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Lance Oppenheim on Joining Biscuit and Finding Humour in the Everyday



Biscuit Filmworks’ recently signed director speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about this new step in his career and finding his voice through the voices of others

Lance Oppenheim on Joining Biscuit and Finding Humour in the Everyday

Production company Biscuit Filmworks recently welcomed acclaimed filmmaker Lance Oppenheim to its roster of talent. Lance is renowned for crafting candy-coloured documentaries that blend nonfiction storytelling humour with heightened, cinematic formalism. Inspired by his favourite films growing up, which blurred the lines between fact and fiction, his films are layered with humanity and flourishes of the surreal. 

Growing up in South Florida, Lance also absorbed the larger-than-life stories that would unfold around him, and on TV and in the local newspapers - starting his filmmaking journey from a young age. After becoming the youngest active contributor to The New York Times ‘Op-Docs’ and then a Sundance Ignite Fellow, he has been featured in Filmmaker Magazine's ‘25 New Faces of Independent Film’, and was named one of Forbes' ‘30 Under 30’ in 2022. His first feature ‘Some Kind of Heaven’ premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Magnolia Pictures and Hulu in 2021 to critical acclaim. The film was produced by Darren Aronofsky and The New York Times, one of the paper’s first feature-length film productions. 

In the ad world, Lance has worked with brand clients including Google, Yahoo, Apple, Blizzard, Cox, and more. Now at Biscuit Filmworks, the director is looking forward to creating commercial work that combines his documentary and comedy sensibilities, as well as continuing his TV and feature projects. 

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, he discusses why Biscuit and its directors have been a source of inspiration during his career, why Florida is a state of mind and shares an upcoming project about direct-to-consumer sperm donation. 

LBB> Congratulations on signing for Biscuit Filmworks - why are they a good fit for you? And what opportunities does this open up for you in 2023? 

Lance> I've been a longtime fan of Biscuit and the work they've been making for a long time now. Joining a roster alongside many of my favourite directors is really thrilling to me. I remember first seeing Noam Murro's early work for Katz's Deli, where he managed to find laughs in a setup that blurred the line between truth and fiction. It was really ingenious. My hope for 2023 is to chase the feeling that I got when seeing those spots. To make work that combines documentary with comedy, and translates a lot of the visual sensibilities of my film and TV work, for the ad space. 

LBB> What excites you in the advertising industry right now, as a director? Any trends or changes that present new opportunities? 

Lance> I'm excited by the idea of creating docu-comedy spots -  finding humour and poignancy in the everyday. Making polished, funny, and cinematic ads with real people, with formal, visual rigour.

LBB> You’ve been a filmmaker from a young age - contributing to the NYT’s Op-Docs early on for example - how did this passion come about for you? Who or what were your first inspirations? 

Lance> I began making films as a teenager during the '08 recession in Florida. Florida was (and still is) upside down, and every story that I'd read in our local paper would put my brain in a blender. I knew I wanted to make movies. I was obsessed with movies that blurred the lines between documentaries and fiction, like Abbas Kiarostami's ‘Close-Up’ and Orson Welles' ‘F for Fake’. I also fell in love with Jonathan Glazer's ‘Sexy Beast’, Todd Haynes' ‘Safe’, Spike Jonze's ‘Adaptation’, and Cameron Crowe's ‘Vanilla Sky’… but I was also very self-conscious. I knew I didn't want to just rip off all of my favourite filmmakers in some half-baked, superficially explored idea. I figured if I had any chance in discovering my own voice it would be through telling someone else's story. So that's what I began doing, ripping stories out of the paper, and attempting to find my voice through the voices of others.

LBB> You like to work with subjects in your native Florida - why do you enjoy working with topics in your home state? 

Lance> Florida attracts a large swath of people who are all escaping something. Cold weather. Taxes. So in that way, it's more of a ‘state of mind’. 

LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot? How is this process different for commercial work or branded content? 

Lance> When I find a world I'm interested in, I always start with images. I look to photographers who have inhabited similar spaces. I usually return to my favourites like Larry Sultan, Philip Lorca-diCorcia, and Joel Sternfeld. Then I begin writing.

LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why? 

Lance> The agency and client. While making an ad, you are the translator for someone else's vision. It's your job to translate it as best as you can, filtering your voice through the idea and space that many, many people have spent months toiling over. 

LBB> You’re currently working on a documentary series with the Safdies’ production company and a documentary feature with the NYT and FX/Hulu - what can you tell us about these projects? 

Lance> Both projects are very different from one another - one is set in the largest renaissance festival in the country, and the other is in the world of direct-to-consumer sperm donation. 

LBB> Which pieces of your work do you feel show what you do best – and why?

Lance> I was really fortunate to work with Google on a number of spots last year for their I/O presentation. My favourite project was titled Babelfish - and concerned a new technology the company is pioneering that allows for the real-time captioning of everyday life. Rather than focusing on an overtly tech-heavy demonstration, we chose to focus on a very intimate story of a mother and daughter who have never been fully able to connect due to a language barrier.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 25 Jan 2023 17:47:00 GMT