We’ve been lucky enough to have been directing professionally for ten years now, so we have to cast our minds back into the dark well of awkwardness and general fakery that was TWiN, the directing duo circa 2003. Other than a bunch of very pedestrian home productions, the first proper shoot we undertook together was a music video for Australian hip-hop duo, Koolism, for a song called Adrenalin.
It was our grand plan to crack into the Aussie music video industry and had to start at the bottom with this video doing almost everything ourselves. The guys from Koolism went out on a limb and let us throw an idea at them, really trusting us that we wouldn’t make them look like dicks. Not being able to afford film, and before HD was the norm, we shot it on the ancient Canon XL1 and did our best to capture the humor and personality of the Koolism boys. Unfortunately, our plans for an industry takeover got reality-slapped a few years later when we couldn’t book anything but cookie-cutter Australian pop videos. Happy to say that commercials picked up the slack and really built whatever ship we now sail in 2013.
Like a lot of directors, we came from a very DIY school of thinking. Everything was borrowed and/or held together with electrical tape. It was always about making $100 look like $10,000. Even as we started directing commercials with low to medium budgets, we each tried our absolute hardest to make what was on screen look like a lot more than what we had to spend. This is obviously nothing new. Everybody does this when they’re starting out, but that ‘reluctance to waste money’ really ingrained itself into the way we work and the way we still work today.
I think we both came into our own as directors somewhere in 2006. The confidence was there, and the work backed up the confidence. It was probably only around then when we even had the balls to put ‘Director’ on immigration forms at the airport. (Josh) The “aha” moment came from winning and then finishing a huge Australian Heineken commercial, which was my first international shoot. It did very well for me and set the foundation of how I work with complex visual effects on film. (Jonathan) It was directing a detailed VFX-heavy Hyundai commercial that took me out of my comfort zone and had me create an organic car born from the cellular level. There are always important moments in life that change someone’s course, and those two individual and disconnected projects really laid the path for where we are today. Every director needs a personal confidence boost that let’s them know their opinion is worthwhile. Once you gain that, you’re off.
Seems blatantly obvious, but always surround yourself with the best talent in every department from DP to line producer to production designer to colorist. Even on some of our first low budget commercials, we’d often sacrifice money to get the best DP we could find, because not only would you know your film would look amazing, but you’d have that wealth of experience you could tap into and hear stories and advice from. Early in our careers, we worked with both Australian and U.S. cinematographers who shot some of our favorite films with some of our favorite directors, and we heard some amazing stories you would not believe. That became our film school in a way.
Wow. All are big contributors to a director getting any kind of traction when they’re brand new. Talent HAS to win though. For the world to keep spinning, talent has to win. If you’re making good stuff that people respond to, you won’t stay unknown for long – especially in 2013. But luck is a very close second.
While it was only 10 years ago, it seemed like a very unique thing in Australia to be under 30 and directing. There were certainly others, but nowhere near the number of young guys working today. A director having decades of experience gave agencies a comfort factor that I’m not sure they need as much anymore. Now I think the work itself speaks louder, and agencies want to be involved with what’s hot, and what’s new, and what’s obviously amazing. If that work is from some 22-year-old visual genius, then I think people are more willing to give them a go. While there are a lot of directors today not making enough to pay rent from their craft, I think it’s certainly a lot easier to break into the ad game than ten years ago. Staying there is the challenge.
Man, so many things. Early Spielberg and Zemeckis, Ridley Scott, Alfonso Cuaron… Romanek and Fincher. So many movies and music videos and commercials made us super hungry to direct our own stuff. The work of many a talented cinematographer. It’s all about the tone of a piece of film. Poetic, but not too sentimental. Serious, but with a touch of humor. Beautiful photography. It’s really hard to be specific when it comes to influence. As ex-designers, you soak up the cool stuff that turns you on, and as a director you just want to make something honest and real. I guess that’s the perfect combo right there.
Overall, the film industry is kinda what you want to make it, and I’m not talking just about Hollywood. I’m talking all of it – movies, short films, advertising and music videos. Of course there’s limitations and boxes that decision-makers want to put you in as a director, but you have the ability, more than ever, to change that for yourself. We made a conscious decision to stop being known only for design-heavy VFX work, so we made a B-line towards more photographic and character based scripts. That led to projects like the work we’ve done for HP. We wanted to work on more sports-based spots, so we went out and shot This Is My Court – our ode to American streetball culture. We’d never been known for strong narrative stuff, so we started shooting short films in our spare time. You upload one to Vimeo and get Staff Pick of the Week, and suddenly you better have the feature-length idea ready, because Hollywood comes a calling. It’s a remarkable era we’re working in right now, where a first-time short film director can spark the interest of a major studio. Obviously, what you do with these opportunities will quickly decide how long you have opportunities, but it’s an exciting time for any director that’s talented and driven and wants to evolve creatively.
Why naturally, it’s a director’s two hands when he frames them together like a little cinema screen! (Laughs) There are so many tools at your disposal as a director, but if we had to point at just one…maybe it’s the ability to see things from above, like a birds-eye view on a project. To know what’s really important and what’s minutia. To know what to fight for and when to be political. All your heads of departments are looking out for their own individual parts of the puzzle, but when it comes down to it, the director is really the only one looking at every single tiny detail. That can be a daunting prospect if you overly obsess about it, but if you can find that harmonious sweet-spot between control and letting things find themselves, you’re doing just swell.
We’ve always said when people ask us how hard it is to be a director that really anybody can do it…you just have to have an opinion and stick to it. Obviously, it’s not that simple, but at the end of the day, you could not know a single thing about the directing process or the politics or the technicalities of being on a film set, and if you just had the confidence to make a decision and stick to it, you’d get by. Because you’re gonna get asked questions a lot from what the tone of an actor’s performance should be, to what color the coffee mug on the table should be, and your collaborators just need a confident response that guides them in the same direction as everyone else on the team. That’s really the challenge, to guide everybody in the same direction towards a clear goal in a harmonious way. And being able to laugh certainly helps. Believe me, there’s plenty of working directors out there that haven’t nailed that one simple concept.
Despite commercial direction being our day-to-day creative work right now, we still love playing with short films as a way to cleanse the palette. The problem with the nature of the personal project though, is that people assume they’re these grand opuses – when the reality is they’re often so incredibly spontaneous and thrown together, because you had no time, money or real resources. So to answer your question, the latest piece from us is a personal project where we’re finally able to show what we can do when we plan a short film for longer than an afternoon and make it as bad-ass as it can possibly be. That is at the very least the aim, and it should be ready to view early next year.
Probably Children Of Men, and after watching that 194 times on our desert island TV, we will wish we brought Back to the Future instead.
We were invited to see a screening of Gravity with the VFX team from Framestore, and people won’t truly understand the complexity of that film until the DVD comes out.
Twin - Joshua & Jonathan Baker
Director / Rabbit