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Meet Your Makers: Hugo Legrand Nathan on Why a Great Team Is Everything


Founder and executive producer at Birth talks the power of the director and the key to being an effective producer

Meet Your Makers: Hugo Legrand Nathan on Why a Great Team Is Everything

Hugo founded Birth in Paris and Algiers in 2013, opened its London office in 2020 and today it ranks among the top three French production companies in advertising. Birth belongs to a new generation of production companies that mixes craft, talent and culture to make ambitious, disruptive content and has collected awards at Cannes Lions, Cannes Film Festival, Club des Directeurs Artistiques, Eurobest, Epica Awards and D&AD.

Born in Angers, Hugo started his career in music video production at the height of the French hip hop scene in the early 2000s. He is a great believer in developing a talented young team - currently Birth has over 40 employees across the three offices - and taking the company to a higher level. In 2020, with Christopher Anderson’s Interior Life campaign for Hermès, he launched Birth LX_ focusing on luxury projects. Veuve Cliquot, Vogue, Loewe and Bulgari campaigns have since followed. In July 2021, he launched Birth Image, a photography department nurturing and celebrating commercial photography representing the likes of Peter Funch, Dan Beleiu and Fethi Sahroui.

Birth has produced highly regarded films for such clients as Adidas, Aigle, Audi, Eurostar, Hermes, HP, IBM, ING Direct, Vodafone, LNER, Weetabix, Ubisoft, Mercedes, Nikon, Renault, Toyota, Twitch and Veuve Clicquot.

“A solid team is everything and it really is like a family,” Hugo says. “Producing well is about being surrounded by great people who are the best at what they do. We really support our directors and make them feel at home - most have been with us since our early days.”

LBB> What first attracted you to production - and has it been an industry you’ve always worked in or did you come to it from another area?

Hugo> I come from a music video background, originally I wasn’t into films and producing as much as music - I was a huge fan of French hip hop music. The '90s and the decade following was a great period of hip hop and rap music in France. And I was super inspired by Matthieu Kassovitz’s La Haine which came out in 1995. I’ve seen it maybe 30 times, it inspired me a lot. 

LBB> What was your first role in the production world and how did this experience influence how you think about production and how you grew your career?

Hugo> My first role in production was in fact as an intern at the age of 19 at Fokal, one of the leading music production companies. They were the best production house for hip hop and rap music videos and it was an amazing time. Here I was, a young kid and I’d see the CEO talking with some of the most famous rap groups of the day in the office reception. I was a production assistant for two months and loved it. 

Two days after I left, they called me back to start a real project - my first job. So I come from a music video not a film or advertising background. That job was a video for Kery James, the French rapper and songwriter who was one of the top three rap artists then. I was line producer. 

LBB> How did you learn to be a producer?  Looking back to the beginning of your career, can you tell us about a production you were involved in where you really had to dig deep and that really helped you to grow as a producer?

Hugo> There are two things that influenced my career from those early days. Music video is the school of ‘débrouillard’ - learning how to be resourceful and skilled at adapting to any situation. You have to pull together the director, the technical crew, the casting, and do something crazy. For very little money. It was a school of big challenges. But with energy, passion and youth, you realise that the impossible is possible. The results look like a 200,000 euro video but in fact it only cost 20,000 euro. So that influenced me in a positive way. 

In music video production, I learnt that I can do crazy things and I won’t fail. You are ready for war, you can do a lot of things. Just the same, back then in music videos there weren’t too many opportunities to work on really big, high end productions. I still needed to learn a lot. So I left Fokal when I was 23, maybe 24 years old, to build my career and do my own work. I did a few projects for three or four years and in 2012 built BIRTH from its previous incarnation. 

LBB> A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital experience. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why/why not?

Hugo> I only partially agree with the idea that a good producer can produce for any medium. You need specialists, whether it's for commercials, for cinema or for music. So you need to hire the best specialist for each department. Producing well is about being surrounded by good people. It’s like robbing a bank, you need to build a solid team. Maybe that’s not the ideal analogy! What’s for sure is that when there’s a camera involved, I’m in! 

