Michel and Nico: A Whirlwind First Few Months as Commercials Directors
Photo, left to right: Nico and Michel
A little over four months ago a Gillette spot in support of the British Lions rugby team landed in our inboxes, and boy, was it a beauty. When we discovered the film was the first commercial work from a self-taught brotherly directing duo from Biarritz, France, we needed to know more - so we profiled Michel and Nico as part of our New Talent column. And it seems that we weren’t alone in being impressed with their work. Since then, the boys haven’t looked back. The profile on LBB led to Brothers and Sisters founder Andy Fowler getting in touch, which in tow led to a job for Sky Sports, and their most recent work, for Renault via Publicis London, tells the story of a 79-year-old rally driver getting behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car. It will not fail to make you smile. Eager to hear more about his and his brother’s journey and plans for the future, LBB’s Addison Capper sat down for another chat with Michel.
NB: All films within the interview are directors' cuts. Official versions are embedded at the bottom of the page.
LBB> It’s been quite a year for you so far! Tell us what you’ve been up to.
Michel> Yeah! It was just a year ago that we began contacting a few English production companies. We were already represented in France but we quickly realised that London would be a better playing ground for us to get properly started – its style and spirit meant that we wouldn’t be too conscious of our self-taught style. And we had to learn English! From producing our first little films we never imagined that being a director required so much time writing and discussing with people.
Anyway, we ended up speaking to James [Covill] from Believe Media. Instead of telling us to come to London, he said "stop your discussions, I’m coming to see you in Biarritz". That first sign was particularly positive, as you know from our previous interview. After that, everything was signed quickly for us to work with Grey and Gillette on the British Lions film. We had to learn and discover this universe while working. The best training possible.
We soon got the feeling that others were keen to play a role in these first chapters of our adventure. Soon after Gillette, Andy Fowler at Brothers and Sisters offered us the opportunity to work on a film for Sky Sports and the launch of the Gaelic football season. That was a great experience once again. There was more pressure because we had the positivity of the Gillette film to live up to. But everyone was delighted… agency, client and us!
By chance we met Dave Monk and Colin Hickson from Publicis. They offered us the chance to pitch on a film that (in our minds) couldn’t be done without us. It was the story of an 80-year-old rally driver that wanted to drive a Formula 1 car. For us it was the project that would really allow us to express ourselves. Passion is our key theme and something that we can always relate to. This turned out to be the dream project!
LBB> How have you found the experience of professionally directing regularly?
Michel> We often tell James that being a director is the best job in the world. Nothing we do feels forced. Nico and I really combine our own personal skills and loves – I like to write, speak and present our points of view, whereas Nico prefers to spend time looking for reference ideas and everything that can improve our productions. We were complementary to each other before, but we are even more so now. But with a good team – which we have in Believe – everything is easier than it was before.
We quickly realised that directing was only a small part of our job. The most important thing was elsewhere, in the meetings that we attended with James and Francesca [Woods] from Believe. That’s where we have really developed ourselves. Our real path was there – not through our films but with the perception that people make of us.
The process of making three films in just a few months has allowed us to really deepen our understanding of the process. I’m not speaking of any filmmaking mastery here; I don’t think we’ve mastered anything yet! But we understand the facts and we can anticipate things more easily.
LBB> What have you learned since your first ad for Gillette back in October?
Michel> We learned that we were made for it, for this universe. We are not experienced but we know what we want and we are ready to fight for our ideas. We know how to learn and, thanks to all the brilliant people we’ve met and are still meeting, we have the feeling that learning is endless. We have the experience of our adult lives and the enthusiasm of youth – it’s a very good combo.
LBB> How would you say your style and ways of working have evolved over that time?
Michel> We are even more complementary as a pair. We work as a duo because we trust each other, but we can easily separate and allow the whole team to benefit from the singular qualities of each other. We always work to our respective strengths and that helps us forget our lack of experience. Nico worked in architecture so he has mastered the idea of space, composition and light – it’s natural for him. Due to that, he often has a close relationship with our DOP or art director.
In my case, I can say that working in advertising is much the same as when I was a social worker for 10 years! You have to listen to others, deal with everyone's ideas, feelings and know how to convince people of your point of view and make them believe that your story is the one most appropriate for a project. I get to spend my time talking to creative directors and talent, which I like. And my grasp of English is progressing!
