Radar: Directing Duo Mathy and Fran
Mathy Tremewan and Fran Broadhurst are a British directing duo based in London. Known for their vivid graphic style and iconic music videos, Mathy and Fran spoke to Mr.Frank about their approach to filmmaking.
Q> You guys have been in London for just over a decade, where did you study? Did you study film?
M> Yeah, we met on our undergraduate course in Southampton, so we were studying film together, and then…
F> …and then we graduated. So we became a couple first, before we started working together. Then after we graduated we got a bit of funding to make a Cornish-language film… and I think after that we both agreed, “that was a horrendous experience, let’s never work together again!” And then for some reason it stuck, and we decided to put ourselves through it continually.
Q> So how do you divide your work? Do you each have quite specific roles or are you always collaborating?
M> We always used to lie and say that we did have different roles.
F> Yeah, people always feel reassured when they think that “this person does this, and that person does that.” As if one of us always works with the cast and one always works with the camera team and the crew.
M> But it seems to work itself out quite… organically, and it never feels like we’re crossing over. It’s strange, in a way.
Q> Can you predict who’ll do what? Not just in terms of tasks, but what you’ll bring in terms of personality?
M> I guess so. I don’t think it’s conscious, but there probably is that element. We don’t ever discuss what each of us does, or each of us brings to a project. But we definitely do bring different things to the table.
F> There are always those moments when you hit upon a great idea, and you know it’s so much better than what you would have done if it was just you on your own. So i think we’re really good at getting the best out of each other, in terms of sparking off each other’s ideas, and taking things into a slightly more different and unexpected area.
M> I mean, where the work ends up, it’s hard to go through and pick out which bits were Fran and which bits were Mathy. It just somehow…
F - …unfolds.
M - Or becomes its own thing.
Q> So how do you guys brainstorm?
F> We always try and give ourselves a bit of time individually, to not be influenced by the other person. It depends on what we’re working on, but we usually take at least a day to go off and make notes, or think about how we’d initially approach something. And I think 90 per cent of the time, there’s some crossover in those lists or ideas when we bring them back together. So that’s always kind of where we start from, in terms of knowing the base-level of what we’re looking at. And of course both of us will have things that the other hadn’t thought about, which is the really fun bit, because we get to kind of throw it all together.
F> But yeah, I think it’s always really important to give yourself that initial reaction to something, so that it’s purely individual, before we start to bring in other people’s thoughts and opinions.
M> Yeah i think it is, whether it’s the track for when we’re doing a music video or a script when we’re doing a commercial – to individually have time to sit and really absorb and not be too influenced by each other’s knee-jerk response to something. I think it’s important to make sure that both of our voices are heard, and that we’re both able to explore the ideas before we set on something.
F> It’s always really difficult when we both have an idea that we’re really excited by, and they’re completely different and like…
M> It becomes a battle…
F> It’s quite fun as well – we’re writing a script at the moment and we’ve been told that we have to have arguments. Kind of like as part of the creative process. That you should be fighting for certain ideas and fighting for certain things that you think are important. Actually sometimes those conversations can bring out something really unexpected.
Q> Do you take the same approach with your own projects, the ones you write yourselves?
F> Well it’s a strange process when you apply it to writing, because I guess a lot of writers work completely independently and it’s a very individual thing. But because there’s two of us i think we’re having to push at everything, and it gives you that chance to prod at things and really explore them. Because it’s easy to sometimes find solutions when you’re on your own, and just convince yourself that something makes sense.
M> Yeah, I think it is important that we challenge each other. I mean, supporting each other is great and that’s an important part of collaboration, but being free to be able to challenge other people’s ideas is really liberating. Because yeah, if you’re doing something on your own and you’re unsure about something, you can get to a stage where you convince yourself “Aaahh it’s alright…” But then if there’s someone else to challenge you, you have to kind of…
F> …justify it. You have to fight for your ideas.
M> And if it passes through that filter then you know that it’s strong. It hopefully means that it’s worth something.
Q> Could you name three elements which you mutually prioritise in directing a film? Three things that you always agree on perhaps?
M> I think precision is something we agree on. And characters…
F> …more personality
M> Yeah personality, precision… what’s the other P? [laughing] Perfection?
F> I’m only thinking of P-words now…
M> I think communication. That’s the whole purpose really, to make things that can be communicated. So what you’re doing is always a communication with someone. Like communicating with an artist when you’re working on a music video – you’ve got to be able to communicate something about that artist to other people. If you’re working with a brand, then you have to understand how to communicate that.
F> Yeah, I could go for that. I was going to say surprise as well, I like to think there’s always something a little bit ‘fun’ in the stuff that we do. I know that’s a bit random… So it’s basically only two things [laughing].
Q> Looking at your portfolio, most of your work has that very ‘fun’ quality, but you’re often dealing with some quite edgy subjects. Do you enjoy that too, working with that contrast?
