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Directing a Portrait of a Generation for COLLUSION

Somesuch director Dan Emmerson reflects on making 100 films about 100 young people to launch ASOS’ youth label

Directing a Portrait of a Generation for COLLUSION

Ever since the concept of the teenager was born in the ‘50s, brands have been scrambling to make themselves relevant to young adults, appealing to youth culture, however you might define that in that particular week. It’s risky business. You need only look to the history of a brand like Pepsi to see how it can be done spectacularly well or catastrophically badly

Uncommon Creative Studio no doubt had this in mind while co-creating COLLUSION - a new youth fashion brand - with ASOS. To help them get it right for their audience they collaborated with a line-up of six young creatives - activists, vloggers, Instagram influencers and the like - to shape the brand and build a wardrobe which speaks directly to themselves and their peers. And they seem to have nailed it, if the sales of the collection are anything to go by.

For the launch campaign - a series of films to embody the ideals and aesthetic of the new collection - Uncommon tapped up Somesuch director Dan Emmerson. They gave him the intimidating brief of profiling 100 people who were born in the year 2000 on video. Dan has a proven track record in getting compelling performances from young people - his England World Cup squad announcement film earlier this summer showcased the country’s youth in all its effortless charisma - but this project was even bigger in scope. Its aim was to create “a unique visual census of British youth” and the resulting series of films is exactly that - a compelling catalogue of characters that are well worth getting to know. 

LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Dan to hear how he approached this huge undertaking.


LBB> Where was the idea with ASOS and Uncommon when you first got involved?

Dan> Uncommon had come to me with the idea. It was 100 people turning 18 in 2018 that were born in the year 2000. They wanted to make 100 individual films and one long film and the rest was down to me. 

I wrote a script based on a six-minute film which evolved as we went. Not having met the kids yet at that point, it was quite difficult to put words in their mouths and script it. But the things I was hoping to hear were setting up the world they live in through their eyes and their voices, giving context to the fact that they’re digital natives and that they’re often misunderstood, feel a bit of angst, all that sort of stuff. Then the film would go into a few individual stories which were slightly more in-depth and then we’d come out into this celebration in some vibesy sort of outro scene. That was the loose idea that I put to them and then we developed that as we went. 

They really wanted me to put my stamp on it. I don’t know how many other treatments they saw but they were like, ‘boom this is the one’. I was stoked on that. We just went from there. Josh [Tenser, creative director] and Nils [Leonard, founder] from Uncommon were really great and pushed it along in the right direction. I was happy to have those guys on board for sure.


LBB> So, apart from making the hero film for the whole thing, you were tasked with directing 100 films profiling the youth of Britain. That’s quite a big project...

Dan> It was vast. It was so challenging but it made it so worth it to have that scale. It really feels like a snapshot - a real portrait of a generation - when you have that many people involved. It’s so many different voices, so many different opinions on life.

We had to approach the shoot in quite a different way for the individual films. That was really challenging. I had to really consider what we were going to shoot for each person, not having them (like classic branded content) just walking down the street or just talking to camera. I tried giving each person a scene which fitted them best.

LBB> It must have been really hard to stick to a plan with so many moving parts. How did you manage that?

Dan> We only shot for seven days in total, so having to squeeze in that many people, it’s a lot of unit moves in a day. We only ended up spending about half an hour on each person. The shoot was mental!

We were chopping and changing, improvising. Locations getting cancelled. Last minute things like that. Sometimes we had to hero one person, like one day we were shooting an ice skater, so had to stay around that area where the rink was and then also shoot another 12 kids that day. Heavy production! Hats off to the team. It was a lot of meticulous scheduling and planning. They did an amazing job putting it all together. 

LBB> Right! If you had a formula for all the films then it would at least have been relatively easy, but trying to make them all unique must have been a challenge.

Dan> We wanted them all to feel as different and as true to the people that were in them as possible. That’s what we went for. I think they went really well together. I’d love to see them in some sort of gallery one day.


LBB> And what were some of the other big considerations?

Dan> The casting was really important to get right and a big part of the project, getting the right kind of people involved. We spent quite a lot of time doing casting sessions in Birmingham, Glasgow, Brighton and a couple in London. We had a group come from Manchester to one of the London sessions. We really wanted to try and get outside of London as much as possible and try and give the rest of the country a voice.

We probably had about 50 or 60 kids in some of the sessions. In total we saw a few hundred for sure. A lot of them ended up being really good!

LBB> That must have been so hard to narrow down. What was the casting brief?

Dan> Just anyone, really. No influencers as such, just normal people. We were looking for some interesting stories as well as kids with great personalities. So there were some kids who might have a had a slightly harder time growing up for whatever reason.

A lot of brands are trying to do the same thing now, but I think it did feel really honest with COLLUSION. They really wanted to feature normal people in all shapes and sizes. It was a nice change.


LBB> And having met and got to know 100 of them, what are your overall impressions of this generation?

Dan> Really positive, man. The kids we did meet were super lovely. They’re so clued up. It’s that whole thing about having so much exposure to everything, being online all the time and absorbing culture from all angles. When I was growing up you didn’t have that. If you were into Wu-Tang you were into Wu-Tang and that was it. But these kids have got a sprinkle of everything. And that goes with their morals too. It was really encouraging. I hope they keep it up.

But also some stuff that happens when you turn 18 doesn’t change. They were all super stoked about going to the pub for the first time. It was one boy’s actual birthday. We took him out for his first legal pint after the shoot. That sort of stuff brings back fuzzy memories. It’s nice. 

LBB> Are there any particular stories that stayed with you from the process?

Dan> They’re all so special. One of the people that we didn’t feature too heavily in the long film was someone called Shay. They now identify as gender fluid. They didn’t know their name, didn’t know who they were. They were adopted, left in Thailand as a baby on the steps of a temple and then when they were three were adopted by an older Scottish couple (so heartwarming). They brought Shay up in Glasgow and now Shay is old enough, now that they’re 18, they’ve chosen the name Shay for themselves, which I thought was sick. 

That made me realise that at that age it is a turning point and you can do so many things that us adults take for granted. The legal implications of turning 18 are actually still really important to some people. But for them it was like: ‘Boom! I can be the person I’ve always wanted to be. I can call myself this name.’


One kid, Jordan, is a pilot. When I was listening to him he was saying he left school and wanted to be a pilot and now he’s 18 he’s talking about taking up his family for the first time in this little plane, saying how terrified they were, but they trusted him with their lives. It’s quite amazing that someone that young is doing something like that already. 


I could keep going because they’re all so special, but those two stood out for me.

LBB> I’m sure it was hard work, but it sounds like such a warm-hearted project to be a part of. 

Dan> It was such a special one to be involved in. I’m really proud of it and I hope they are too.

The one thing I will say was really cool was at the launch party that COLLUSION threw, they invited the 100 kids down. A lot of them are actually super good mates now, following each other on Instagram and that kind of thing. They call themselves #COLLUSIONfam. They’ve really bonded. This film’s for them, so I’m stoked that they’re going to have that bond based off the back of a project that we made. It stops feeling like an ad at that point. 


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