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Ezra Ewen on His “Totally Bonkers” Arc'teryx Durability Test

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The director talks about the blood, sweat and… vomit that went into his crazy stunt performance for Arc'teryx’s comedic spot, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

Ezra Ewen on His “Totally Bonkers” Arc'teryx Durability Test


Growing up in the internet age has given many of us something of an affinity with the bizarre. There’s just an itch that can’t be scratched by any other style of content – traditional narrative pieces, short comedy spots, artsy table-top ads all have their place, but none can satisfy this inner craving like some genuinely wacky creative. In this vein, pushing the boat out for high-end, outdoor apparel company Arc'teryx is director Ezra Ewen.

Ezra’s signature off-beat style delivers a decidedly non-traditional spot as he directs and stars in a series of stunts that put Arc'teryx clothing’s durability to the test. The “Los Angeles-centric” film pushes his test into complete absurdity as he climbs, dances and hurls himself across a variety of LA locations - picking up a handful of gnarly injuries along the way. With equal parts humour and beauty, the spot’s strangeness is presented expertly with a straight face and utilises inspiration from viral TikToks that have recently popularised the outdoor clothing and equipment brand. 

To chat about how a cycling accident was the creative spark behind the project, being chased by security guards in Downtown LA, and how thankful he is for the creative freedom and trust that Arc'teryx gave him, Ezra had a chat with LBB’s Ben Conway, discussing how he made the ad that likely earned him a lifetime ban at a gas station and which left his body “fully fucking cooked.” 

As the proverb goes: “You can't make an omelette without breaking any (L)eggs.”

 


LBB> Have you ever had so much creative control on a commercial project? What directions or restrictions did Arc’teryx give you in their brief (if any)?


Ezra> It’s probably because I’m picky and have prioritised my vision over profit, but thus far, I’ve pretty much only done commercial projects where the client wanted me for me. And thankfully, it was no different with Arc’teryx. They really, truly gave me their full trust with this project. 

I had been talking with them for over a year about doing a ‘Los Angeles-centric’ collaboration, so when an idea I loved finally popped into my head, I basically just messaged them with a big unfiltered synopsis paragraph that explained the general concept and structure. It was totally non-traditional, but they loved it and gave me the green light right away without any sort of pushback or questions. It honestly felt a bit too good to be true.



LBB> What immediate ideas came to mind when you started the ideation process?


Ezra> I decided to scroll around on TikTok for a few hours and let my brain run wild. I knew I wanted to do something that incorporated the brand’s growing presence on social media, I knew I wanted to subvert people’s idea of how Arc’teryx presented itself, and I knew I want to make it super high energy, scrappy, and budget-conscious. 

People love to hate on TikTok. They often generalise it as a bunch of talentless teenage dancers copying each other’s choreography in front of a glowing ring-light. Some even equate it to the end of cinema – but I think that’s total bullshit. Practically every time I go on TikTok, I see a short film that is infinitely more creative and resourceful than 99% of the films that are getting programmed in major film festivals like Sundance.

But it honestly all really came together when I crashed my bike on a solo ride in the mountains. Moments after flying over the handlebars, I was laying on a patch of gravel, grimacing in pain, when I noticed a wetness near my elbow. The black Arc’teryx jacket I was wearing was completely clean and unscathed, but I could tell I was bleeding underneath. I loved this idea that their clothing was tougher than my body, and in that moment I decided I wanted to really put it all ‘to the test’ - in a sort of crash test, Jackass, skate video, fail compilation sort of way.



LBB> Do you have other projects that use a similar sense of humour/style? Is this why Arc’teryx asked you to get involved?


Ezra> I would say this project is totally in line with my past work. It feels like an extension of what I was doing with a lot of my older music videos, but with logos and branding in mind. I always try to make stuff that is equal parts humour and beauty, but presented with a straight face. A few folks at Arc’teryx were aware of my earlier work and loved the humour and approach I took, so they thought it would be fun to see how I could adapt it to their brand.



LBB> How was the process of planning each ‘XTREME’ situation? Were there any ideas you didn’t get to film or ones that were left on the cutting room floor?


Ezra> I pretty much just compiled a huge list of Los Angeles locations and thought of the best ways to throw myself through, down, and across them. I knew I wanted some to be traditional ‘outdoorsy’ scenes like rock climbing and trail running, but I also loved the idea of pushing my ‘test’ into a completely absurd direction – hence the car wash and ice locker shots. 

I initially tried to plan every single shot and action beforehand, but there ended up being a big free gap of time during our second shoot day and so we decided to somewhat blindly head to Malibu Creek State Park. Probably at least 10-20% of the video came out of that location. We just kept seeing more and more features to incorporate and it felt like our own little cinematic playground. At one point we actually ran into another rock climbing brand’s shoot that was happening there. They were way bigger and more professional, so I felt like a total troll when I was pseudo rock climbing in front of them.

Unfortunately one of the funniest scenes had to be cut. I snuck onto the roof of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown LA so that I could slide down it like a bootleg Jason Bourne. But right as we called action, a security guard popped out and started yelling at me and the shot got all rushed. We got it on tape, but it just wasn’t clean enough to be included. 



LBB> How did you find the locations and how long was the production process in total?


Ezra> Since the video was supposed to feel super ‘Los Angeles’, I made sure all the locations were contained within Los Angeles and Malibu. It gave the shoot and prep a nice creative boundary and geographic containment.

