Directors themselves, Frank and Ivanna Borin initially launched UnderWonder Content to run their own (at the time) low budget jobs. But those budgets kept growing, as did the amount of work they kept getting asked to do, so much so that they began getting other director friends involved to shoot certain jobs. One thing led to another and Frank and Ivanna - who are also partners in marriage - found themselves with a small roster of directors and, as such, a production company.
Frank and Ivanna are music video junkies and that’s the realm in which a lot of UnderWonder’s success has come. Among a roster of exciting, international, up-and-coming talent is Tanu Muino, one of the world’s most sought after music video directors. Her Lil Nas X video for ‘Montero’ was nominated for best music video at the Grammys, and won best video and best director at the MTV VMAs. More recently, Tanu’s promo for Harry Styles’ ‘As It Was’ has infectiously caught the internet’s attention all summer long.
But it’s not all music videos. Entertaining commercial jobs are coming through the door and they’re a huge point of focus for the second half of 2022 and beyond. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Frank and Ivanna to get the full UnderWonder scoop.
LBB> As directors yourselves, what inspired you to launch your own company?
Frank> It happened really organically. We opened up the company to run Ivanna's first job, which was this tiny $3k budget, and we couldn't find a company to take it on.
It was one of our best shoots ever. We actually got engaged on it! And Ivanna booked her next video for a little bit more money, and the rest is history. So technically, that makes Ivanna our very first director. Before we knew it, Ivanna had five or six videos under her belt within just four months - and the budgets kept growing with each video.
Our first really big jobs were two back-to-back Bon Jovi videos. Once we did those, we looked at each other like, ‘oh wow, we have a production company’.
Ivanna> Within about six months, we hit a point where so many jobs were coming in that Frank and I couldn’t direct them all. We had a lot of insanely talented director friends that we wanted to help get work. So, we began to pass the jobs off and supervise them. One of them was Andrew Sandler, who was producing at the time and starting to direct. So we started booking Andrew on those jobs and ran them through UnderWonder. He became our next director. Within half a year, he was killing it and doing a couple videos a month with us.
Suddenly, we had three directors, and once we did that, we kept adding other super talented friends into the mix, and it just became this big group.
Frank> At first, what helped us grow so fast was using myself as leverage to get our newer directors jobs. We'd convince clients to give our up-and-comers a shot by offering to have me co-direct it or DP it. This made labels and agencies comfortable taking a chance on a new director. Those directors would knock it out of the park and it catapulted them into bigger jobs. Before we knew it, within about a year after starting the company, we had a roster of five or six directors who were continuously working.
LBB> Tell us a bit more about UnderWonder - what makes the company unique in the market?
Ivanna> We started UnderWonder back in 2016. Around the one-year mark, we had an attractive roster of some of great up-and-coming talent. Everyone started to realise, ‘Wow, UnderWonder is doing tons of high-quality jobs’.
Frank> The thing about us is that we truly love music videos with a passion. Ivanna and I both grew up on them - addicted to watching MTV. I'd always sneak on sets for music video shoots and watch directors work. Even today, I'm such a fan of directors that I still spend all day on set watching and learning. So, UnderWonder became an opportunity for us to work with directors that we geek out about.
What I think makes us unique in the market is that Ivanna and I, first and foremost, are directors. I've been a director for 23 years. Ivanna has been a director for seven or eight years. As a result, we approach being a production company and selling our directors as true fans. It's really easy and fun to go and pitch when you love someone. When we do meetings with commissioners and agency producers, everyone feels we have something special, and it's infectious.
Ivanna> Since we're well versed in the whole process - from treatments to lighting to editing and colouring - because we're also directors, we're very involved with our directors. We oversee every moment of the production with our unique point of view, and make sure everything is curated with the highest production value.
Frank> We help our directors come up with ideas. Because every director has their strengths and weaknesses, we're able to help to fill in the gaps - from writing treatments to production to post. It's a very egoless, collaborative environment.
