are returning to your 10-year high school reunion, and you will get to navigate yourself through the night at will. Each viewer will have a different experience which is a format I'm very excited about.


Lily Baldwin

What's your full name and what do you do at Tool of North America?
I am Lily Baldwin and I am a filmmaker and performer at Tool of North America

What's your favourite medium of film to work in and how did you get into it?
I was a professional dancer for ten years prior to making films — when I started making these raw stop-motion films of my self dancing when I was touring with David Byrne. Now I make what I like to call visceral experiences” with stylised dreamscapes — from short form to installation to VR — using dance and gestures as story tools.

Is there a certain sector that you've honed your craft in? 
I am a sucker for fashion. Clothes are the ultimate everyday performance” — particularly when hi-brow meets street glamour.  Nothing like a good contradiction to wake up the viewer and energise a brand. I suppose this also could be considered “Lifestyle”.

Have you worked in advertising in other cities other than LA?
I am new to advertising on all fronts and am curious to bring my perspectives into consumerism in the most romantic and expansive way!

What projects have you been involved with that have particularly resonated with you?
I recently premiered a VR project at Sundance called 'THROUGH YOU' that was a creative beast to execute and incredibly rewarding. Prior, I completed a mixed-genre thriller, “SWALLOWED”, that was a dream adaptation short film for an omnibus feature “COLLECTIVE:UNCONSCIOUS” (SXSW 2016).

What makes directing in LA unique?
The sprawl of locations — there is always ample space vs. for example NYC where I also create — The palm trees and faded signs are such a distinct/iconic textures reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Age, beckoning promise of fame — and at the same time saturated with lost dreams. Promise and disappointment all in one make LA a rich place to play. I love driving along Santa Monica Blvd — it contains the perfect diversity, from elegant to seedy and it’s like a creative playground in my head.

What is your favourite LA based film and why?
Mulholland Drive. I adore how Lynch’s unnerving surrealism slices into Hollywood’s grandeur with irony and empathy.

What does LA offer to directors that other cities don't?
Space. Lots of light gradients and sky. Lots of hungry people working in the industry. Ocean and mountains. Easy parking for loading up gear. In general LA is way more gritty and authentic than people give it credit for, you just need to know the right people and not be shy.

What's the hardest thing about being a director in LA?
There are so many of us! Saturation is good because you have to work harder at finding your voice. Sometimes I also feel the creative approach can be homogeneous - verging on “safe”.

Is the cost of making films in LA more comparative to other US based cities?
In general because of the huge amount of films/content being made, all rates are more competitive and therefore cheaper that say the east coast.

Plans for the future? 
Yes! I’m excited about these: “UNDERAGED”: A raw feature film staring the real lives of NYC teens. “JANE”, a scripted dance feature about Jane Fonda's unexpected aerobic revolution “GLASS INVINCIBLE YOU” is a high-velocity VR journey that puts you inside the experience of being stalked — taking you from a terrifying collapse into an ecstatic power — daring you to discover that at the crux of fear you can become your own superhero.


Russell Brownley

What's your full name and what do you do at B-Reel Films?
Russell Brownley. Director. B-Reel Films

What's your favourite medium of film to work in and how did you get into it?
I love shooting on whatever it takes to tell a story. Of course film is my first twice if available… But beyond that I really just want to use whatever medium works best to tell the story that I need to tell. I got into film-making through making surf films films and documentaries. From there I started working more in the commercial world right around the time the commercials started looking more more like documentaries and the kind of work I was putting out. 

Is there a certain sector that you've honed your craft in?
I think that I work in kind of a balance between lifestyle and sport. Again I love shooting around water and anything that has kind of a high action feel. I also love shooting abroad. Travelling is really what got me into film-making in the first place and I love to have that be a part of whatever story I tell.

I also do some water photography and cinematography as well. With that I love working on projects to take place in tropical locale's or anywhere around the water.

Have you worked in advertising in other cities other than LA?
I've been fortunate enough to shoot spots across the globe. I really love working with new  crews in new cities. To date I've shot in more than 50 cities. 

Los Angeles is the place with the best crews… But I just love meeting new people from new cultures and collaborating with them creatively wherever I go.

What projects have you been involved with that have particularly resonated with you?
I directed the surf film called De Passage A few years back. It was kind an ode to Jacques Cousteau and some of his documentaries. We shot across the planet with some amazing talents and we're basically giving free reign on creativity. I was fortunate enough to work with a great creative director on that one and I am super happy with what we came up with.
I've also been super happy with some short form documentaries with that I've gotten to work on abroad. Three years back I shot a short film in India about a birthing hospital that had brought the child mortality rate down more than 80%. We embedded ourselves with the hospital for nearly a month and got to experience a way of life that I never knew existed.

Regardless of what I work on I just love the process of film-making. I really love telling stories with the camera and working with crews of any size.

What makes directing in LA unique?
What makes Los Angeles speak to me is the is the access. You literally can get of hold of anything that you want to make your production what it needs to be. You have some of the best crews on earth with some of the most experienced people that you can work with at your fingertips.

What is your favourite LA based film and why?
In recent years I have to say Dope. Just gives such an unbiased look into Los Angeles and cut through so many of the stereotypes that the city has to live with. I grew up on the East Coast, so it's always seemed like a dream to me... like it didn't even exist. With Dope, I feel like it gives an honest look into a place at so many people fantasise about.

