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Unplugged: A Heart to Heart with Directing Duo Henry / Ssong

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Station Films Henry / Ssong share insights on emerging from the pandemic, adventures from shooting all around the world and perspectives on the pivotal role of diversity and inclusion

Unplugged: A Heart to Heart with Directing Duo Henry / Ssong

Throughout their career, Henry / Ssong have been unwavering in crafting stories about the triumphs and challenges of everyday heroes. Their docu style and narrative aesthetic have shaped memorable commercials and content for brands including Google, Delta, Abu Dhabi Tourism, Ziploc, CVS, Elevit and Nescafé. Their work has gotten high marks from media tastemakers such as Adweek and Forbes and won awards at Cannes Lions, CLIO and Spikes Asia. The two first met in college at Rhode Island School of Design and remained creative partners and friends after moving to Brooklyn. Today their complementary voices draw from the cultural backdrops of Los Angeles, where Henry lives, and New York, where Ssong remains. In the Q&A below, Henry / Ssong share insights on emerging from the pandemic, adventures from shooting all around the world, perspectives on the pivotal role of diversity and inclusion, and much more. 


Q: Are there any positive trends you’ve seen emerging in production after the last year of restrictions in response to the pandemic?

Henry chen: Relationships are more important than ever. After working on the CVS Covid vaccine campaign and filming real people following Covid production protocol, I realized trust and communication are more important than ever.

Ssong yang: We’ve been starved of human-to-human contact during our lockdown, so our radar for genuine relationships and interactions are hyperactive.

 

Q:  Your commercials and branded content often share authentic stories and messages. What draws you to this style of work?

Ssong: I once heard Werner Herzog say in a short film, “Our civilization lacks adequate images. A civilization is doomed to die out if it does not develop adequate images.” I took this to heart and asked myself, ‘What can we do as filmmakers to create a more connected space through the medium?’

I was attracted to what gave life its multidimensionality. I found these emotions and visual context in authentic stories of what we so-call 'real people, real moments,' which to me can be found everywhere as long as there is someone on the other side of the lens that recognises this and films it. In this way, Life became Film.

Henry: For me it’s a reminder of my capacity to feel alive. Oftentimes we forget that we are part of a bigger picture. I love stories and ideas that expand on this notion, giving the viewer a moment to detach from the immediacy of existence and see the bigger picture. Often that comes through experiencing the experiences of others. This is why we love to tell underdog stories and highlight those who are underrepresented or forgotten in our society.

 

Q:  You’re globetrotters when you work. What’s your favourite place (or places) to shoot? Why?

Ssong: I loved filming in India because of the light, the colours, the culture, the vibrancy.

I have a special place in my heart for Taiwan because it’s like a second home to me, and is totally underrated as a filmmaking hub.

Surprisingly Dubai. They want to be relevant. They have the financial backing of a royal kingdom so they have all the state-of-the-art equipment and some of the best talent from around the globe working together. It was also the only time wild peacocks stormed the set, and we used prayer rugs on the dolly track.

Los Angeles because it’s the mecca of filmmaking in the 21st century. 

Kenya because the skies were the highest I’ve ever felt.

NYC more often since it’s local to me and we’ve got grit here that comes through in terrific ways on a film set. 

Henry: New York for its authenticity and grit. Los Angeles for the stable sun and vibrant locations. Shanghai for its chaos. Taiwan because it’s home.

 

Q:  What memorable commercials or campaigns have you seen recently?

Henry: I think some of the Facebook / Google ads that have been running recently are pretty great. Especially the Facebook Group 'DeafHoops' one. The humanity in these ads are a breath of fresh air during such a tough time.

Ssong: P&G 'Thank You Mom,' always comes through. It blurs the lines of documentary vs. a set-up, which I’m particularly drawn to from a technical standpoint.

 

Q:  Who or what is inspiring you currently?

Ssong: I’m unbelievably inspired by the 'Cosmos' series with Neil deGrasse Tyson at the moment. 

I’m fascinated by the world of science lately and BBC’s 'Our Planet Now' feels more important and urgent than ever.

I’m reading Henry Miller for the first time. He’s giving me a perspective on what it is like to be an American.

I know it’s an old series but 'Band of Brothers' is an absolute cinematic work of art created by true OG’s. 

Henry: I focus on being inspired by ideas / events / actions - most notably by those around me and the nature that surrounds me. The bigger picture inspires me. 

 

Q:  The last year has been unprecedented in many ways with the pandemic, as well as culturally. How have things affected you and your work?

Ssong: It gave me the time and space to be okay to do absolutely nothing. It realigned my attention to what mattered the most to me; that meant family, and friends, and having the time to appreciate the Time we have in the present.

Also during the pandemic, I took part in numerous protests in and around NYC for racial justice and equality. Through it I met organisers and helped put together anthem films for their cause. It drove my passion as a narrative documentary filmmaker in a profound way.

Henry: I felt like it was a year of being reactive and now I want to push forward, take initiative and create meaningful change.

 

Q:  Does Diversity and Inclusion factor into your crews? Explain.

Ssong: Yes. I have to admit, one of my favourite things about being a director is to be able to work with a diverse and inclusive crew.

Having a culturally diverse crew sets the tone for the type of workplace we want to create. It’s all about uplift.

Henry: Always. As a minority duo, we understand the struggles and want to be part of the solution.

 

Q:What kind of advertising do you want to be doing moving forward?

Ssong: I would be most excited about ads/commercials for forward thinking companies. Environmentally conscious companies. Companies that think long term and are in it long term. Advertising that educates both emotionally and intellectually.

Henry: I feel like the next step of our journey is to begin to branch out and infuse an even more cinematic / narrative style into our work. Working with real people has given us the ability to be flexible and find the story on the go  - now I feel like we want to move into something more controlled, polished and precise.

 

Q:  What should new clients know about working with Henry/Ssong?

Ssong: We are long-time creative partners for over a decade. Henry is excellent at creating beautiful and artful imagery. Ssong thrives in creating an atmosphere for situations to unfold. The two of us set the tone of the piece, and together with the client we create a story.

We can also communicate telepathically.

Henry: That we love to bring a positive energy into our collaboration. It’s about communication for us and bringing people into the fold.

 

Q:  Now that the pandemic is beginning to lift, who would you love to go out and see in concert? And at which venue?

Ssong: I wish I could go see Bo Burnham again! Although he’s more of a show than a concert.

I would be so happy to listen to NY Phil at Carnegie or at the Met Opera.

I’m a Joji fangirl so I would definitely go to that show if it ever happens. At Madison Square Garden? Or even better, at the BAM.

Henry: I would love to go see an NBA finals game. 

 

Q:  What creative projects are you working on outside of commercials?

Ssong: A peculiar short film based on the writings of Lazslo Krasznahorkai.

McKinsey edits including a documentary for Black Entrepreneurship Research. 

Educational Video content about Time and the Present.

Art project SIAH (Something is Always Happening) on the Nature of Change.

Henry: A feature documentary about the most controversial figure in Taiwanese history.

Developing two features and a TV series.

Music Video with JJ Lin and Steve Aoki.


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Station Film, Tue, 20 Jul 2021 15:26:16 GMT