It’s derived from the word “pelorian” from the greek word for monster (pelor). In botany it’s used to describe the abnormal production of actinomorphic flowers in a plant of a species that usually produces zygomorphic flowers – in other words, a literal freak of nature. In Japanese slang it’s used to refer to conformity – don’t be normal. When we started out, we weren’t certain that we wanted our names associated with our work. Years later, we’re pretty certain now (we don’t). We only wish we’d thought of those robot heads before Daft Punk did.
Our first shoot was for a little brand called Timex. I guess almost ten years ago, Timex decided that they wanted to concentrate globally on print-ads for the 2004 Olympics, and the president of Timex here in Canada knew that print-ads in a few magazines was not going do it for them. So he turned his print-ad budget over to us and said, “make some TV.” We were working at Ogilvy and Mather at the time as creatives. So we wrote a spot called Late For Work Astronaut that featured the Easy-Set alarm of one of their watches. We thought it would be easy and all we would need was a really good spacesuit, but in Toronto there weren’t any spacesuits to be had (laughs), the Canadian Space Program being what it is. The only spacesuit we could locate had to be flown in from Hollywood, and that expense left us with not having any money to hire a director. We weren’t thinking about what could go wrong so we just shot it. I guess it was a combination of good luck and good timing.
It was a particular moment in Canadian advertising where budgets were small but trust was kind of high. We were a creative team and we had creative directors who were happy to let us go play and a client who realized we didn’t have a lot of money to work with. It was a very simple idea, and we called in the right favors and made it happen.
There are lessons on every shoot every time for sure. The biggest problem on our first shoot was that everything was fine until we found out that the big fancy spacesuit we ordered didn’t really fit in the small car we were using very well. The actor had to drive the car and stop very quickly, get out of the car really fast and run toward the rocket that was about to take off. He couldn’t get out of the car without doing this awkward maneuver with this huge helmet on. People on set were telling us “Why don’t you just take his helmet off? He can put it on after he gets out of the car.” and we both thought it wouldn’t be as funny if we did that. We learned from that moment that the easiest solution is not always the best solution. We made the decision not to do it the easy way. The actor managed to get out of the car by contorting his body, and it turned out much funnier than doing it the easy way. You have to have a sense of what you want the details to be. I mean that’s your job – making a lot of decisions and making the right ones. So this was sort of a good way to learn, because we had four decisions we needed to make – what’s the car, what’s the spacesuit, what’s the stock footage, and where are we shooting it.
Nothing about the job gets easier. You learn to have a little more confidence in the choices you make. You learn what you like. I feel that when it starts getting easy we sort of pause and question ourselves.
I would say our aha moment was much earlier actually. Our aha moment happened before we started directing. It happened when we were a creative team and worked with a director who didn’t make our script what we hoped it would be. As directors there were aha moments all the time. Just getting our first spot done was a huge aha moment when realized we could make decisions. The notion of the happy accident or the popular fantasy that you just show up with some lights and a camera and then crazy magical things will ensue, we’ve actually seen this work on some scripts, but I think our personal approach has been the complete opposite of that.
I don’t know if we have any rituals per say. Ian and I write our own treatments, and we sort of write them the way that we wrote college essays. We send ideas back and forth over iChat, and that’s where we start making all the creative decisions. When we are writing a treatment we craft a vision of what the spot can be. And then if we get the job the prep is figuring out how to make that happen – gathering people and resources, and the right partners, and filling in all the blanks. In terms of rituals, Ian draws the storyboards. He’s very modest about his storyboard abilities, but he’s a great storyboard artist.
We are peace lovers (laughs). I would say it’s less like a marriage and more like tag team wrestlers with how we work. We work well together and we’ve worked well together for a long time, because we have similar tastes. There is rarely any friction, because we usually want the same thing. On those rare occasions when there is, I wouldn’t call it friction, but where the answer isn’t obvious. That’s usually a good thing, because we’ll rethink the concept and discuss it until we find the right solution. I think that for us it’s never the ego of one of us against the other. We gave ourselves this made up name, The Perlorian Brothers, and we’re not really brothers. The ego that we have is like a collective ego and wanting The Perlorian Brothers to be as good as they can be. I think it’s made us more open to the contributions of everyone on the team to not be a communist about it. When you’re open to different people’s take on things and input from people with different specialties I think you can only gain from that. I guess we don’t subscribe to the auteur theory quite so much. It’s more like the auteur committee. A couple of Canadian socialists (laughs).