Our style is much like us: intuitive and natural. Directing is about management and dialogue, and our aim is to make sure that everyone wants to give the best for us. The best idea can come from anywhere, so we are never closed off, even if we know the tone that we’d like to use at the end. No one should be frustrated – we haven’t experienced any major concerns or conflicts yet so that’s easy to say, but we know that, with us, everything can always be managed simply.
LBB> What have been the most memorable moments from the past few months?
Michel> It’s been the simple moments. Everything we experience around producing these movies is important – the final shots, the end clap, the wrap. This may seem silly to people who are used to it but for us to celebrate the end of a shoot feels like NASA engineers reacting to the successful launch of a rocket. There’s a form of pride and relief.
When Rosemary was able to complete her Formula 1 drive, that was a huge relief for everyone involved. It was impossible for us to know if she’d be able to or not. When she succeeded it was a victory for all of us – for the agency to have imagined this project and for us to have believed in it. That moment was really special.
LBB> I love the new spot with Rosemary! It’s a bit more light-hearted and funny compared to the other spots - how did you find the experience of working with that tone?
Michel> Absolutely, but as I said above, what you see is not fun – it is nervousness and relief! And when you are relieved of something, everything seems joyful. But the spot is light-hearted and funny because Rosemary is like that. It was not comedy but documentary, as we didn’t want people to think it was fake. She is fun, she is badass – so the film is like her. Proof that we can manage that tone too.
LBB> How was Rosemary to work with?
Michel> She is the grandmother that we all dream to have, but beyond that – and I told her this during the interview – she is a real icon, not just for women but for all of us! She deserves to be under the spotlight, and I don’t think that’s a problem for her. She loves it.
Before starting in advertising, we planned to develop a documentary series about female champions. We directed and self-produced a pilot episode with three-times Thai boxing world champion Sandra Sevilla. We fought for three years, supported by several production companies, but no broadcast channel would allow us to realise the project. The feedback was often the same – ‘the idea is superb, your style and your writing is perfect for it, but stories of women in sport on TV is of no interest anyone…’ Publicis, Renault and Rosemary allowed us a rematch, and in the most beautiful way.
LBB> A lot of your work is still very rooted in sport - are there other avenues that you’d like to pursue in the future?
Michel> In the future? A big film for the 2018 football World Cup, no? Haha.
Seriously, I say all the time that we don’t want to be locked in a box, but for us sport is a subject that allows for fantastic stories because it is filled with passionate people. Sportspeople have to be passionate to get up everyday and practice, repeat tasks, and deal with failures, knockbacks and doubts. Sport is often a reflection of life, but in a harder and more violent way – amazing for advertising. And while sport is a subject that we understand, what we really excel in portraying is people's passion. The flame that lights Rosemary is the same as that of George North. And I think that this flame is something that we also have. It is what allowed us to believe that we could become directors from nothing, just passion.
So, to answer your question, yes sport is an amazing subject that we want to work with again but we would like to explore many others. I understand that it’s easy to judge directors on their showreel and say, “ok, they know how to tell sports stories, but they won’t be able to make this type of film”, but that’s a mistake. I believe that any director can tell any story in their own way, with his or her heart and his or her ideas.
I know that we could develop anything if the subject stimulates us. For example, I was in New York City last year and I had only an old phone to take pictures. It was the week of the elections and the ambient melancholy made me want to film. This film is not sporty and is not related to our films for Gillette, Sky Sports or Renault. It is a film based on a simple emotion in a special instant.
Anything that can evoke emotion, a positive feeling and involves a beautiful story to tell is what we are looking for.
LBB> What have you got planned for the rest of 2017?
Michel> We’ve got some scripts in and have chosen to move on from our production company in France so that we can be free in that market for the moment. We’ve never worked in France and we feel strange about that. France has a different spirit but it would be a shame not to find the ideal partner, as we have done in England, and begin to progress there.
We’re also represented by Tempomedia in Germany, and then there’s the United States where we’re also represented by Believe. We pitched early in the summer there and I feel that everything will really kick off later in the summer.
But I think we have something big to build in London with James and Fran, these are special people to us now. We are really connected to them and I think that finding the right people to work with is the real key to success.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Michel> I’d just like to mention the #followyourpassion tag that was used for our Renault movie. If there’s a reason that we love this film, it’s the fact that it also represents who we are – enthusiastic and passionate. It represents our little journey so far.
But we haven’t changed. This journey doesn’t change anything for us. As I mentioned, the most important things have been the meetings we have had – and what we are most proud of are all the new friends we have today.