LBB> What’s your favourite thing about production and why?

Hugo> It’s tricky to pinpoint my favourite thing about production as there’s so much I like in this job. For me, the best thing is building a company. As founder of Birth in 2012, it was a real challenge to build the business, there were already so many excellent commercial production companies out there. My biggest passion in business is how you move from one level to a higher level. You need a strategy, a pool of creative talent and good communications. 

A great team is everything. I like to be a leader and to build teams. I started with just me facing the mirror, now Birth has a team of 40 people from Algeria to Paris to London. I like to bring the company to a higher level, nurturing the team along the way. I like to transmit what I’ve learnt to the team, it’s a young company and it really is like a family. We support the young directors, and make them feel at home - most have been with us since our early days. The directors we represent are the core of the company.

LBB> How has production changed since you started your career?

Hugo> Production has certainly changed since founding Birth. When we started it was the beginning of rigid cost control. It didn’t exist in the '90s! The industry is now all about controlling costs which I certainly understand. This is the main change - the budgets have changed but we do the same things, with the same quality and results. It’s not fair but I get it.   

Commercial production was once all about shooting 30 second spots. Now there are lots of opportunities for storytelling across many mediums - GIFs, TVCs, digital content, documentary. That’s a good thing. 

LBB> And what has stayed the same?

Hugo> What’s stayed the same is the power of the director, the power of the artist. When you develop a good director, with good campaigns, you really have an opportunity to develop your production company image. Good directors lead trends which is exciting. 

LBB> What do you think is the key to being an effective producer - and is it something that’s innate or something that can be learned?

Hugo> Effective producers have certain innate qualities. What's crucial is one must be able to adapt to so many different situations, from producing a rap video to a Hermes commercial. Key qualities are curiosity, flexibility and natural personal talent. And being able to work very, very hard for sure. The rest you can learn. Some enter the business thinking it will be fun - well, fun happens when all the elements come together, when the client, the agency, the director, are all happy. More important is to be ready for a challenge. The rest you can learn in a book. 

For this, strength of character is important. To adapt to changing situations as you can potentially fail at every turn. One has to handle the politics of it all - you’re talking about the image of a brand or the image of a music artist - and when you’re young you’re not ready for this. It’s tricky to manage the pressure. 

LBB> Which production project from across your career are you most proud of and why?

Hugo> There are many projects that I’m proud of, but the one I’m most proud is the Hermès photography and video campaign shot by David Sims in 2019. I’m very proud of it because the conversation with the client started six years before. I had loads of meetings with them in London over that time. It was true teamwork. One of my partner’s at Birth, Yohan Ungar, was instrumental in the project too. We won the work, it was a big success for the brand and now we work with Hermès regularly. 

This campaign was a new chapter for Birth. It gave us legitimacy and a leap into the luxury market which was a goal. Working with David Sims was an official stamp of approval that Birth can work with the best in the world - David Sims and Hermès.  Because of that campaign, we created Birth Luxury, our department led by Yohan dedicated to luxury brand campaigns.

LBB> And in terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting or have presented particularly interesting production challenges?

Hugo> In 2020, the Objects for Interior Life campaign for Hermès directed by Christopher Anderson marked the launch of Birth_LX. It’s an opportunity for certain Birth talent to focus solely on luxury projects. We’ve had the honour of working with beautiful luxury brands including Hermès, Veuve Cliquot, Vogue, Loewe and Bulgari.  

Our London and Paris offices have just finished an ad for Twitch, the live video broadcasting platform. Called Tout Part En Live, it was a big project shot in Paris in studio and remotely. Actor-comedian Djimo led our crew of inspiring creators on set in Paris. It was great to see our directors Temple Caché and Valentin Guiod - together they’ve done a great job mixing media, live action and incredible animation. The film is bonkers and Twitch France received over 170K Twitter views almost as soon as it went live.