Our crew was tiny, so the pre-production was really simple to set up and coordinate. I basically just went into the Arc’teryx store, picked out a full head-to-toe outfit and then spent a few days scouting. The first few were solo on my bike and then I did an additional day or so with my cinematographer, Jake Wolfert. It was originally supposed to be a half-day shoot followed by a full-day shoot, but unfortunately, I got hurt during the first day of shooting and we had to postpone our second day to the following week. 

For one of our last shots on the first day, I attempted to sprint up and down this street called ‘Eldred’ in Highland Park. The internet claims it is the steepest drivable street in Los Angeles and the third steepest in the United States. The injury was honestly really stupid and pathetic. Basically, I didn’t warm up beforehand, and while I was barreling down the street, something in my thighs froze up. I was able to walk fine after, but I woke up in the middle of the night and my legs were totally seized up. I ended up hardly being able to walk for the next four days. It was unexpectedly gnarly and for a few days, I was worried I’d have to cancel the shoot altogether. 



LBB> Which were your favourite and least favourite sequences to shoot? 


Ezra> My favourite stuff to shoot was definitely all the rock climbing scenes. It was a great opportunity for me to really ham it up and get expressive. 

The scene where I crash my bike and roll down the grassy hillside was absolutely the least pleasant. I get motion sick incredibly easily, so even after only like five or six takes I was completely wrecked. I threw up a bunch after the last attempt and didn’t recover for over an hour. I was still intensely nauseous during the dance shot and some of the early rock climbing bits. It honestly fucking sucked.



LBB> Who did you film with and what set-up were you running with? Which cameras/lenses etc. did you use?


Ezra> Basically the entire shoot was just me and my cinematographer Jake. Other than some GoPro and drone footage, we shot the whole video on his Sony PXW-Z90V documentary camera. We love the look of its action sports-esque footage and the actual camera body is super compact and inconspicuous. We rarely had to worry about getting kicked out of locations because we just looked like some kids making a home movie.



LBB> You’re quite an… intense performer. What were you listening to when you were dancing on the hiking trail? Did anyone watch or approach you during any of the more extreme shoots?


Ezra> Hahaha I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not, but I’ll take it! I love going full ‘Tom Cruise mode’ whenever I can. For this video, I mostly listened to some tracks by Rupa, Todd Terje, and Aaliyah. They all get me super pumped up and I find that Rupa’s song ‘Aaj Shanibar’ really activates my full body. The only times we got approached were when people eventually kicked us out of a few locations. It honestly felt like I was in middle school making skate videos at the apartment complex again. And I’m pretty sure I now have a lifetime ban from the gas station where we shot the car wash scene. 



LBB> The final punchline is very satisfying – did this line inspire the rest of the spot? And why did you go down the non-traditional route? 


Ezra> Initially I just wanted to make this spot a totally bonkers compilation of me hurling my body down various landscapes, both natural and urban. But as I thought more and more about why I was doing it, I realised the video needed a punchline and the ‘beads right off’ joke felt like the obvious conclusion.

I honestly rarely feel like I take the best route, but for better or worse, I pretty much always find a way to take my own route. It’s really hard for me to not put my stamp on things. It’s just the way my brain works. I think there could totally be a more traditional 30- or 60-second version of this spot that is still effective, but since Arc’teryx gave me free rein and I knew it would be going online, I decided to expand it a bit more and let it breathe in places. I prefer to make concept-based work, rather than just creating a vibey fashion video. And sometimes you need a little more time and a few more sections to really capture your concept. Especially when you are trying to explain something like a gore-tex-centric TikTok trend to an unfamiliar audience.



LBB> How was the edit process? Did you work on it yourself? 


Ezra> Like most of my work, I edited this spot on my own and got basically zero editorial resistance from Arc’teryx. It’s obviously not always going to be like that, but I’m so grateful when it is. They were incredibly supportive every step of the way. Even with things as subjective and costly as music. I’m so so so damn thankful they let me use the Lorenzo Senni track in this video. I seriously can’t imagine it with a different song.

Sometimes I honestly feel like I’m a better editor than a director. Or at least, I feel like editing is my opportunity to repair and enhance all the choices I made during the shoot. It’s weird editing yourself as an actor though. I’m not sure I want to do that much longer. I get sick of myself by the end of every project.  



LBB> What was the hardest challenge you faced on this campaign – and how did you overcome it?


Ezra> Honestly the hardest part was just working through physical pain. I’m not a real stuntperson and I have no stunt training, so throwing myself down these hills and sand dunes, running through river beds and brambles, and diving head first into crashing waves took its toll on me. In addition to the Eldred Street fiasco I mentioned above, I really came out of this project worse for wear. My hands and knees were covered in bruises from the climbing theatrics, continuously falling reactivated all of my old back pain, and my ribs were so battered that it hurt to breathe deeply for almost three weeks. I was fully fucking cooked.



LBB> Anything else you would like to add?


Ezra> I know I’m a broken record saying this, but I feel really lucky that I’ve gotten so much creative freedom on both this project and many in the past. I imagine there will be plenty of films and commercials down the road where I’m not given nearly the same level of autonomy, but I’m really thankful that all these past projects have allowed my personal style and vision to shine through. And I hope it continues to resonate with brands and people in the future so that I can help bring their projects to life as well. 



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LBB Editorial, Thu, 01 Sep 2022 15:29:00 GMT