LBB> On top of being directors, you're also married! How does that influence / benefit the way that you run the business?
Ivanna> Working together is so much fun. Since we do it all together, nothing ever seems like work. I guess that's why we pretty much work 24 hours a day, and it never gets to us. And that definitely shows up in our work. Everyone can sense the passion and the camaraderie of the environment that our partnership creates.
Frank> One of the benefits, too, is that we're always available to our directors and clients. Ivanna and I have no problem taking a call late at night because we go through it together and find enjoyment in it. It's very fluid and a very integrated experience for our whole team.
LBB> Do you both still direct or does more of your time go into running the business now?
Ivanna> We definitely both still direct. That's our true love and what fuels everything. The company has allowed us to pick and choose the jobs that we really, really want to do. We don't have to take all the jobs we would've needed to take before.
Frank> It's given us the freedom to be pickier! But at the same time, we've discovered that building this company and getting work for other directors is just as exciting as us getting our own work. It's like the feeling you have very early in your career when you land your first big job. We hadn't felt that in a long time, until some of our directors booked some really big jobs. It brought me back to that excitement.
Ivanna> The time we got the call about being awarded the Katy Perry job for Tanu Muino, we were both jumping up and down in our house. I was almost crying because I was just so happy and knew how much it would change Tanu's life. It's so exciting to see directors grow and thrive.
LBB> You're both really keen on having a roster of growing young talent. Why is that pleasing for you personally but also why does that make good business sense?
Franks> We don't have children, so for us, our directors are the closest thing to having kids and a family. We feel like proud parents where you talk them up every chance you get. And you'll do anything to create every opportunity for them to succeed.
Ivanna> We also love the challenge of developing a brand new director. You work so hard - putting a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into their career - and then they get that first big video or that big breakthrough project. It's just the most joyful feeling.
Frank> And it makes good business sense to grow a young roster because you know you're cultivating a loyal family. When I first started out, I signed to Satellite Films, which was part of Propaganda Films. Propaganda had a full wing full of offices for all the directors – you had Spike Jonze, David Fincher, Mark Romanek, Mark Kohr, Michael Bay, and tons of others. Back then, everyone was always coming into the office, sharing ideas, and hanging out. Spike helped other directors get jobs, and everyone helped each other out. There wasn't any sense of selfishness or greediness. It was more about being creative and collaborative.
That's what we want to do at UnderWonder: bring on directors who we love for their personalities AND their work. We've built a roster that gels. Our directors are friends. They visit each other's sets. We've cultivated a culture of helping one another. A director may pass on a job for themselves, but then turn right around and suggest another UnderWonder director instead. So, it's a community that mentors one another.
LBB> Tell us about your roster and the talent you have on it! What does it say about UnderWonder as a company?
Frank> We have a very international roster. That plays a big part in our videos and commercials with a curated look and voice. The work is this amazing hybrid of high-end and artistic at the same time.
Ivanna> Andrew Sandler was our first to really blow up and become one of the biggest directors in music videos, and now commercials too. We recently brought on Troy Roscoe from England. He's a brand new director, and he's incredible - basically a genius.
Frank> We have Lado Kvataniya, who is considered the David Fincher of Eastern Europe. Such a smart and really ingenious technical filmmaker. He just did his first massive job in the US for Cardi B and Kanye West's ‘Hot Shit’. He knocked it out of the park and is primed for some huge things coming up both for videos and commercials.
Ivanna> We just brought KC Locke on, in the last couple weeks. We're such fans of his work that Frank went up to Manchester, England just to meet with him. Now, two years later, he's joined UnderWonder. He's the biggest director in the UK right now, and, just like we did with Tanu, our plan is to make him one of the biggest directors in the US.
LBB> Another exciting name is Tanu Muino. How did that come to be?
