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The Directors: Hans Emanuel

The Directors 274 Add to collection

Lee Films director on going the extra mile on scripts and the move from fashion and beauty to sports and cars

The Directors: Hans Emanuel

Having initially made a name for himself in fashion and beauty filmmaking, Hans’ style moved towards choreography, sports and cars. By effortlessly blending genres, he creates films that are at once memorable, dynamic and visually arresting.

Born in LA to a Mexican mother and German father, Hans grew up in a multilingual, multicultural household between Europe and North America. With a strong background in both design and editing, his filmmaking career began when his first short film was premiered at the Berlinale film Festival. A few years later while living in Paris, his first commercial film (featuring a tap-dancing horse) caught the attention of the advertising industry and won him a Bronze Cannes Lion, several gold Clios, and a prize at the Cristal Festival, kickstarting his ad career. 

Hans has gained a reputation for always going the extra mile to bring a script to life and so has won a number of repeat clients and loyal fans, including Audi, BMW, Kellogg’s and Sprite. 

After living across Europe in his 20s, Hans has finally settled on Barcelona as his permanent home.

What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

There are a lot of things that can get me excited about a script, but I guess the main one is a really great concept. This can be something simple that’s just done with two people in a room, or it can be a clever twist at the end, or just a really interesting and original approach to the visuals, but a good concept always stands out.

The chance to do something new, something I haven’t shot before, is always really exciting too. I’m lucky in that I’ve had a chance to evolve my work across a lot of different genres over my career so far – from beauty and fashion work, to dance and sports, and to cars and automotive – so trying out something new is always an exciting challenge. Right now though, I’m moving more into storytelling work and absolutely loving it. This is what gets me super excited and I’ve been lucky to have some amazing projects recently like Nissan that allowed me to do this narrative style more and more.

How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

I think it’s always super important to keep in mind this is a spot that a client wants to see through for a particular reason and in a particular way, and to respect this. They’re potentially entrusting you with this concept they’ve just spent months working on so you need to really understand what their goals and intentions for the campaign are first and Foremost.

My way of approaching the treatment, then, is to try to get into the heads of the people in the brand and agency and really understand what they want to say in this film, and then see how I can build on that and where I can really help bring it to life. I want them to be able to go through what I’ve given them in the document and really ‘see’ the film on the page and what my vision and take on it is. It’s about firing up people’s imaginations, showing your intentions, but also showing that you understand what they want to say.

If the script is for a brand that you’re not familiar with/don’t have a big affinity with or a market you’re new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do It?

Of course, it’s super important. This is why the call with the Agency and Client is such a crucial step, in my opinion, because it really grounds you in the project and lets you ask questions, clarify points, maybe feel out certain ideas and see if they’re good for their specific markets or if they wouldn’t fly. I work a lot internationally and so talking to people who know the markets and brands better than me is the best way I can approach something that’s totally new. Researching is important too, especially because it helps you develop your creative ideas for the project, but for something potentially sensitive like this you really need the human connection first and foremost.

For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Honestly, this is a hard question for me. I really love working with loads of different people, it’s such a collaborative creative process, and they’re all crucial in some way to how it ends up looking. From the Art Directors who help you shape it, to the Scouts who find these amazing locations and really open you to new possibilities, to the Producers who make it all come together, then all the way through Post Production where it comes together – all those relationships are important. I guess if I had to single anyone out though it would have to be the DOP or Editor as they really help craft the film with me at a conceptual and an artistic level that’s integral to what you end up seeing.

What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m really drawn to films that have loads of storytelling elements in them and this is what I’m really passionate about exploring. All films have a story of some kind, but what I’m really interested in is the narrative, the drama, bringing something a bit epic to life and taking the audience of a journey. The more story the better!

What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?

I’ve changed genres so many times I don’t think I’ve ever had to deal with the normal misconceptions directors encounter, like getting pigeon-holed in one style or genre. So I’m quite lucky there and have managed to keep things interesting and adaptive for almost all my career.

What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

The one that comes to mind first of all is my shoot for BMW in China. We were shooting in in the middle of the Gobi desert, where we’d set up a huge coloured tunnel that was super important for the film, when an enormous sand storm came and tore down the whole thing.

