Co-founders of the London VFX studio, Mike Skrgatic and James Allen, talk us through their directorial debut with W+K for Honda
Hollywood loves to make films about filmmaking. From Charlie Chaplin's Behind the Screen to the recent success of La La Land, showbusiness loves a bit of navel gazing. Advertising has mostly kept a safe distance from the subject, preferring to maintain the mystique around what it does.
Wieden+Kennedy London's latest work for Honda's Channel 4 sponsorship really lifts the curtain on the lengths filmmakers go to to bring an idea to life on the screen.
We chatted with Time Based Arts co-founders Mike Skrgatic and James Allen, who directed the campaign, to find out more...
LBB> This is quite a meta project! Making a film about filmmaking. What was the rationale for that idea?
Mike Skrgatic / James Allen> The project itself is called 'Dream Makers' and is dedicated to all those who bring films to life. The story takes us from first inception of the words of a screenplay, through the myriad processes of filmmaking before bringing everything together in a final cinematic moment.
We developed four distinct filmic stories with the agency, each featuring a Honda vehicle as a fellow cast member.
We then constructed a longer edit to bring all of the idents together and this allowed us to add another level of storytelling. We were able to deconstruct the final hero moments of each scenario and return us back to the page of the screenplay. Here a new line from the script launches us off into another film scene. We loved this idea of the writer's mind chopping and changing whilst giving birth to the creative process - it’s the ultimate day dream brought to life.
LBB> To direct a project for Honda is a pretty high-profile first directing gig. How did the opportunity arise?
Mike & James> We’d like to think that as a company people recognise the creativity we bring to their projects. Over the years we’ve always put that first. Rather than create a more traditional 'client/service provider’ post-production arrangement we prefer to partner with our clients, invest in their ideas and work together to create great images. Wieden + Kennedy have always been massively supportive. They understand our way of working and most importantly our creative commitment. They themselves strive to do things differently and I think over the years they've recognised a similar mentality in what we’re doing and how we're going about it.
We got involved with this project at an early stage chatting to Carlos (Alija) and Laura (Sampedro) (Creative Directors at W+K) about some of the ideas that the agency were presenting to the client. Those conversations grew and developed. We loved this idea for its ambition and originality and we think our enthusiasm came across... they basically turned round and said: “Hey, why don’t you guys direct this?”. From there we were invited to treat on it. It made a lot of sense for us to direct as the idea revolved heavily around the skill set and processes of post production.
It also felt right as a debut, given that as makers, it celebrates what we all do and love.
LBB> The 90" features an array of illustrators and animators. How did you go about sourcing these different artists?
Mike & James> Everyone that worked on the project is a friend we’ve met along the way. We set up Time Based Arts to work with people we loved and respected and most importantly enjoyed working with. The family has just grown bigger as we’ve gone along. We’ll always keep in touch with talented folk and this project gave us the opportunity to bring them in and collaborate on something that was authored at TBA. We wanted the hand drawn elements to be varied but most importantly to be authentic to the process. In the end we didn’t have to look too far.
LBB> It's not a straightforward project by any means. Is that what attracted you to the script?
Mike & James> It was an ambitious project but we’re always striving to work on innovative ideas and imagery. We hadn’t seen anything like it so it felt really fresh. It was a really collaborative process with the agency developing the ideas for the film scenarios. In turn Hollywood “VFX making of” clips can be really compelling - it’s become part of cinematic viewer experience to reveal how films are put together.
For this film we were aware that we had two stories to tell simultaneously. Both the narrative development of the mini film scenes as well as the evolution of the craft of film making itself. We had to make sure that both remained legible but that for a brief moment the viewer got caught up in the action.
LBB> How was your first experience of working as directors as opposed to working as VFX supervisors?
Mike & James> It’s a privilege to do what we do. To work with incredible practitioners, to collaborate and to be paid to solve interesting problems and make beautiful images. As a VFX supervisor you go on set with lots of different directors. You learn from those experiences and take a lot away from each project. Most of the work that we do as VFX artists falls into the complicated, head scratching category. Because of this we’re generally always close to the director and the planning of the project from an early stage. Therefore the process didn’t feel alien. In truth it was kind of interesting to work on the whole picture; to develop characters, define the wardrobe and even have a say on the hair and make-up!
LBB> So now you've taken the plunge into directing. Would you like to continue this journey? What's next?
Mike & James> It’s been an educational, at times gruelling but all in a fun experience. We really loved this script so it was a pleasure to write a treatment, cast actors, work through wardrobe, direct actors on set, be involved throughout and hold the reigns. It’s been a great opportunity to bring a team together and put forward our amazing crew. This included a multitude of skilled artists from illustrators, animators, compositors, photographers, cgi artists to colourists. As we said before we’re lucky to call what we do a job.
Would we direct something again?… if the right project came along and someone was willing to give us the opportunity then who knows.
Having said that, we have loads of ambition to keep growing Time Based Arts as an independent VFX studio so we’ve got a lot to keep us busy!