M> Well i think making work that’s charming is important. Especially when you try and do something that might be darker or edgy. Because I think ‘edgy’ can sometimes be quite po-faced, and quite overly cool… not something that people can really connect with. So like that Bloody Beetroots video that we did, I’ve always seen that kind of more in a sweet way. But I don’t see our work as “this is a dark one, this is more of a happy upbeat one”
F> Although we did go through a very pastel period. It was like Picasso’s Blue Period…
Q> I actually really wanted to talk about your use of colour, because that definitely stands out in all your work.
F> It’s definitely one of our biggest influences, particularly for me anyway. I don’t know whether you would agree, Mathy?
M> Oh yeah, definitely.
F> We can get quite obsessive putting together colour swatches, or any kind of moodboards that are purely colour-based… So then it’s Personality, Precision… Palette
M> Three P’s – we made it!
F> But yeah colour always plays a huge role. I think still my favourite piece of work we’ve done is the video we did for Anna Calvi, which was all based around a sort of synaesthesia idea, and that sense of the colour communicating the emotion of the track.
M> What we generally try to achieve is to communicate quite big emotions in a very simple way, and colour is a brilliant way of doing that.
Q> For this question, I'd like you to answer separately. So which is your favourite of your films?
F> Well, it’s Anna Calvi Piece by Piece
M> [Laughing] It’s Anna Calvi too…
F> I really love when our work is emotional but minimal, and I think that video has the perfect balance of that. Of course, Anna’s just incredible, she gave such a good performance in that video. And the colours are really hypnotic and mesmerising. I really love things which are stripped back to the absolute essentials, but which manage to capture something so perfectly and simply. It was kind of a trial, to make something with that much emotion from something so straightforward.
M> I think it really shows what we do in its purest form. It’s like if I was told, “You can only have one piece of work to represent you for the rest of your life out of everything you’ve done so far,” that would be the one I would be happiest to…
F> …to represent you. We still want to do more with it, because it was a one take video and we had a really limited amount of film stock to use. So we had ten takes basically, and I think we ended up choosing take six. But we still want to have an exhibition one day, which has all ten versions playing simultaneously… just one huge room.
Q> Is there somewhere you can see yourself living and working in the future, or is it always going to be London?
M> I like shooting in different countries, I like working with different crews and different talent. It’s always challenging, and I think it takes you out of your comfort zone. But there’s an advantage of having more control when you’re on your home turf, I suppose. There’s a lot of knowns… but I’d love to be able to shoot abroad more. We shot in The States once, and I’d love to do that again… We really loved our experience shooting in Amsterdam – I enjoy everywhere we’ve shot really. We had a year, the year before last, where we shot in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, L.A., and I was like, “This is it now. This is our life,” …And this last year it’s all just been London, London, London.
F> We find as well that with a lot of our work, because it can be quite minimal, that we end up doing a lot of studio shoots. So you can fly to an amazing country and then you’re just stuck in a white studio thinking “I’m not really making the most of this, being on location.” So I’d really love to shoot more on location, and I’d second Amsterdam being a really lovely creative environment and just a great place to be. I’d love to work in Barcelona more – the first time I’d been to Barcelona was last year, and there’s something just so beautiful about the light there, and the buildings and architecture. I’d love to shoot a bit more there, if we got the chance.
Q> I guess this is almost the same question, but what would be your dream project Do you have a dream film you could make?
M> It would be a dream to get our feature made at the moment. We’re writing it as we speak, pretty much.
F> Yeah, a feature film has always been our endgame, kind of. And we know it’s a very long game [laughing]. But yeah, we’re on the second draft of this feature film, and I think making that would be the biggest achievement.
Q> OK so for the last question, what is your favourite film?
F> It’s a really difficult question, it’s really tough to narrow it down to one. And also I feel like the answer which comes out most frequently is always a guilty pleasure film, instead of choosing something ‘high art’ or ‘cinematic’. I’d probably say something like Empire Records or Little Shop of Horrors. I was a huge musicals fan when I was growing up, so if I wasn’t a director I’d want to be on a West End stage. Little Shop of Horrors is such a great movie… it’s pretty colourful actually, pretty saturated. I’m sure Mathy will have something much cooler.
M> I have thought about this before… but I always come back to… well, there’s definitely a few contenders. But I always come back to My Own Private Idaho. I would never claim it’s the best film ever made, or even the best film that Gus Van Sant has ever made. But its a film that I… like I videotaped it off the TV when I was a kid. And so it was my first experience of a cinema that wasn’t owned by anybody else. I think at that stage films had been brought into my life by other people. Y’know your parents would introduce you to things, and my granddad introduced me to a lot of cinema. So at that age I had an experience of what film was, but that was the one thing I gravitated towards myself, and kind of selected and chose… it felt like my film for many years. If you watched it on TV in your bedroom, it felt like you owned it in some way…
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