After a chance meeting on a British Vogue shoot four years ago, Greg Smith and Javier Alejandro joined forces to shake up production and ‘cut the bullshit’, the result is NOIR, a non-conformist production company with a mission to make content creation more black and white
NOIR is a name this industry should be keeping an eye out for. They’ve just produced Converse’s new campaign ‘Create Next Film Project’ with John Boyega, produced Nike Korea’s YOU CAN’T STOP US campaign with South Korean athlete Shim Suk-hee, Cartier’s Panthère de Cartier project with Anabelle Wallis, and co-produced Diesel’s ‘Sound of the Brave’ campaign with Skepta earlier this year. They’re one of the next generation production companies who seem to have captured brands’ and their consumers’ attention. And guess what: they've only just officially launched.
LBB sits down with founders Greg Smith and Javier Alejandro to find out how they will use their all-encompassing black and white ethos to drive tangible change in the production industry and why this mantra is leading to some quite incredible projects and collaborations.
NOIR recently produced Converse's ‘Create Next’ film project with John Boyega
A Yin and Yang Partnership
Founders of NOIR, Greg Smith and Javier Alejandro met on a job they were producing together for a Taylor Swift Vogue cover shoot in 2017. Greg was working as a production manager for renowned photographers Mert and Marcus, and Javier as a freelance producer for the likes of Smuggler, Caviar, Art Partner, and The Mill.
“It was one of those special moments where you meet someone, and you just get each other,” Greg says. “We were spookily aligned and totally fed up with the bullshit of the production world we were both currently working in.” By the end of the same day, Greg ‘half-jokingly’ suggested they start their own thing, not expecting Javier to say yes.
Two weeks later, they officially started NOIR. The name, they tell us, is a reflection of the mission statement the pair devised on the very first day they met - that production should always be black and white.
“We recognised clients were searching for more transparency, as in some instances, too much cotton wool was being pulled over their eyes. It was important to us to just cut this bullshit out,” adds Greg. “We felt something needed to change: budgets have already been reduced, companies are spending less money and wanting the same amount of assets, and we felt in a few areas the industry wasn’t moving with the times.”
This idea would permeate their entire business model from the ideation process to transparent budgeting, casting, and servicing, how they work with directing talent and other creative companies, even through to on-set etiquette.
A shot from NOIR's producing and post-production work on Nike Korea’s You Can’t Stop Us campaign with Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo
Speaking to Greg and Javier it's also quite clear they have that wonderful yin and yang symbiosis that most great creative duos have. As head of production and EP, Greg explains he is very much on the business and operations side of NOIR, ensuring their clients experience seamless, clockwork-like productions from start to finish. Greg started the industry freelancing for various production companies before going in-house and spending three years as a production manager at Mert and Marcus, where he worked on global campaigns with the likes of Dsquared2, Givenchy, Lancôme, and Louis Vuitton.
Javier brings the creative flair and knack for commanding a set that others can take decades to earn as head of new business. Having cut his teeth initially as a runner, before working with labels as an artist liaiser and moving through the ranks as a directors assistant, PA, production manager, and producer, he was named Shots’ Best Producer at their 2019 UK Music Video Awards - and has worked with directors many dream of collaborating with, think: Jonas Lindstroem, Crowns & Owls, Los Pérez, Henry Schofield, and Mario Sorrenti.
Together their shared creative beliefs and interests pull them together in one quite wonderful shared vision for what production of the future can look like for brands, agencies, directors, influencers, and artistic talent.
It’s Checkmate on Traditional Production
But how does a company in its infancy start pulling in together some of the world’s most sought after brand clients with top directors and high profile talent in the first place? The answer, they tell us, is “flexibility and accessibility”. Purposefully unburdened by a traditional production company structure, these two producers have been working well beyond the realms of a typical production company and creating partnerships quite unlike what is usually done in this business.
It’s an unconventional rebellion against industry norms, and evidently, clients are lapping it up.
Accessibility and understanding of talent partnerships are very important to NOIR’s success so far. Due to their calm, transparent approach to production and 17 years working with some of the biggest names in fashion, art, music, and luxury, they have been able to pair up talent with brands that they wouldn’t usually be able to put together themselves. Their sleek aesthetic sees high-fashion editorial sit seamlessly alongside striking music videos, short films, and commercials.
A shot from Diesel’s ‘Sound of the Brave’ campaign with Skepta from earlier this year which saw NOIR act as co-producers
It’s clear the creative landscape is changing, and for NOIR the key to realising their black and white vision is in taking a collaborative approach. So far, it’s seen them often combine forces with other production companies in order to get the best output for the client.
A recent project has been hitting the headlines this month, for all the right reasons. In a brilliant instance of collaboration, NOIR has produced Converse’s new campaign for the iconic brand’s ‘Create Next’ film project with John Boyega, additionally helping agencies The Elephant Room and Ego Create choose and find the right directing talent and working on post-production with No.8. The project - photographed by Filmawi - aims to nurture a new generation of rising Black filmmakers in London with mentorship and funding, something NOIR itself carries in its ethos for everyone.
And look at their work on Nike Korea’s You Can’t Stop Us campaign: NOIR worked directly with Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo alongside frequent co-collaborators and directors Crowns & Owls. NOIR did all of the production and post-production on the project, which weaves us through the incredible poetic retelling of skater Shim Suk-hee’s story, sourcing the location in Seoul, and running the shoot.
A Domino Effect on Talent
Interestingly, NOIR has no roster and does not plan to build one. In fact, it seeks out and invests in directing talent that fits the creative on a project-by-project basis. What’s more, NOIR fuels itself on the enviable experience and tapped in nature of its founders.
“We find great new talent by keeping our ears so close to the ground,” Javier adds. “It’s not just about the current big boys and the big hitters anymore - it’s about what’s next, this way you also help develop loyalty with talent too.”
NOIR produced Alice Merton's Vertigo music video with director Anuk Rohde
One talent NOIR picked up on their radar is the German director Anuk Rohde; NOIR got on board to produce an Alice Merton music video with Anuk after she caught their attention with a Mad Max-esque treatment.
“As soon as we saw the creative we were like, ‘How can we get involved, how can we help with this?’” Greg says. “And she mentioned that she was having to make reductions on certain things like pyrotechnics and casting and style, and we said ‘Look, don’t cut that, we’ll help with it’ so Javier got on board to executive produce it.”
And ultimately they tell us it’s about spending the time finding talent in the first place, searching for the understated, and seeing potential in young people entering the industry. “It's always been the job of the production company to champion talent and show brands and agencies why they should be working with them. We can’t expect brands and agencies to be doing this job for us,” adds Greg.
A Kind of Magic 8 Ball Insight...
Every brand is clamouring to be fresh and current, to make work that consumers actively want to watch. With NOIR bringing together accessibility to and an understanding of talent, a tapped in understanding of the current zeitgeist, a future-forward production model, and the transparency brand managers have been calling out for in the last decade, it's easy to see why they have grown so quickly and organically before even launching.
They’re breaking artistic boundaries while encouraging a complete lack of ego on their sets, with a confidence that change is coming - and they’re the ones waving the flag. They’ve produced for key players in the industry - so, the question we’re asking now is: what’s next?
As the company officially steps its foot into the light in 2021, Greg says, “We’re very, very proud of what we have achieved” and he stresses they’d never ‘take that for granted.’ And in answer to what’s next for NOIR: “We think this is just the tip of the iceberg.”