We had to quickly rotate our shooting schedule to film the later parts first while the tunnel was being rebuilt, then save anything we couldn’t physically fix in post. We also narrowly escaped getting stuck in another sand storm when our dune buggies wouldn’t work after night-fall, it was pretty close. Another one that comes to mind is getting held up by plain-clothed police in the jungle in Mexico who really looked like some local militia at first. I’m half Mexican so know the scene there pretty well, but even I got a bit scared! The main thing always though is to keep a cool head and approach whatever problem you face strategically, there’s always a solution if you know where to look.

How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

It can be a fine balance sometimes. One of the main issues you can face like this, I think, is that before a shoot the client and creatives sometimes have a clear idea of what they want, then you as the director join this project and also want to make it amazing, so everyone gets super invested in making this the best film it can possibly be. But the closer you get to the shoot you might run into problems like budget, schedule, things not working to plan basically, so then it’s your job as a director to try to be realistic and communicate clearly what the best options will be to the clients. They might want something product-centric, but you’re there to show them how to do this but also make it into a film that people will want to watch. It’s a juggling act – you want to be flexible and open minded, but also protect the idea without turning into some kind of douchebag director ;)

What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?

I’m definitely open to more diverse talent in the industry in general, both on the production and agency side. More diversity really helps new creative ideas to come out, after all. I’ve had a few instances where I’ve had to guide or teach people who are new on set and it’s pretty fun – it can be a bit tricky when you’re in a stressful shoot to teach someone or mentor them closely, but it’s always nice to see when you’ve had a positive impact on someone afterwards.

How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time? 

I definitely think the pandemic will be hugely impactful on the way we all work. It’s shown us that there are so many things we can do to a really high standard online without any difficulty. Doing PPMs, doing’s offline presentations to the client, even editing – these are all things I’ve had to do remotely during the pandemic and it hasn’t held us back once. I’ve even directed remotely and it’s been a huge success both times. I hope that this might change things moving forward, for instance that the client and agencies will rethink the need to have a director on ground for every stage of the way or flying us to a presentation.

Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you’re working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?

Vertical formats have definitely changed things. This is especially the case with anamorphic lenses, as you can imagine. There’s a fine line between maintaining cinematic style but also fitting in social media needs. It’s useful that we generally know beforehand which shots will be used for social media and which won’t as it gives us more freedom in certain scenes and frees us up a bit.

What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?

There are some sides of new technology that I love, for instance the new cameras and drones and the amazing scope of visuals you can get from them. Also the way you can shoot and generally operate remotely is amazing. My experience this year of shooting remotely from my home in Barcelona was incredible, it really shows you what new possibilities tech has opened us to. But I have to be honest, my style is less driven by new technology and more focussed on the creative and how to bring it to life, I haven’t found a need in my work for interactive storytelling or AI yet – but I’m definitely not ruling it out.

Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?

I would have to say Nissan to start with – this is one of the biggest storytelling jobs I’ve done and we shot it just in October last year. It’s a true story about a volcano photographer who waited his whole life for this one incredible shot, so it was such an amazing opportunity to be able to bring it to life on the screen with the man himself starring in the film.

I would also have to mention Jockey, as this really gave me a chance to go all-out on a dance project and put my best creative foot forward (sorry). We were working all over Los Angeles with these top dancers in some really cool locations, and the energy just flies out of the screen.

Also Seat; this was a project where so many of my cinematic passions came together plus the client was super open to making this look epic, and it all came together so well on screen. There’s this really powerful feeling of being immersed with the characters in this gritty visceral environment, and also like you can really feel everything they’re going through too.

Finally I’d mention Royal Enfield. I had to shoot this remotely between India and Barcelona, which seems crazy when you think that this was a road trip film, but it was actually really do-able thanks to new streaming technology and I’m really happy with the results. The shots and locations are gorgeous looking and you really get the sense that you’re having an adventure, that this is a special experience you won’t get any other way but by bike – which is the whole point.

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Lee Films, Tue, 02 Feb 2021 17:14:12 GMT