What does LA offer to directors that other cities don't?
Like I said above, you can really have anything you want in a matter of hours. It's just access. You have the best of the best at your finger tips.

What's the hardest thing about being a director in LA?
Disclaimer… Not sure if I can actually answer this as I kind of work out of town a lot. But if I had to say something to this, I would say it's imitating how much talent there is in Los Angeles. Some of the new work from Los Angeles best directors is just mind blowing. It really pushes you do the best work that you can.

Any LA Based directors or films that inspire your work?
I love the work that Josh Soskin does. He has such a unique perspective on Southern California and is also a great friend who has been there for me so much. It's tough at times to find directors that you can confide in and he has been just that for me.

Besides that... AG Rojas does amazing work. I have also loved Elliot Rausch's work for some time and how he applies his experience in the skateboarding and surfing world to the commercials he directs today.

Will Mayer is also a beast… A young, creative, hungry force to be reckoned with.

Are there any emerging trends in LA film-making that you've adopted/stray away from?
For me it's just capturing the city in a new and exciting way. Los Angeles has been shot millions of ways and I'm always looking for a new perspective on an old beauty of a city.

Is the cost of making films in LA more comparative to other US based cities?
It's more expensive, but you get what you pay for. Like I said before you're working with some of the best of the best when you choose to shoot in Los Angeles.

Plans for the future? 
Just grinding as always. Writing more shooting more and just trying to stay sharp as I can creatively. I also love travelling in capturing my travels with my family. We really stay home more than two weeks and we love life that way.


Will Mayer

What's your full name and what do you do at B-Reel Films?
Will Mayer & I’m a director here at B-Reel Films.


What's your favourite medium of film to work in and how did you get into it?
Live action and documentary by far. I started off shooting skate/surf films for Vans when I was about fourteen. I’d skip class or leave on weekends to a film on some skate tour. I ended up leaving high school early, driving my car cross country and helped Vans launch their original content arm. We began making short docs and episodic series which is where I really found my footing as a director. In that world authenticity was always key and always informed all our creative choices around it. 


Is there a certain sector that you've honed your craft in? 
I would say a docu-narrative film is where I feel most at home. Mixing the honesty of tone found in the documentary space with a compelling story or script. Sports are also a huge passion for me. Movement and just the right amount of chaos leads to my favourite environments.



Have you worked in advertising in other cities other than LA?
Absolutely, although I live here, I honestly prefer not to film here. There's a certain lack of honesty in many of the spaces. My ideal is to head out in search of environments with a bit more humanity and grit. LA seems to be a great home base to return to, but I’ll jump on the opportunity to shoot outside of it every chance I get. In the past year alone I've ended up on campaigns in Paris, Prague, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tokyo and countless other cities across the US. 

What projects have you been involved with that have particularly resonated with you?
Well I’m currently in the midst of production on my first feature length project, a documentary on Olympian Shaun White. It’s a project really close to my heart that’s brought me to some truly spectacular situations. 
Other than that, I recently wrapped up a little film I shot down in the Caribbean with a sailor named Tassio Azambuja. I went down completely solo and lived aboard his boat for a few weeks while shooting with him. Got stuck in some bad storms, had some close run ins with sharks while spear fishing, but ultimately came away with a beautiful little film. 

What makes directing in LA unique?
The smog adds for some nice natural diffusion… Other than that, I’d just say the immense access to great people.

What is your favourite LA based film and why?
I’d have to say Her by Spike Jonze (even though part of it was in Shanghai). Truly one of my favourite films, especially in the way they were able to capture the characteristics of Los Angeles and evolve it into the future.

What does LA offer to directors that other cities don't?
An abundance of a-list crew, collaborators, talent & tad bit of ego. There’s always a chance of meeting your next collaborator in a show or cafe. 

What's the hardest thing about being a director in LA?
Not getting sucked up in the hype about how busy everyone else is. It’s definitely a city that talks a lot. Also, driving to Venice from Silver Lake sucks. 

Any LA Based directors or films that inspire your work?
Eliot Rausch comes to mind first. If it wasn’t for my time shooting under him I can say confidently that I wouldn’t be doing this today. & countless other homies I owe lots to.

Are there any emerging trends in LA film-making that you've adopted/stray away from?
Oh man, I feel like whatever I say will come back to bite me. So to be honest I try to stay away from trends and not get too consumed with whatever is hot in the moment. 

Is the cost of making films in LA more comparative to other US based cities?
If you’re doing things legally, then it can definitely get more expensive. But if you’re willing to bend some rules and get dirty, you can get away with a lot for a little here. I’ve shot countless personal projects here for nothing other than buying some people dinner. I’ll still advocate for going off on location every chance we get, searching for spaces with life. There’s some good tax incentives now as well. 

Plans for the future?
The Shaun White doc is the highest priority. It’s a co-production between B-Reel Films & my company Among Other Things. That has my life pretty consumed for the remainder of 2017. Then hopefully once we wrap I can spend some more time in the ocean. Other than that, just trying to be a better human being, putting friends and relationships first. 
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Genres: People

LBB Editorial, Mon, 22 May 2017 15:07:23 GMT