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The Directors: The Hudson Dusters

The Directors 180 Add to collection

Greenpoint Pictures directors on searching for realism in their scripts and why a good producer is key to a successful job

The Directors: The Hudson Dusters

The Hudson Dusters were an Old New York street gang who ran the west side of the city from the Five Points to Hell’s Kitchen. Formed in the late 1890’s on Bethune street, the founders used their uncanny ability to commit crime to build the gang from a few members to over 200 deep. By 1910 they controlled the waterfront.

Since their first days directing AND1 Basketball Mixtapes on the streets and courts of New York and Brooklyn, Michael Kuhn and Niles Roth have channeled the rule breaking energy of their namesakes. The latter day Hudson Dusters pride themselves on an “at all cost” approach to success. They cut their teeth on DIY production, often outworking their competition in the process. From early on they committed themselves to always delivering a refined and effective final product.

They believe that blood, sweat and tears are often shed to make the best work, and they have carried that early passion into their work today. Striving to create hyper stylized work that grabs the attention of the viewer with raw beauty, authenticity and originality. Michael and Niles are The Hudson Dusters of today.


Name: The Hudson Dusters (Michael Kuhn & Niles Roth)

Location: East Coast

Repped by/in: Greenpoint Pictures

Awards:

2020 Clio Sports Awards - Bronze - Film - The Hudson Dusters - Project Play - Don't Retire Kid

2020 One Show - Bronze - Interactive & Online: Native Ads - The Hudson Dusters - Project Play - Don't Retire Kid

2020 One Show - Bronze - Direct Marketing - Targeted Online Video - The Hudson Dusters - Project Play - Don't Retire Kid

2020 NYF Advertising Awards - Finalist - Sports: Best Use - Social Good: Brand or Charity - The Hudson Dusters - Project Play - Don't Retire Kid

2019 Davey Awards - Silver - Commercials - Public Service & Activism - The Hudson Dusters- Project Play - Don't Retire Kid

2019 Davey Awards - Silver - Commercials - Sports / Sporting Goods - The Hudson Dusters - ESPN College Football - Who's In

2018 Davey Awards - Silver - The Hudson Dusters - Meals on Wheels - America, Let's Do Lunch

2017 Clio Awards, Sports - Shortlist - The Hudson Dusters - CALIA - What Sports Taught Me

2017 FCS Portfolio Awards - Gold in Web Video - The Hudson Dusters - TD Ameritrade - #LikeYou Rio Olympics Campaign

2016 Addy Awards - Gold - The Hudson Dusters - Microsoft - The Collective Project



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

N> Something that has heart. Since we come from the documentary world, we're always looking for some kind of realism, regardless of the type of spot. If we can tune into something that's real, especially a real person's experience and make something that is full of emotion, that is what we are most attracted to.  Ideally you want to find a unique story or character. 

Scripts that allow for travel are always nice. That's been interesting this last year, because we were used to travelling several times a month all over the world, and we've only shot in New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh. It's been kind of amazing exploring our own city so much, though. 

M> I moved to New York because of film. Niles has been here his whole life, but I moved here right after college. I always wanted to be here because of the striking backdrops and here we are traveling everywhere else. So, it's been kind of nice to shoot in our own backyard.


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

M> For us, because we come from an indie mindset, we always question how far can we push it - what other scenes can we add to it? How can we color outside the lines? Our goal is always to give them more, and be strong collaborators. It’s hard for young directors in the beginning - and we were like this too - to realise that you're just one part of the process. It’s important to remember that the people that have written this deck have been working on it with the client for quite some time. You're just putting your thumbprint on something and hoping to make it better for it. 

N> A big part of it is to recognise that the initial ideas that come into your head are usually there because of an amalgamation of all the stuff that you’ve ever seen - and a lot of them are clichés. So you have to strip that away and toss it in the trash and come at it from a different angle. That goes for all aspects of filmmaking. A lot of times there's not that much time to turn around a treatment, so we have to come up with what else we can add to it quickly. And if we go too far, we pull back, but you also want to be sure to go far enough. If you're not adding to the ideas that you're given, then you're not really doing your job as a director. We've definitely lost jobs because we've added too many ideas, but we'd rather go out like that than simply regurgitate the boards back to them. It just doesn't seem like there's a point to that. 

