Caviar director on why being told your work is bad is a good thing and why right now is the moment for documentaries
Cyprien Clement-Delmas lived all over France as a kid and even in West Africa for a short time. When his dad gifted him the family video camera he realised he could capture his ever-shifting environments and keep his memories of those places alive. A few years later his passion for documentation was restoked by his grandfather who gave him a photo camera and he became “obsessed” with cameras and photography.
Inspired by his innate gut feeling Cyprien left the traditional school path to do a photography internship at Magnum agency in Paris. His time there cemented his perspectives about being a creative and after he finished he pursued ways to hone his creative abilities, which led him to study film and photography at film school the ESCAC in Barcelona. His third-year student film impressed the school so much that they distributed it and that gesture made him realise his passion could become much more. As a result he committed to becoming a professional director/photographer.
Cyprien has been a roster director at production house Caviar for the last three years. He’s hosted several successful photo exhibitions and created short films and brand films for ASOS, i-D and more and he’s still at the start of his journey into the world of film and photography.
LBB’s Jason Caines sat down with the young director.
LBB> What were you like as a kid growing up in France?
Cyprien Clement-Delmas> I lived all across France during my childhood as my father's job meant we had to move every two or three years. I experienced very different atmospheres between Paris, Marseille, Brittany and the east of France, which became very useful growing up as I learned how to adapt to people and places.
I also lived in Senegal when I was 11. It was a great experience to discover western Africa at such an early age. It also gave me a new perspective on France when I came back. The more I travel the more I think France has a great balance in term of education, culture and health care.
LBB> How did you become interested in film and photography?
CCD> When I was nine years old, my father announced that we were moving to another city and then in the next sentence told me "...but I bought a VHS camera!" I found this comment very curious, but it was the beginning of my love story with cameras. Since then, I have always had a film camera in my hands. Starting off making short films with my brothers, then skateboard videos, then more serious work. I also taught myself editing at a very early age, so for that reason I also love the craft of editing.
I discovered photography a bit later. At the age of 17 I found an old camera of my grandfather’s and I asked his permission to use it. I couldn't explain why but I immediately started taking photographs all the time. I became obsessed with photography. I taught myself how to use iris, shutter speed, iso and from there, photography became the only thing I wanted to do. I dropped my studies and I did an internship at Magnum agency in Paris. I learned by studying the work of the masters and ended up studying a year of photography and then filmmaking at ESCAC in Barcelona.
LBB> What was that experience like, studying at ESCAC?
CCD> I was 21 years old and I wanted to study filmmaking but also live abroad and learn another language. A Catalan friend in Paris told me about this school. I investigated it and found the level of their films very high. I passed the exams (even though my Spanish was very basic!) and I joined the school, starting a four year adventure in Barcelona in one of the most exciting schools in Spain.
What is great about ESCAC is that it's all about practicing. We were shooting every week, two or three days, using 16mm, in 35mm and in digital. Filmmaking is a lot about experience and a shoot is a very particular type of choreography so the more experience you get the more accurate you become in your choices. We were doing our own projects but also helping other groups and more senior students. For the last two years I also studied cinematography, so I was practicing and learning even more technical and artistic skills. At the same time the school allowed me to direct short films. The school never put you in a box, which meant your choices were endless.
The Spanish teachers were very direct and frank and if your work was a piece of shit, they would tell you so! It's not like in France where a teacher would try to understand your artistic point of view. No, in Spain, if they think it's bad they'll tell you and as a student it's good to hear. It's harsh sometimes but it's good not to live in an egocentric bubble.
ESCAC is also a good network. I still work with many of the people I met there!
LBB> Your short film ‘Luciano’ won several awards. Tell us about how it came together?
CCD> We shot this during my third year of ESCAC. I co-directed it with my friend Dani De la Orden who has gone on to become a successful director in Spain. We shot it in 16mm and with a lot of passion.
It's a simple story of a kid that prepares a special birthday celebration for his father in jail.
It was just supposed to be an internal film for our studies, but the school felt that it stood out and ESCAC decided to distribute it. From there it went to festivals everywhere in the world and we realised that our work could resonate with different people around the world. It was fascinating. It was also a very good introduction to the distribution world and how film industry works.
LBB> You're drawn to socially engaged projects and documentaries. What are some of your favourite documentaries?
CCD> Yes, that's very important to me to do socially engaging projects. Nina Simone once said, “It is an artist's duty to reflect the times.” As filmmakers we have the ability, and the responsibility, to use our work to tell the people what's going on in the world and try to give some answers. All my personal projects are touching an important subject: My documentary ‘The Last Tape’ is about a young soldier in Ukraine we followed from when he was 15 years old to 18, to show how he became a soldier in a country at war. I'm prepping a new documentary on a former executioner in the US that became an anti-death penalty activist. I've worked also to defend the gipsy community in France.
I watch a lot of documentaries, more than fiction films. So, I would say my favourites from recent years are ‘Return to Homs’, ‘5 broken Cameras’, ‘Citizen 4’, ‘The Gatekeepers’, ‘The Act of Killing’... hard question, there are so many good films coming out! It's a great era for documentaries!
LBB> You've taught photography. What was that experience like?
CCD> I’ve been teaching photography for five years in a township in Johannesburg in South Africa. It has been an amazing experience. Together with magnum photographer Bieke Depoorter we've been teaching documentary photography to kids from 14 to 18 years old, that have never be able to use a camera. Thanks to photography they can document the life in the township. This township is a no-go zone, so there are very few images from the inside. The project immediately had great success in South Africa and we exhibited the work of our students in galleries, published several books and organised a photo festival in the township. Five years later, all the major photographers in South Africa are part of the project and the Magnum agency is sending their photographers to teach to our students. The first generation of students are doing extremely well: one is at the Magnum Foundation in New York, other one exhibit in Bamako photo festival and other one in a gallery in Iran.