You have to be given the right chances, and you have to make the right connections and meet the right people who are going to assist you along the way. You have to have somebody who believes in you early in your career. This is not a business where, from our experience anyway, you say “Okay, I’m just going go do it by myself and conquer the world.” You need producers, and you need some degree of financial assistance in the beginning to help put productions together. But I do think, like anything, you can create the right circumstance for a little bit of luck to find its way to you.
Comedy is often memorable, because you have a real reaction to it. We’ve been lucky enough to work on scripts that were well written and knew how to elicit that kind of emotion in thirty seconds. Comedy is a very quick way to make a connection with a person. You can make connections with other emotions, but that usually takes longer. We make bad jokes on a first date to get the girl to laugh, and that’s what brands are doing – well at least the ones that do it right. It’s maybe the easiest most direct way to get a reaction and make that connection with someone.
Yes. We made that decision from the start. There was a lot of comedy happening then, but there was a very palpable distinction between the ads that were not comedy which were spectacular well-funded shoots, and the film looked amazing, and the score and all the details were looked after. And then there was comedy, which was a bit of a goon show, low budget, the writing might be good, but it looked like shit. We had the desire to see comedy that looked great – comedy that thought about the details, comedy that was well crafted. And that’s sort of what we have been trying to do ever since in one way or another.
We look at what we do, what we influence, and what our choices are, and that’s all influenced by how the big sea changes in the industry. I know the business is changing now with viral videos and online stuff, but it’s sort of the same as it’s always been. It’s terrible and amazing at the same time, ya know? There’s tons of terrible stuff, and there are amazing opportunities, and you turn on the TV or even go to YouTube or AdCritic and see what people are sharing. Some of it’s good, a lot of it’s shit, there are people who want to do different things using different ideas, and that’s what keeps it exciting.
It is a very different game than when we started. Someone who is trying to get in the industry now is facing a much different landscape. You can create your own possibilities, you can create your own media, and the tools that are available are stunning and changing all the time. But with all of that said, I think if you have “vision” and “perseverance” to express your vision and you keep learning and trying, from what we have seen anyway, you do succeed. We talked about luck before, it’s hard to tell someone to go get lucky, so you gotta be doing it, and you gotta be out there, and you have to be in a place where the lighting strikes. And if you are out there enough times in the rain storm with the metal pole maybe you’ll get hit.
Passion for feature films needs to come from deep within your own creative soul, and it’s not something that you just get hired on for. When we write treatments for commercials we make the commitment to fall in love with that project for two weeks. Feature films are big commitments, and we haven’t found the kind of project that will make us commit for such a long period of time. The creative energy you get from throwing yourself into a project for two weeks and being able to do that again two weeks later on something completely different, there’s something satisfying and very exciting about that.
Someone mentioned this metaphor recently for production that directors are like midwives giving birth to an idea. As heartwarming as that is, we think it’s the opposite – when the idea lands in our hands, all things are possible, but as we start to work, we narrow those possibilities – from any actor to that actor, from any place to that place, from any line read to that line read, and so forth, until there’s one singular expression of the original idea, hopefully the best possible expression, but no other. And then it’s done. And so rather than midwives, it’s like we’re undertakers, laying to rest all the possibilities but one and embalming that idea in a neat, lifelike but unmoving state of rest and, as close as we can manage, perfection.
Back in the mid 80’s the Swedish government hired commercial director Roy Andersson to make a PSA about AIDS, which was a full blown epidemic by then. For whatever reason, he essentially hijacked the project, taking their budget and making an incredibly outrageous 24-minute art film called Something Happened. The Swedish health ministry freaked out, fired Andersson and buried the project, but it ended up surfacing in art houses years later and basically defined Andersson’s very unique style as a film director.
The Perlorian Brothers
Directors / MJZ