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5th November 2013
Relatively speaking
Title of film: Fryars 'Cool Like Me'
Director: Ian and Cooper
Only three music videos, each very different from the other, and they all rock... The award-winning directing cousins Ian and Cooper talk to us about anthropomorphic sperm, the end of the world and how they made a narrative from gifs

How did you two meet and at what point did you realize you wanted to direct films together?

We’re first cousins and our grandparents hail from Eastern Europe – so we go way back. I guess we first teamed up when getting the same bowl haircut at age 10. Since then we’ve walked our own paths in the film world: Ian was a staff writer at Prettybird while Cooper made docs about rock climbing. We always had it in the back of our minds that a future collaboration could fare better than those haircuts, so when opportunity to shoot a music video for electronic artist Boom Bip arose, we leapt on it. It all felt very organic and familial.

You’ve only got three videos on your reel, and they’re three cracking ones. Were there a lot of trial and error films that have ended up in the trash can or did you hit the ground running with All Hands for Boom Bip? (See in Related Content).

All Hands was actually our first experiment together. I remember thinking, wow, we’re allowed to film ideas starring anthropomorphic sperm — music videos are the shit!

Your video for Joel Compass, Back To Me has just picked up Best Urban Video at the UKMVAs – quite an accolade for only your second video. Please tell us how this film came about – were you commissioned on the strength of All Hands – and yet you have used a completely different technique for your story telling.

Thank you, we’re very flattered!

All Hands helped but I think the strength of our treatment for Back to Me got us the job. Our lovely commissioner Dilly Gent referenced La Jeteé in her brief (the 1962 short film by Chris Maker that’s composed from a series of still images). We connected with that immediately and thought “yes! …but with cinemagraphs”.

How tricky was it developing a narrative for Back To Me through cinemagraphs? Were you familiar with this style – in fact can you tell us please about how it was achieved? How many sets of photographs did you need for the video etc? Was it a big post job?

As La Jeteé demonstrated, a series of still images can work very well with narrative. Our story started with the image of a witchdoctor bringing someone back to life and then we built it out from there, trying to repurpose the “Back to Me” lyric so it wasn’t as literal as “boy longs for girl”. We studied a ton of cinemagraphs online to see what worked well, and then tried to create scenes that had cool imagery built in.

In each set-up, we’d have our actors pose, holding still in a certain position while we shot about 10 seconds of footage. Different shots required different post techniques, but in general the cinemagraphs came together in After Effects by layering a still frame over the moving footage and through masking, rotoscoping and stabilization.

Neither of us had actually used After Effects before this project, so the post process involved us furiously absorbing online tutorials, freaking out about the schedule, and Cooper sending edits from Switzerland (he had planned a climbing trip there long before we got the job)—but it somehow all came together on time.

And then there’s Cool Like Me for Fryars which is so funny and wonderful. Totally different again. How did the narrative come about?

We had initially pitched a different idea to Fryars and his team that everyone liked—but eventually they decided they wanted to go for something a bit more comedic. We came up with “mormons in the hood,” which Ben (Fryars) was into, and after having a few discussions with him, began to expand on the concept. We knew tonally we didn’t want to go for something totally slapstick that was just about these two very out of place white guys. So we tried to add those odd details—like the dancing and the alligator and the background of the religion—that could make this world feel just a little bizarre and off-kilter, while still being grounded in something real.

To what extent did you storyboard and prepare for the shoot – a lot of the close-ups of the expressions seem very spontaneous and deadpan. How difficult was it directing the extras and did you have several cameras on the crowd?

From the start, we wanted to approach this video like a well-shot documentary. Everyone in the cast (including the two leads) was a non-actor, so we knew that if we could get reactions that felt genuine and spontaneous, the whole story would resonate more than something that felt overly “acted.” Everything was shot listed broadly and we created a rough animatic for timing, but at the same time we definitely wanted the flexibility for our camera to move freely, and organically find certain looks and moments—which our DP Jackson Hunt is really great at.

On set, we’d set up the scenario (the missionaries talking to the old woman, for instance) and just let our cast go at it for several takes while Jackson moved around. Everything was natural light, which helped give the camera that freedom. The extras were great to work with—they really got what we were going for and acted natural and had fun with it. Our AD Kenny Taylor was a huge hero on this shoot, communicating and organizing everyone. We wanted to shoot with two cameras, but couldn’t afford it

Do you both write narratives together, do you work simultaneously on each stage of film making or do you tend to have turns at playing Captain?

We are really collaborative throughout the process—from concepting through post (although Cooper does most of the editing). When we’re writing, we both appreciate being able to bounce an idea off each other, or even tell each other something is shit. Sometimes it’s hard to tell until you say it aloud.

Because we share the director role on set, we just always have to make sure that we prep everything together and are completely on the same page. We’ll go through every set-up and make notes on camera and performance and even background action. There’s a lot of back and forth and debate, but we want to get that out of the way before the camera rolls. On the day of, it’s about executing it.

What are you working on now – if you can say! Is there something new due out soon?

There’s nothing due to come out imminently, but we’re pitching on a few things that we’re excited about. We’ll be in Poland in November for Camerimage Festival (Back to Me is nominated), which is super cool! Competing against Fincher is pretty surreal for us.

Fryars, Cool Like Me Director Ian And Cooper Exec Producer Candice Ouaknine Producer Sarah Park Cinematographer Jackson Hunt Prod. Designer Ali Rubinfeld Art Director Suzie Gaydos Ad Kenny Taylor Editor Cooper Roberts Vfx Chad Goel @ Glowgun Colorist Arnold Ramm Production Co Prettybird   Joel Compass, Back to Me Director Ian And Cooper Exec Producer Candice Ouaknine Producer Nathan Scherrer Cinematographer Patrick Scola Prod. Designer Ali Rubinfeld Assistant Camera Rachel Fox Ad Patrick Munroe Editor Cooper Roberts Vfx Ian And Cooper Additional Vfx Chad Goel @ Glowgun | Demi Adejuyigbe | Chuck "2 Nice" Schwarzbeck Colorist Pat Mcelroy @ Glowgun Production Co Prettybird Commissioner Dilly Gent   Boom Bip, All Hands Director Ian & Cooper Exec. Producer Candice Ouaknine Cinematographer Jackson Hunt Prod. Designer Ali Rubinfeld Assistant Camera Rachel Fox Gaffer Luke Hanlein Ad Roland Luitgaarden Editor Cooper Roberts Vfx Rami Hachache Colorist Marc Steinberg Production Co. Prettybird