It’s amazing to see how photography can inspire and empower a whole community. Our township had a bad reputation and step by step we are changing the way people see this place. The project is called ‘Of Soul and Joy’ run by Rubis Mécénat Foundation.
LBB> How did you get your start in advertising?
CCD> After a few years doing documentary and fiction, I wanted to make a step into advertising. I was convinced my experience in documentary portraying real-life situations could be useful. I wanted also to find a better balance financially. I was not earning enough money, so I wasn't free. Advertising gave me freedom. People might think the opposite but it's how it is!
I contacted several production companies in Paris I liked, and I was happy to see they were interested in my work, even though I had never done any commercial work. That’s when I met Caviar and felt they were the people for me and the place I wanted to go. They trusted me and support me. Caviar is my first and only production company!
LBB> What's a day to day like as a director at Caviar?
CCD> It’s been three years now since I joined Caviar and it’s been an amazing journey doing great projects over a diverse array of crafts, including commercials, branded content, music videos and short films.
I joined the Paris office first and step by step I’ve started working for the London and LA office.
It’s a good feeling to grow up with the same people around, so you can share and celebrate the path you've made together.
LBB> What are the main challenges of your role as a director?
CCD> You must fight for your projects. It's all about motivation and resistance to pressure.
In advertising, you must learn also how the business works: treatments, conference, calls, collaborating with creatives and agencies and working under pressure in a very short time.
I've learned how to work at a very fast pace: things that took me ages before, I can now do in few hours. The rhythm of work can be intense, but once you have got into the flow you surprise yourself on how much you can achieve in such a short amount of time.
BUT! You need to be surrounded by a great team. As a director, you can't work alone! So, you need a team that share your passion and motivation. As time passes you get to know the people you want to work with and I try to work with the same team on all my jobs. At the beginning it's a challenge to convince good people to work with you but with the time it's much easier. They trust you and you trust them!
I pick carefully the projects I work on and the direction of my career. I know I'm 300% more effective when a project really motivates me. You need to follow your gut feelings and pick the projects where you can bring your creativity.
Then, you need to work hard on it. Directing is made of constant ups and downs so you need to be strong mentally. I think the directors that succeed are the most motivated and the one's that never give up. You need to learn from your successes and from your fails. Never fear failure or you'll never succeed.
LBB> You shot the piece 'Paris Go Zones' for i-D magazine featuring vibrant Parisian youth. Please tell us more
CCD> Paris Go Zones was a great project. i-D asked me to direct the launch video for i-D France. In 2015, France had lived through a difficult moment because of the terrorist attacks. Some American TV commentators talked about "no go zones" in Paris, mostly the poorest areas of Paris so i-D wanted to answer to them showing that those areas were the most vibrant neighbourhood of our capital. We decided to focus on the energy of youth of those places. I wanted to show Paris in the opposite way of how it was showed normally: People say Paris is grey, let's bring some colours. People says Paris is a museum, let's show the vibrant side of the city. Let's show the diversity of the people living there. Paris is young, cool and full of energy.
I met the different groups we had in mind and found the most interesting characters and locations. Then, I got the music from amazing artist Surkin (aka Gener8ion) that inspired the structure of the video. I had a great DOP, Benoît Soler, that gave all his energy and talent to make this happen. We shot it in two days with a very small crew. Then, the editor Edouard Mailaender and I played with the edit. The project had been a huge success and people are still talking to me about this project. It had an impact because the youth in Paris needed to have a reference video that restored their pride and give a bit of hope in this dark period.
LBB> Are you working on any films right now that you'd like to mention?
CCD> I've just shot my biggest ad campaign to date for a huge global brand. I’m not allowed to talk about it yet, but it will be on air this summer. The project was amazing. I wish I could talk more about it, let’s talk again when it is out, ha!
LBB> What are you into outside of advertising?
CCD> I'm releasing my first documentary feature in November about this young kid that became a soldier in Ukraine. We met him when he was 15 playing with plastic guns and when the Ukraine was a peaceful country. Three years later, he was holding a Kalashnikov near the front line in a country in war.
As mentioned I’m also prepping my next documentary about the former executioner that became an activist against death penalty. He executed 62 persons before changing his mind. His life is incredible. I can't wait to start.
And I’m currently in London shooting the new music video for Thylacine. It's called "tanks ballet' and it's literally a choreography of tanks. It's a crazy idea that I had that is about to come to life. This will be a strong anti-military message sent through a very visual way.
I'm also working on my first photo book. It will be about a poor Afrikan community in Johannesburg. I met them three years ago and they keep fascinating me. I'll go to live with them this summer to finish the project. I like to work on long term projects.
LBB> Do you have any advice for younger, budding directors?
CCD> Be passionate, be yourself, be prepared to fight for your projects, be prepared to fail in order to succeed, be smart, be yourself for real, be passionate in order to share your passion, be prepared to fight for your projects, trust your talent, talent is not enough, be ready to work hard, enjoy, don't forget it's teamwork, so be humble, be prepared to fail again, work hard because nobody will do the job for you.
I wouldn't recommend to anyone to do this job because I think that's a very personal journey.
It's not like recommending a movie or a music band, it's a life decision that you can only take yourself. It's a mental job.
If you want to become a director, you'll need to create the opportunity for it.
You'll only be a director when people see you as a director.