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The Work That Made Me: Dan Emmerson


The Somesuch director on the experiences that shaped his shooting style, his fondness for teenage angst and the music video of his that he doesn’t want you to see

The Work That Made Me: Dan Emmerson
Dan Emmerson has built a surprisingly formidable reel in only three years of professionally directing. Production company Somesuch supported his talent from right at the start, helping to fund a film he wanted to make about a Welsh bike gang, and it seems like the investment’s more than paid off. His recently helmed work for ASOS, the English Football Association (FA), the UK National Health Service and Nike all drip with his unique knack for capturing real life and profiling communities with human warmth.

Get to know Dan a bit more as he talks us through the work that made him.

The ad/music video from my childhood that stays with me…

I like ads with a sense of humour. Pot Noodle and Tango ads were great when I was growing up. But for me, as a massive football fan, it has to be Jon Glazer’s Parklife spot for Nike that sticks out as my all-time favourite. It’s a simple idea that’s executed really well: get some of the best players in the Premiership and stick them in Sunday league teams as if they were just another one of the lads. He absolutely nailed that quintessentially British Sunday league world. From the moment the egg is cracked into a sizzling pan of oil to the old boy cheering on Eric Cantona, with his iconic popped collar, from the sidelines, the tone is set and you’re in the mix straight away. Shot on Hackney Marshes, right on my doorstep, and with perfectly cast cameos from the Premiership’s best characters AND soundtracked by Blur at the peak of their career, I’m not sure another ad could ever come close to this one for me. Still gives me goosebumps! 

The work that made me want to get into the industry…

When I was 25 I was working as photographer Ewen Spencer’s camera assistant. It was an amazing experience for me, working across commercial projects for the likes of Apple and Nike, as well as some of Ewen’s personal projects, which I enjoyed working on the most. 

We were making pictures for a project of his, a series of zines called ‘Guapamente’ about youth culture on the fringes of society in Athens, Naples, Marseille and Barcelona. I was hugely inspired by the way he worked. Seeing the way he spent time actually just talking to the people we’d meet on the streets and gaining people's trust before shooting with them, that approach really stuck with me and made me realise the importance of treating subjects with respect and not just turning up and sticking cameras in their faces. 

These trips also had a huge influence on making me want to create my own films. The first time Somesuch gave me two grand to make a film was when I came to them with an idea about a bike gang from Cardiff, who I’d found online and struck up a relationship with. Much like Ewen would do, I made contact with one of the key players in that scene and was upfront and honest about what I wanted to shoot. I was welcomed into their world with open arms and it never felt like I was intruding or using them for my own gain in anyway. It’s an approach to life as well as filmmaking which I’ll always carry with me. 

The creative work that I keep revisiting… 

La Vie De Jesus by Bruno Dumont, his debut feature. Daniel Wolfe [a fellow Somesuch director] put me onto this film around three years ago when I sent him an idea for a film I wanted to make which reminded him of it. I watched it in French for the first time because I was so desperate to see it and couldn’t find a copy with English subs! It didn’t matter. The film is so beautifully made that the dialogue almost wasn’t needed. Although I do speak and understand French pretty well, it was the depth of the cast’s performances, the cinematography and the feeling of teenage angst which Dumont captures so so well that makes this film so special to me. I think any art particularly resonates when you can really relate to it, in this instance I saw a lot of myself in the main character but also because my mum is from the Basque country and the locations really reminded me of her hometown Mondragon in the Pyrynees mountains, where I would spend my school summer holidays growing up. 


My first professional project… 

A music video for Skream’s track ‘You Know Right’ - It was the first music video I pitched on and I won it, so that felt cool at the time. I had seen videos of this guy from south London ‘shuffling’ with a tag around his ankle and I was intrigued about him as a person as much as I was drawn to the shapes he was cutting. I wanted to shoot intimate scenes of his day to day life, which dancing happened to be a big part of. Kes suffers from narcolepsy and he told me that if he doesn't constantly listen to upbeat music he just conks out for a while. So dancing is not only a way of expression, it literally keeps him on his feet. The edit became less about him and more focused on the shuffling world around him in the end, but I am still really proud of that one. It was also the first time I worked with DOP Deepa Keshvala, which proved to be the beginning of great friendship and working relationship. 

The piece of work that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like *that*… 

Another music video story. I won’t mention the artist’s name but the shoot was a disaster. We were shooting all exterior locations and it rained pretty much non stop, which meant squeezing in super quick takes and losing two entire set ups. The edit was slim pickings and to top it off the artist was being quite difficult about what shots of them we could use. Probably should have shot interior locations! 

The piece of work that still makes me jealous… 

There’s loads! When you’ve been wanting to try out a new particular shot or technique, but then someone else does it before you get a chance to, that can make me jealous, but it’s part of the game I suppose. The one that sticks out recently is the Coca Cola Where Everyone Plays Premiership ad, it had some brilliant moments in there and really captured each team's fan base, it was great and they totally nailed it, I wish I did that one! 


The creative project that changed my career… 

It’s hard to say which project changed my career as I’ve only been doing this professionally for three years, but I think that the last music video I made for The Specials track Vote For Me was the first time I experimented with a totally different style of filmmaking to my usual work. It was a bit of a gamble but a really fun process which has opened my eyes to new techniques, so in that sense it has changed the way I approach briefs in general. It’s also gone on to be nominated for awards and take home the Gold at Ciclope festival for best animation, so as much as it’s not about winning awards, it’s nice for that gamble to pay off and be recognised. 

The work that I’m proudest of… 

The work I’m proudest of is my ad for the NHS about men in nursing. It goes without saying that the NHS is an institution we should be proud of and most of us will put our lives in their hands at least once. So being able to work with real nurses and give something back, even as small as this, makes me very proud. The shoot was difficult for various reasons and didn’t leave us with much time to prep each scene before having to blast through it quickly, having to think on our feet and improvise . Even though it was intense, I’m proud of what we pulled off with such limited resources and even more proud that the client were so happy with their film.

I was involved in this and it makes me cringe… 

I made a series of fashion films years ago and now that I look back on them it makes my toes curl! I can't even blame it on the creative, they were rushed and badly executed! The main mistake was taking on too much on my own, basically trying to produce, shoot and edit everything and not having the time or help i needed to pull it off. I learned not to do it again pretty quickly after that experience!

The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…

I’ve been working on a long-form reality TV format for a well known brand which will be out later this year. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve learned a lot in the process. I’m really excited for it to come out. Annoyingly I can’t say much more about it at the moment!

I’ve also been working on a script for a short film which is what I spend most of my spare time on, so watch this space for that!
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Somesuch, Thu, 12 Mar 2020 14:03:03 GMT