People tend to respond more to visuals than to writing. So you have to be able to put together a treatment that conveys what you are thinking visually. When you read it you should be able to see the film coming together. It shouldn't be too technical or too wordy. 

M> We’re always asking: how can you surprise them? How can you come up with something different, how can you stand out from the other bidders? If you make a great treatment it becomes the blueprint. Then, if you win the job, it’s all right there on paper and you just have to shoot it.


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?

M> We're doing a disservice if we're not not understanding the brand that we're pitching. You have to understand their history and what they've been doing up to that point - the content they've been making and their message. When you look at the kind of work they've done in the past, you have a better understanding of how far you can push things creatively. So, yes, we definitely do. We will do some research, but it boils down to the ideas that we're bringing to the table. That's still the most important part - matching your ideas to what they're trying to communicate.

 

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

N> Because there's two of us, we function like an agency copywriter and art director together. Michael and I have been doing this for a long time, so we’re able to trust each other and bounce ideas off of each other. So, we’ve been our strongest relationship.

That said, I’m probably closest with the DP, because of figuring out the look of a spot  and pushing it. I came up in the camera department, so I usually spend a lot of time with the DP.

M> I think that for me, you have to have an amazing producer. They are doing so much behind the scenes and the best producer is someone that you don't even realize everything they're doing. You just don't hear about anything that's going wrong because they're shielding us from distractions. A good producer can talk to you creatively about the job, while juggling everything else. I don't even know how they do it. A good producer is key to a successful job.


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?

N> We love sports, but we got into sports work through the athlete’s stories. So, really it’s about finding a person and telling their story, whether it’s a pro athlete or a complete unknown. It's fascinating to see people from all walks of life, like Jaliyah who we found when casting a State Farm ad and went on to make a short film about because of her amazing presence and story. We love emotional storytelling most of all. If you can get a commercial to a point where it moves somebody, that's pretty impressive. If we're filming a celebrity, we want to make them feel relatable. If you're filming a person that is not known, or a child, we want to make them feel heroic. 

 

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

M> A common misconception is that we are documentary filmmakers, because we ride the line between real stories, but we’re still very visual. People like to put directors into categories so it’s easier to sell them. It may simplify it so that people can understand their work, but in our case, we've done a lot of different work. We’re known for the short documentaries we were doing on sports people. That's how we ended up getting the Carmelo Anthony documentary. He wanted to make a documentary about his life, so they came to us to do that. In truth, we would love to do any style and over the years we've proven that we can. We're visual storytellers and we’d love to be able to show people how far we can push something visually. We want to expand and sharpen our tools.


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

M> We've done some jobs that we’re really proud of that have been shelved. That's just an unfortunate thing that happens in our business. Someone higher up sees it and feels like it's not the right direction to go in and even though they spent a million dollars on it, they shelve it. So it’s painful when that happens. 

Sometimes brands think they want to be brave and you'll do the project for them and they'll get cold feet about it. When, in actuality, if they put it out they would probably be winning awards for that work. But we understand it's a weird world. We don't really blame brands for being scared, it just seems like you should be leaning into the things that are making you scared. That's what we learn as filmmakers, right?

N> There are always problems. One of the biggest parts of our job is navigating the hurdles and problems. It’s all about how you handle it. The best directors never let anyone see them sweat. There are battles you obviously want to fight, because you want to put your stamp on it and make something as great as you possibly can. You want to try to preserve the art behind the piece, so you have to be able to sell your ideas. 

 

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

N> One of the most important parts about being a director is being collaborative. That starts on the very first call. You're already trying to feel out how they're going to react about you adding some ideas. It's a nice way to take the temperature and check in, and then as you get into it you can start to tell where they're going to push back and where they're not going to let you do certain things. Sometimes it's just about mood and tone. Whatever is best for the spot in the end is what we want and we don't have an ego about that.

We love working with these amazing agencies and these creatives that are really talented writers and art directors, and they have made our work better. Being open to that is a big part of it. We hope the agencies would say that we’re always delivering a lot more than what was in the treatment. People that have worked with us like the amount of edits they get out of the work we do. Greenpoint has started to have the directors more involved in the edit on most commercials, which we really like.


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? 

