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The Directors: NYSU

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Common People Films director on the importance of first meetings, good connections and mixing the rough with the latest tech

The Directors: NYSU

NYSU grew up directing clips for a big bunch of international bands like New Order, Bastille, Archive, Wild Beast, Philip Selway (Radiohead’s Drummer solo project) o VCMG (Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore solo project) becoming one of the best music video director of his generation. His work has been selected and screened at Arts Biennials and Expositions (Thessalonica, Barcelona, Istanbul or Ancona) and Film Festivals (Sundance Londres, Camerimage, BUG London, Vimeo Staff Picks, Ciclope, Tribeca, Málaga Film Festival…)

NYSU has extensive experience shooting commercials for brands like Aquarius, Fanta, RedBull, Amazon (USA), Alaska Airlines (USA), Burger King, Ubisoft (France) or Heineken.

A big fan of new media and branded content, he recently directed a successful VR campaign for Beefeater awarded in Sitges Next and nominated at Tribeca Film Festival.

He’s also a teacher at EFTI, one of the most recognized Photography / Cinematography Academies in Spain.


Name: NYSU

Location: Spain

Repped by/in: Common People Films


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

NYSU> There are two kind of scripts I love. The one based in a distortion of space and time (loops, perspectives, VFX transitions…) with a little twist of a dark/surreal sense of humour and the commercials that don’t look like a commercial. It’s always great when you must recreate another format or genres (a movie, a tv show or a soap opera…) I can spend hours and hours researching how to look exactly like the original. 


LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

NYSU> It depends, if there is a clear and precise brief from the agency OR if they want to hear some fresh ideas from me. In the second case I start digging in my “old-but-good” ideas folder where I have a huge amount of camera tricks, light references, acting proposals or unique concepts that I’ve never seen in a commercial. I select the ones that are going to fit perfectly with the script’s tone.  

So my first treatment consists in a catalogue of options and possibilities to discuss with the creatives. I’m always proposing new angles or creative techniques to shoot the movie in a different way.  Sometimes they accept, sometimes not.  

But my method is to expand the concept first and distil the best ideas later.  When I’m building the storyline part I prefer to keep the creativity without any 'pinterested' influence but, once we have the 'formal' shape, I try to look for references that share the same vibe in terms of cinematography, make up, textures, colours…. 

My main problem with my treatments is that the kind of projects I use to shoot with a lot of transitions, VFX, perspective tricks… are hard to imagine and require a precise and clean explanation. For example, if every person in the room has a point of view about what 'Wes Anderson touch' means, the pre-production could turn into chaos, that’s why I like to use little 3D animatics or drawings for the presentation so everybody can be aligned in terms of timing, camera movements… 


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?

NYSU> For me, the first meeting with the agency is crucial. When they are explaining the brief to you it’s the perfect moment to throw them a pile of questions. The day of that call, I’ve tried to check previous commercials from the brand, analyse graphic lines, sound design, colour palettes… as much info as I can get from the client to set the script into a previous context.  So during the delivery of the brief I focus on collecting information about the client's expectations: red lines, things that worked in the last campaign and, most important, what they DON’T want.


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

NYSU> If you can feel in this first kick off meeting a good connection with the creative team, the project will be 50% easier. It’s crucial for the creatives and clients to understand why they picked you to direct the script and which are the skills they like from your reel. From my side I should be honest and reveal my weak points too. We need to know the good and the bad stuff to work as a team. If I have to select one department from the crew, the art director is the most important role during the production process. The timings are so tight and they are your hands, you need to have blind trust in them hoping they understand the concept and they will develop it 100% aligned with you.


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?

NYSU> I’m still a romantic music video director. I love to direct music videos despite the tiny budgets and the nightmarish production process. When I move to commercials I try to bring that enthusiasm and this kind of 'daring' to the project. So, the perfect situation for me results when the script hasn’t a rigid structure or an approved storyboard for instance, and permits you propose new/fresh visual approaches. My main references come from several places, cinema, photography, video art and, especially trashy tv shows from the 80s. I love to mix genres, formats, moods and squeeze the space and time as much as I can. It’s the way where I find the best ideas. When the frontiers between styles are mixed and blurred, the creativity emerges. 


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

NYSU> If you see my work, especially in music videos, you can think something weird is happening in my head. But the reality is that I’m very square, an organised person and the only 'creative substance' I take a lot is coffee.  So, you can leave your high budget in my hands because my way of working is extremely accurate even though the result looks messy and trippy!  