Frank> And of course, there's Tanu Muino. She's become, I'm not exaggerating, probably the biggest video director at the moment in our industry. She's done Post Malone, The Weeknd, Harry Styles, Lil Nas X, Cardi B, Lizzo, Rosalia, Katy Perry, and Normani – the list goes on and on. She won Video of the Year and Director of the Year at the VMAs. So, within two or three years we've been able to take her from doing videos in Ukraine to winning the biggest awards at the VMAs.
Ivanna> And now Tanu's exploded onto the advertising scene. We recently shot a huge Vitamin Water Campaign with Wieden+Kennedy and Lil Nas X. Tanu also directed a Netflix spot and she recently shot another huge campaign starring another A-list celebrity, which we can't reveal yet.
Frank> Ivanna and I were directing a commercial in Vietnam, and she showed me Tanu's work really casually, like ‘Here's this awesome girl who does amazing videos.’ I totally freaked out. I was like, ‘Holy shit, why didn't you show me this director earlier?’ You could just see her brilliance! She had this sensibility of randomness and perfectly composed images that somehow work together to build these worlds and environments you've never seen before. She reminded me of my favourite director growing up, Mark Romanek. So, we literally hit Tanu up right away, like that second, from Vietnam.
Ivanna> Tanu totally thought that a friend was playing a practical joke on her. She just didn't believe it. We were like, ‘Hey, this is what we do. Look at the videos we've made. We really love your work - so give us a shot and let us bring you to America and have you do jobs here.’ Three or four months later, we booked Katy Perry with her.
LBB> Which pieces of recent work are you particularly proud of and why?
Ivanna> Of course, there was the Lil Nas X ‘Montero’ video. It was nominated for best music video at the Grammys and won the Best Video and Best Director at the MTV VMAs. It was also shortlisted at the Cannes Lions this year.
But most recently was Harry Styles' ‘As It Was’ video that Tanu directed. It's pretty much gone viral all summer long. It was Harry's first video in a couple years, and it was such an emotional and moving experience for all of us to spend a week rehearsing with Harry. His whole camp and the record label were so kind and inviting into their creative world.
Frank> Another one is a commercial Ivanna and I both directed for the ‘Raid: Shadow Legends’ video game, starring Jeff Goldblum. As I mentioned, I used to sneak on sets when I was young, and that's how I learned to direct. One of the sets that I snuck onto, when I was 18, was ‘Independence Day’. I ended up meeting Roland Emmerich and Jeff Goldblum and spending a few months with them. Jeff was always super kind to me. So, to be able to direct Jeff 25 years later was pretty cool. We had so much fun with him on set. To me, it was such a big deal.
Ivanna> Jeff was so sweet. When the war in Ukraine started, he actually wrote me a very sweet message of support, which he didn't have to do.
Frank> And the most recent project we're crazy excited about is the new Vitamin Water campaign starring Lil Nas X that Tanu just directed. We shot six spots that have been releasing each week throughout the summer. We got lucky with such a creative and collaborative team from Wieden+Kennedy. The spots all came out so amazingly and have been getting such a buzz. So it's becoming a really exciting time for us right now.
LBB> What does the rest of 2022 hold for UnderWonder?
Ivanna> 2022 has already become our biggest year, and we still have a lot coming out. One is that major campaign we can't mention just yet. But just in the last two months, we've been to five different countries. We did seven shoots in the last five weeks. And we have another four shoots that will be happening in the next month. The cool thing, and something that we're really excited about is that half of them are big music video shoots, and then the other half are all advertising spots that are super creative and fun. We've been lucky enough to be working with amazing creatives. These spots will definitely get a lot of attention.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Frank> Our goal is to explode into the ad world. We've killed the music video game, and we're gonna keep on killing the music video game. But, you know, this year, we are feeling the momentum with our commercial work. Ivanna and I have directed some, as well as Tanu Muino, Thom Kerr, and Andrew Sandler. So, we've finally gotten our core group of directors starting to step out into that world, and that's something we've been working hard towards for years.