At Birth we choose to reinvent ourselves, to diversify and move beyond advertising production. A recent challenge is really exciting. We have been developing our Cinema department for some time, now more than ever. We shot our first feature film La Mala Familia this summer and it’s THE recent project that really excites me. Not only because it's Birth's first feature film, but also because the story is crazy and inspired by real events.

The docu-drama is directed by Nacho A. Villar and Luis Rojo of BRBR, a duo that I met a little over a year ago. I had a good feeling right away that they were perfect for this film. Our minds are alike. The first edit will be finished this autumn, we anticipate a spring release. 

LBB> What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?

Hugo> Birth ciné projects are multiplying - we will shoot two feature films in Algeria this year. We also have several shorts in development, which allows us to develop the cinema projects of our directors at Birth.

My aspiration is to continue moving forward with developing Birth. In July we created a photography department, Birth Image, led by Arthur Emorine. Also, Algeria is like my adopted country. It has given so much to me, I’d like to give back something. I was born in France and am the son of 6th generation Algerian parents who left in 1962 during the Algerian War of Independence.  I returned 15 years ago and fell in love with the country.  

We recently launched Birth’s office in London led by Kate Elson. She is the most recent addition to the family, repping us since 2019 and is now EP as of last February. Like us, Kate’s feisty which is needed in one of the toughest markets in the world. The strength of our talent has seen rewarding wins against more established UK companies, and the London office has produced some of the company’s strongest work in the past six months such as Alpen, Vodafone Rugby Lions, Twitch and LNER. 

LBB> As a producer your brain must have a never ending "to do" list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?

Hugo> I listen to a lot of music, in the office, when I’m travelling, but really I’m a production addict. It’s such a passion. Work fulfils me, it’s almost everything. 

LBB> Producers are problem solvers. What personally fuels your curiosity and drive?

Hugo> I’m driven by my curiosity. My curiosity is watching. Observing the painter, the musician, the film director. Everything about the artistic process inspires me to progress and refine production. It’s a continual redefining of myself and of production. So my work is a pleasure and work. You need to be connected, to find new creatives as well as follow the masters, to watch what happens in the art world. Everything has the potential to inspire and motivate me to launch a new adventure with the company. 

LBB> What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer?

Hugo> My advice to young people new to the production industry is to be curious and develop your personality to face the inevitable struggles. My personal path was atypical, I’m not the kid of a cinema family, it was a fight and is still a fight. You have to build your own place, it’s a difficult place to make your mark as there are very good production companies especially in Paris and in London. You have to fight to have a place, to gather so many talents to arrive in that place. It’s a fight but it’s positive. 

LBB> What’s the key to a successful production-client relationship?

Hugo> You need the desire to make a production perfect because we need to be.

When a passionate client brings a great campaign to you, we need to share the same passion for their brand DNA and their objectives. And we need to push their creation higher. That’s our job. 

We add creativity, passion, perfectionism and a cool head during the production process. Birth isn’t like some production companies, we become the brand and the agency, again it’s all about being a team. 

LBB> Producers are naturally hands on - they have to be. How do you balance that in the more managerial role of an EP?

Hugo> As founder and executive producer, it is a managerial role so it’s all about balance. Which at times is very difficult to do as I like to be on shoots and I like client meetings, finding new talent, developing the aspirations of my team. The balance isn’t super organised now… for now it’s instinct that gives me balance. When I work on a project, I can select those. I produce the trickiest projects, they’re more exciting than when everything is easy. 

It’s an honour to share the company with my four partners, they work so hard and so well. Clients come back to them not to me. Two were my production trainees, Arthur Emorine and Tristan Béraud, and now they are co-owners and producers. My partner in Algiers is my childhood friend, Yacine Medkour. It’s a real family. Yohan Ungar was my director for ten years, and now he too is an owner and producer. 

They balance the work, four people produce five projects a month. It works. I’m more into new business development, producing the cinema department, developing services and the cinema projects. 

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Birth France, Wed, 29 Sep 2021 10:55:00 GMT