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

NYSU> During a never ending PPM, the client chose an amazing Brazilian guy as the Hero for the classic consumption shot. But in the middle of the shoot they received a call from the main boss where they changed radically the target of the product and the market so they asked me to do the Brazilian guy less…. Black?  Yes!  So, we put a lot of light on him and his brown perfect skin turns into a Simpson-yellow skin tone.  


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

NYSU> Well, I’m a very shy and introverted person. Very accurate and passionate for my work but I’m not the classic 'seller' director, the classic amazing cute guy that does the show for the client. I’m like a mad scientist in my lab. So the collaboration with my producer is very important because he/she translates my language into real language.  We can’t change the horse in the middle of crossing a river so it’s important, especially in projects with a lot of one-shot storyline, VFX, transitions. 

Every little change sometimes requires to re-work a lot of stuff, so we try to have everything clear in very long but complete documents. The main problem is when a 'new client' appears and you realise he/she didn’t read any documents… Sounds familiar right? hahahaha. That’s why I used to have good experiences working in the USA, France or UK where the client respects the treatment once they pick a director and let us work hand in hand with the agency, obviously not with total freedom, but trying to keep the main creative lines we decided in the pitch as the plan.


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?

NYSU> Every year I do some masterclass in a very interesting film school in Madrid called Efti. So, I’m constantly meeting young and promising people with all the energy and connections with what’s IN or OUT in the underground culture. I love to bring assistants on board because they learn from my experience and I learn a lot from their fresh point of view. 


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? 

NYSU> I worked a lot during the pandemic. Obviously with masks, restrictions… but i didn’t notice a big difference. Maybe the meetings with the clients are colder because you can’t create a personal connection with them. I always prefer to discuss in a room all together so you can show them stuff and talk face to face with the one who is going to take the main decisions. 


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)? 

NYSU> It’s surreal but we need to assume the time we live. I was shooting an entire split-screen commercial and they asked for a vertical version for big screens in buildings. I mean, a very narrow vertical format. You know, sometimes it’s impossible. It’s a real pain in the ass because you need to shoot all the projects in a little bit wider frame to be sure you are good with all the versions and you never get the precise framing. Obviously when your work is based on green screens, track points or 3D, you can’t shoot two versions, backups… Anybody cares about it because we’re shooting commercials but I really feel my work is 15% worse because I need to shoot for several formats and you can’t focus on the perfect shot. A shot should have several framings so the meaning will be different. At the end you are shooting in square format with useless information at both sides just in case. 


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

NYSU> If you check my reel, I love the mix between the rough, crafty art direction with support from the latest technology. I’m not a geek obsessed with using the latest gadgets because I prefer all in camera tricks but if the 'latest shit' fits perfectly into the project… why not? What I love the most is the possibilities of the invisible VFX, changing subtle details, expanding the sets, changing colours, and adding better textures… 


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

NYSU> KFC: It’s one of my favourite commercials because we found a great balance between all the Brand necessities in terms of communication and a very smart script with room for surreal comedy and experimentation. When all the departments are helping each other it simply works. I enjoyed so much recreating these micro sequences and building the sets one next to the other in the same warehouse. Passing from the old movies to a late night show panning the camera. Great client, great agency, great production company and…. Well, I did my best. 

Freedent: I love to work in the French market. They are very good writers and, at the same time, they give you a lot of room to propose visual solutions. This was a one day shooting project so I used all the tricks i learnt in the music video trenches to get a high quality look but being production wise. I love the art direction and the cast. It was a small project that suddenly turned into a movie to be proud of. 

Green Cola: It’s the kind of project I enjoy the most.  We only received the dialogue between the two characters as a script so we had total freedom for the visual approach. At this point, I was obsessed about squeezing the possibilities of a shot /reverse shot. Using the minimal expression of directing. So, this dialogue was a perfect occasion to get the comedy from the edit.  We selected an unique cast and applied this back and forth technique during the entire 20 seconds.  The client was lovely because he accepted all the crazy propositions and the campaign was a little success for a new brand in Spain.

New Order: They are my favourite band ever so, what can i say? They gave me total freedom and I tried to represent the eternal youth that their lyrics and tunes represent. Its a strange feeling when you have the honour of creating images for their songs. You’re being part of their history as a band. I know, I’m talking like a fan but that’s why I am a music video director, because you need to be a little bit masochistic and love music for equal.


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Common People Films, Tue, 09 Nov 2021 14:28:15 GMT