Henri and Sebastian are directors and forever friends from 1stAveMachine. Meeting at school and spending their childhood together, the friends always had a love for all things creative.
The pair initially began working separately, Sebastian as a post-production supervisor and Henri as a graphic designer and art director within film and advertising. After forging their own paths, the duo decided to unite, becoming a directing duo who have worked for LEGO, Burger King, Oreo, Microsoft and more.
Their work so far has won them two Cannes Lions awards and ‘more statues like those ones’. They love the mix of live-action, animation and visual effects which they are known for.
Name: Henri & Sebastian
Repped by/in: 1stAveMachine
LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
Henri> We have a wide range of interests and passions. Sports, games, pop culture, fun and also environmentally friendly projects. We could subdivide it into two: projects that are more narrative and others that are more into the music video world with quick cuts and a fun montage.
Originality is key, we hate when people just want to copy another commercial. When the reference is too obvious…
Sebastian> Every script is unique. We really like when it’s not set in stone and we can contribute to developing it further. We are also used to working on projects where we would build our visual storytelling from a concept without a specific script. From remixing the old Gatorade’s Be Like Mike to crafting a crazy mix media series of vignettes with the “cube” as a leitmotiv for example.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Henri> First of all, we try to understand the client and agency needs. What are the most important things they need to communicate? Is there a special way they need to communicate with them? Who is the audience? If we make sure we convey those aspects in our treatment, getting creative and proposing ideas is way easier. We try to be as clear as possible and make sure the client can imagine the spot even if they haven’t done one before.
Sebastian> Kick-off calls are key. Listening carefully and asking lots of questions really gets us in sync with the agency, the client and the project. The visual references, the original art, mood videos, rip off edits, copy and even the presentation design are all carefully thought to share our vision on how we plan to take a brief into reality.
LBB> 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?
Henri> We usually watch previous commercials from the brand or the competitors to see where the market it’s at. Then we try to innovate as much as we can to create something new depending on how conservative the client is.
Sebastian> Research is always key. From the brand's previous commercials as well as understanding the latest campaign they’ve developed. Again, communication is key. Usually, the creative team that made the brief has been working with the brand for a while or even they are an internal agency from the company and in both cases have lots of insights they can share.
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Henri> Our executive producers and line producers are the ones that in the end make the extra effort to make our ads bigger or better. We love travelling with them and we have a few favourites for sure. Other relationships are also important… especially cinematographers and editors. We have a list of people that we are comfortable working with and are like friends for us. As we grow as human beings and professionals, we’ve learnt that relationships and good vibes during the whole process are more important than the final result.
Sebastian> Trust is essential in our line of work. When you trust your team members, you can be open and honest in your thoughts and actions. ‘Brothers in arms’ that we rely on to make the best possible commercial. Sometimes, people, you have already fought many “battles” with but sometimes also new people you meet on the way and make an extra effort to develop a close relationship in a short period of time. In both cases, it’s super important that they truly care about the project, their work and are willing to give it all.
LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
Henri> We are known for our mixed media skills. We find the commercial world, a place to experiment with new techniques, learn new things that you can later apply to more personal work. It’s more exciting when every project is different from the others. Having said that… over the years, we got more and more in love with live-action and we love to always try to have a bit in our spots.
Genre or subject-wise, we love sports, games, fun stuff as well as documentaries.
Sebastian> We are always growing and learning. Continuously looking for better and bigger possibilities. Trying not to repeat ourselves with projects that challenge and push us to innovate. Trying new things all the time helps us expand our horizons and pursue the never-ending perfecting of our craft.
LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
Henri> Maybe people saw us as animation directors at first because we had a lot of that on our early reels. But, we kept pushing, getting closer to live-action, doing things and convincing people that they were wrong and now we do only mixed media projects with at least a bit of live-action. It’s tough but with a bit of collaboration, mentorship from other directors, and effort, things come at the end.
Sebastian> Things look easier than they actually are. People outside the industry tend to think like this without knowing the effort, the planning, the teamwork and many other aspects involved in developing a 30’’ spot.
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Sebastian> Not crazy but a common problem we have faced a lot is having a diverse casting in all the different countries we’ve shot. In many countries, this is a really hard task to accomplish when travelling talent is not within production and costs possibilities. Usually, we’ve ended up adjusting scenes according to the available talent skills set. Solving this issue in the best creative possible way.
LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Henri> We try to be as collaborative as possible. In the end, it’s their product and their investment. Having said that, we push and push for what we believe it’s important and make the spot special. You can always tell when the director has no passion for the spot. And of course, we always try to be proud of the final result.
Sebastian> Being able to call bullshit is important. When we pitch the project we are truly convinced that what we are proposing is the best for the agency and the brand. Fighting to not deviate from the path is part of the job. The decisions we make have a certain logic and reasoning on our side. When we are asked to do something against this we try to understand why and find a solution that makes all parts happy. In the end, we really care and are passionate about our work.
LBB> 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?
Henri> The most amount of original views the better. It’s quite a diverse world, and we don’t see the point of limiting anything anywhere. We always try to help as much as we can, connecting people or giving advice when asked as we are always asking for advice from others. It’s a better world when we collaborate with each other instead of competing. Unfortunately, it’s not the way the world spins.
In 1stavemachine, there are a lot of mentoring and apprenticeships, we’ve worked with more experienced directors first, and now, sometimes, we work with more junior directors to help them grow their portfolio and opportunities.
Sebastian> Although I did go to film school, after all these years I believe that this is a profession that you learn on the job. Everybody has to start somewhere. We are grateful to all the seasoned people we had the opportunity to work with and learn from. The same goes the other way around, and we are happy that we can pass on knowledge to younger generations.
LBB> 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?
Henri> There was a time where we presented our treatments over a phone call. Thank god, now at least we get to see each other's faces.
Sebastian> The incremental amount of video conferences to conduct team meetings is something that came to stay. Probably on the clients’ side, they realize that they can oversee a shoot without the need to travel or incur accommodation expenses. Obviously, remote shooting has been perfected and lots of new apps and setups like HD video streaming, witness cameras and even a speaker that outputs your voice to the set are a few that have been implemented when it was needed. Personally, even though all this is possible, we do prefer to do it the classic way.
LBB> 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)?
Henri> It’s incredible how 9:16 has become a mandatory thing. Social media has a huge impact on our work and the way people consume videos. As film directors, it’s hard to embrace this aspect ratio, but we are always trying to find creative ways and solutions to make the spot look cool in every format. 9:16 is a thing and we can’t look the other way. Better ride the wave.
Sebastian> Seeing multiple formats windows in the monitor has become more common year after year. It depends a bit on the campaign and the main media buy for distribution. Although trying to make framings work for multiple formats at the same time in possible agreeing with the client beforehand which is the hero format is a must. Once defined you can explain what compromise implies for the other formats.
LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?
Henri> We love new technology, we are always trying to learn about it and build an opinion or a stand about each subject. We do a lot of CG so it’s really important to know what’s coming next, learn about every process, new render engines, software, hardware. There’s a lot of new things coming out, but we follow our instinct to figure out which ones are going to last longer, which ones we enjoy or will eventually become important. Even though we haven’t yet experimented with AI or machine learning, we feel these are such cool tools for the future that we’d love to work on a project incorporating those technologies.
Sebastian> Our work is always trying to bridge old and new techniques to create a mix that feels fresh and unique. VFX and CGI evolve faster and faster each year and keeping up to date with new technologies is key to avoid becoming obsolete against younger generations.
LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
LEGO - Cube
There’s a wide range of techniques, ideas and live-action. A super fun project that was especially fun to shoot and with a lot of kids that were great to be around.
Facebook - Pass the Board
A super fun project where we got to shoot in different countries. Some of them remotely and one in situ in Ghana. We also had to collaborate with other directors from other production companies, because it was part of a bigger campaign. But we love it because it has a lot of skateboarding. We ended up travelling and meeting a nice community of skaters in Africa and it ended up being quite a fun project.
Gatorade - Be Like Mike
It’s an oldie, but we love MJ. We love basketball and remixing a classic commercial was an honor for us. It’s full CG, but with lots of exciting cuts and fun anime references. Just the idea of MJ giving thumbs up to our spot made the day for us.
Oreo - Cookie People
This was the first of a series of commercials with mixed media that boosted our career as directors and we like it for that. Collaborating with Morgan Harary was also something that made us learn a lot and the sort of mentoring we were mentioning before.