N> It's a good question. A lot has already changed. What's crazy about the pandemic is that clients have been asking for things faster and cheaper than ever, which is an interesting response to it. What scares us about the future of this business is the financial aspect. People are realizing things can happen faster and cheaper, but they're not happening better. Health-wise, we're going to be a little more cautious from now on, no matter what happens. You have to be responsible. That is changing every part of the business, in a lot of interesting ways. It started with us doing Zooms, directing remotely, and that was weird enough. But also kind of fun. It was a fun challenge to try to do something differently. It's expensive to have to get people tested multiple times. It's expensive to have a Covid Compliance Officer there watching over you. That poor person has the worst job - going up to people being like, could you guys get a little further apart? We're all so used to being together and talking and having fun. That's kind of the point of it - to have fun. 

 

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)? 

N> You have to account for the platform you’re shooting for. Is it screening on television? Social? It should affect the way you approach it. We all know how many times it happens that a job is supposed to be a digital campaign and it ends up being a national campaign. So, if we’re shooting for 9:16, that is going to look terrible when it's projected onto a big screen. You might have to turn the camera on its side. You might have to use some wider lenses. You have to have the platform, the resolution, the visual quality, in mind. If it is for Instagram or Tik Tok, you’re going to approach it differently then if it’s meant to be cross-platform. Everybody has a gigantic TV now that has 4K resolution, so you want it to look good there. 


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)?

N> While I was working on the movie Ali with Michael Mann he wanted to shoot HD for a bunch of the scenes. I had never seen the way the sky was coming through on the HD lenses - it was blowing my mind. But I had originally thought it was a crazy idea. I really learned from him, he was a mentor to me because of the way he thinks about things. For a 70-something year old man to want to be a part of tech and to understand it so well was impressive.

People forget how young a medium film is. They underestimate how much further it's going to be pushed over the next couple of years and how much it's going to change. And that's something that as a filmmaker or an artist or anything, you should always want to do. You should always want to be part of that, and keep an eye out for it. How can you take all of the new stuff in and still make it relatable?

 

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

Thrown to the Wolves - This project spawned in the early days of the pandemic. We both were in our homes in NYC the entire time and felt we needed to tell a story that was based around what this city was going through. We wanted to tell a story of a front-line worker and shine the light on EMT’s as they seemed to be overlooked in the conversation. Meanwhile, they were the ones actually going into peoples homes and pulling them out. And the sounds of the ambulance around the city were literally the only sounds you’d hear on the street for several months, it was haunting. In the case of Renard “Storm” Hayes, his story is the experience of a helper tasked with fighting the pandemic, his life on the line every time he took on a patient. We knew we had to tell this story when he originally told us he realized that “essential was just another way of saying sacrificial.”

Dicks Sporting Goods - Mothers Day - This was part of a much larger campaign. We had multiple crews shooting in Pittsburgh during the height of the pandemic so it was extremely challenging, but it felt so good to be shooting, and actually getting on a plane and traveling for a job. The most amazing thing about this project, and also the scariest, was the fact that these are not actors, they are some of the top Dick’s executives and their families in the spot, and on top of that we have the cameras literally in their face. When we shoot these types of spots we plan well but leave some room for some magic, in this case it happened to lead to the storyline and backbone for the visuals. One of the executives gives their son a pep talk and encourages through their fears of playing soccer. Sometimes you know when you’ve struck gold and in this case we knew we had something special that was unscripted and needed to be explored in the edit. The spot was originally intended to be all POV but we wanted to blur the lines with some beautiful visuals which really brought the spot to life. 

ESPN - Who’s In - The culture of sports fans is incredible and there’s no crazier fan base than college football. Fandom is amazing thing to film, we’ve been shooting sports since day 1 but we’ve always been intrigued with the stories and culture of sports so this project in particular was a really fun one for us. Spots really can twist and turn up to the final moment, and this one was the perfect example of that. The spot had been finished with a VO but we kept tinkering with the cut beyond that and cut to the song, “You Put A Spell On Me” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, which told the story perfectly. It really brought everything together without having to rely on a script.  

The Future Is Fearless - We were in New Orleans shooting a sports commercial and happened to meet  Jaliyah Manuel in a crowd at a local YMCA. She was only 6 years old at the time but already looked like a basketball rock star. We spoke to her for a few minutes and she said “When you play with the boys they make you push yourself harder, but mostly I’m the one pushing them.” When she said this we knew immediately we needed to tell her story. Everything about this project was special and the backdrop of New Orleans is really one of the most cinematic places in the world. 

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Greenpoint Pictures, Thu, 12 Aug 2021 13:01:00 GMT