In your previous life you were a creative at quite a few reknown agencies including Mother and WCRS in London, W+K Amsterdam, Santo and Africa in Sao Paulo. What was behind your decision to start directing?
Well, I started as an art director, than I became a copywriter, and then at Mother they didn’t really have set roles, they just used the broad term ‘creative’. Officially I was the art director, but I would always write script, and my brilliant partner John Cherry was constantly involved in art direction decisions. In fact, before all that I was a design and typography student at Central Saint Martins… so I guess I was never really afraid of switching roles.
But I guess the idea really came up whilst I was at Mother. I was producing a lot of work for Stella Artois and I worked with a lot of brilliant directors. Amongst them Ringan Ledwidge, Fredrik Bond, Noam Murro, Agustin Alberdi and Wes Anderson…and I started realising that sometimes they could take one of my not-so-great scripts and turn them into really great spots. So after observing these directors at work I started thinking that maybe I could do the same.
How has your perception of the production industry changed since you started directing films yourself?
It hasn’t really changed much. I’m just on the other side of the counter, but the goal is still exactly the same; to try to produce great creative work.
How does your background as a creative inform your film work?
Creative work nowadays can go through so many rounds of presentations and research that sometimes even the creative himself forgets what was so good about it at the start. Many times when I start a project I can tell that the creatives are tired, and I know what it feels like, because I’ve been there myself… I think the fact that I was a creative allows me to take care of the idea through it’s final and most crucial stage, when everybody is running out of steam.
Sometimes I think of my job as just being the last man protecting the core idea, in a battlefield of ideas constantly shot down by the client and focus groups! haha
Do you contribute creative ideas and evolvement in your treatments?
Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t at all. Let me be clear, I never change the idea, it’s not my job. If I don’t like the idea I don’t take the job. But what I do many times is add layers to the idea, or focus on one particular aspect of the idea. However, sometimes I try to take a step back and think of whether I actually need to add anything.
Sometimes the script is so clearly written, the agency has thought out the concept in such detail, that you need to just shoot what’s on the paper. I always try to ask myself whether I’m over-polishing something that doesn’t need to be polished.
What do you miss about the agency life?
I miss going in to work everyday and talking to extremely funny and creative people. A director’s job is much lonelier. I love being on set because it’s the closest I get to the collaborative nature of daily agency life.
There’s a high-def clarity to your films – whether it’s close-ups of details or wide-angled location shots. Is there a specific camera and kit you prefer to shoot on?
Not really. I’ve become a bit of an equipment geek since I started directing. When I start treating I already start researching which lenses I will use. It’s a one of the most fun parts of the job for me. Lately I’ve been shooting mostly with the Alexa XT, but I guess that’s what everybody has been shooting on, unless there is a camera rig restriction. In terms of lenses I try to pick the right set according to the script. I don’t want to be a director with a look, I want each film to have it’s own look.
Anagram Lovers for Scrabble, on the other hand, has a soft foggy grade which connects the different location shots. Did you visualize this before the production or did it evolve in the edit?
This was visualized from the start. We wanted to go for a slightly vintage uncoated lens look. In fact we wanted to shoot with 70s Cooke uncoated lenses, but we couldn’t get a hold of them in Buenos Aires, where the film was shot, and we ended up shooting on some vintage Zeiss High speed lenses. The lenses were coated, but then in colour grading, the colourist Fernando Lui, worked on the footage to reduce the contrast and lower the black levels to reach that sort of dreamy/foggy uncoated look.
Was Anagram Lovers a straightforward production – what were the main challenges?
Pretty straight forward. Our biggest challenge was trying to find locations that could kind of resemble Japan in the middle of Argentina, and on a relatively low budget.
There’s a spontaneous naturalness throughout your spots. We’re thinking Antarctica in particular here. Do you set the mood and location and let the cameras roll or do you plan what you want to achieve in detail in pre-production?
It’s all meticulously planned, so that during the shoot I can shoot what I know is going to work, and then have time to try to improvise and do something better. The key to this shoot was to make sure I had a great cast. I had very few extras, so I knew I could shoot what I needed and then pick a character in the background of a shot and shoot a close-up with him or her. This way I managed to get a lot of footage in a very short time.
How do you go about casting?
It really varies from project to project and mostly it depends on where I’m shooting. I keep archives of all my casting sessions, people who sometimes I don’t think are right for the role, but who have great faces, and who I think will come in handy in the future. That was the case with the two main actors in Scrabble, who play Agostina and Santiago. They were in my archives, and I presented them to the agency in my treatment.
Is Buenos Aires home now? Do you ever come to Europe to shoot?
Nope! I actually live in Brazil. Though I shoot in Buenos Aires a lot. For the love of god, don’t get this wrong. I’m Brazilian NOT Argentinean. I have some great Argentinean friends…but I’m not ready to be called Argentinean. Haha.
I only shot in Europe once, but I’d like to shoot more. I just need some scripts!
Scrabble / Anagram Lovers
Director: Rodrigo Saavedra
Agency: Lola Madrid