Florian, the music video trilogy that you have directed for German electronic music artist Paul Kalkbrenner, explores society’s aggressive and non-empathetic reaction to a character who innocently invades people’s private space by wanting to share the music he loves. Florian is different, he’s misunderstood, he’s an outsider, but as a viewer we really care and relate to him.
In fact you’re a master at crafting emotionally sensitive films about interestingly quirky people. What draws you to these characters who are so often misfits and outcasts?
Really good observation 🙂 I’m definitely drawn to characters at the fringes of society in all kinds of ways. It goes a long way back, I was always attracted by individuals who stood out, either as misfits or in the form of brilliantly gifted and sensitive people. For instance I love the novels of Hermann Hesse who often wrote about extraordinary sensitive characters that don’t get along with society and the norms and expectations surrounding them.
Not being part of the big mass has an appealing power to me and I (subconsciously and consciously) focus on these characters in my work. Being an outsider brings an interesting friction and tension and to me it helps to reflect on our society — what is the norm, what is accepted, what is looked upon with rejection etc. To a certain degree I live this misfit experience myself as a creative person — I think that all people with a creative brain and soul are more or less outsiders.
How did you get inside the head of Florian to portray him so authentically?
I think it’s a mix of things: one is that I dealt with this kind of character in my past and in many of my creative projects (including a feature film — that I’m writing on for over a year now — about a misfit similar to Florian’s nature). So I already had a bunch of ideas and scenes in my head when developing the Florian trilogy together with the guys at Droga.
Speaking of the latter, I worked closely with Felix and Alex (the creatives) on crafting the scenes that inform Florian’s character. We really spent a lot of time shaping his personality, his biography, his background, his psychological structure, his wishes, his dreams, his desires, his needs, his complex nature (that we defined as being on the verge of autistic, while keeping it open if he’s actually autistic). And thirdly our actor Erik Gersovitz did a fantastic job. He helped bring this character to life by being so special and different and sensitive and smart himself — he understood this role perfectly from the first second when I met him in the first casting session.
It’s unusual that the idea for a music video series was written by agency creatives – Alexander Nowak and Felix Richter at Droga5. How detailed was the narrative when you first became involved in the project – and did they write it with you always in mind to direct it?
When Felix and Alex approached me, they had already written and presented the idea of a young guy trying to share German electro music in the US. This idea had a strategic background: the artist Paul Kalkbrenner wants to set his foot on US territory with his new album “7”, and the idea plays with the fact that electro music has an outsider role on the US music market. So on this level, Florian symbolically represents this part, the role of a foreign music style (even though, ironically, it has its origins in Chicago and Detroit).
I know Felix and Alex from previous projects we did together and they thought of me as a director for this concept because they know my focus on misfit characters (like the misfit giant in The Wind I did years ago). So we started to develop this initial idea further. The simple concept of a young guy sharing his music evolved into the character study of Florian with all these light and dark moments that make it so human. When I first spoke with Felix about this project, I told him that my take on it would be to make it a story with human depth, rather than just a provocative idea. And this is what we ended up doing. In various Skype calls we created this emotional journey that ends with Florian’s dream of redemption.
Visually it was always clear to me straight away that we have to find a compelling mix of visual beauty and the intensity of being in the moment with Florian. The camera work was crucial for this and my DoP, Ben Kitchens, translated my vision perfectly. For me the camera energy is what makes a film captivating because the camera is the audience’s eye, and it either keeps you at a distance or sucks you right into the journey. The latter is what I wanted, and therefore the camera had to be close to Florian throughout — especially for the more violent scenes. The camera is in constant movement and rarely stands still. Like an ongoing flow of energy that captures Florian’s drive and vibrating desire he feels inside.
To what extent was the narrative locked down in pre-production or did some of the film – the flashbacks for example– evolve in the edit? Were there any scenes you scrapped and if so why?
We didn’t scrap any scene, which is a surprise. We really used everything we shot. The flashbacks were always scripted, together with the re-appearance of all the people who rejected and hurt him. The theme for the final dream episode was redemption and the flash backs played an important part when we wrote it. So it was all planned. Of course you never know which ones you end up using and there was a bit of playing around and experimenting in the edit. Both editors who worked on this at Arcade Edit, Greg Scruton and Nick Rondeau are the loveliest, most passionate and most talented editors I’ve seen. They brought so much to this project, I really want to thank them this way again.
In the final episode of Florian our hero gets a second chance to share the music he loves with those people who first rejected it – where did you find these characters who appear throughout the trilogy and how did you go about casting the role of Florian?
We found Erik Gersovitz for Florian through traditional casting at Alyson Horn Casting. Maya, our casting director, immediately thought of Erik Gersovitz as Florian. We went through about 30 different people and we ended up with Erik. We made a casting mood board (see in related content) which Maya got from me in the beginning, and it’s quite amazing how close Erik is to these reference characters.
The other characters are a mix of traditional casting (the girl gang for instance) and street casting (knocking on doors – like the Mexican family who are amateurs). I wanted to find real people with an authentic credibility. And I think that both the street casting and the professional casting gave me the authenticity I was looking for.
Please tell us about the production and shoot – were there any major challenges and how did you resolve them?
As always time was an issue. Shooting content for three episodes is intense and we were running around like crazy. The most complicated scene was the girl gang scene beating Florian up, because it had to look real and not like the usual “film fight”. It was really late when we shot this scene (actually the last one we shot), and everybody was tired. So we kept shooting this brawl over and over again, from all kinds of angles. The girls felt so sorry being aggressive with the Florian character because they even felt for him while we were shooting it. In the end it turned out great but it was intense and hard work.
You’ve also developed a trilogy of films involving three different tracks for the Herbert Bail Orchestra – again produced through Jefferson Projects. And recently director Vincent Haycock too has created an on-going series collaborating with Florence Welch. Do you think this new way of story-telling and filming will become the norm for music videos?
I don’t know if it’s a new way. But definitely the way music videos are done is much more complex, story-telling focussed and approached like proper film making than in the past. I feel that creating content is the big thing right now, in the world of music videos, web series or advertising. It’s all about telling stories that catch people. I think creating a content series for the music of one artist actually makes sense because it ties the music of the artist together. But the majority will probably always just be one-off videos, with or without a story because it’s easier and quicker to produce.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Only that I’m excited to see this trilogy getting some recognition in the US not only because of the videos but I think Paul Kalkbrenner’s music deserves to be seen and heard.
Paul Kalkbrenner, FLORIAN Trilogy:
Cloud Rider, Mothertrucker, Feed Your Head
Agency: Droga5 NY
Creative Chairman David Droga
Chief Creative Officer Ted Royer
Creative Director/Art Director: Alex Nowak
Creative Director/Writer: Felix Richter
Chief Creation Officer Sally Ann Dale
Executive Producer Ben Davies
Head of Business Development Chris Wollen
Director of Brand Influence Matthew Gardner
Client Paul Kalkbrenner
Manager Marcus Ruschmeyer
Production Company: Jefferson Projects
Director: Björn Rühmann
Executive Producer: Diane McArter
Executive Producer: David Thorne
Producer: Evan Urman
Director of Photography: Benjamin Kitchens
Casting Director: Alyson Horn
Starring, as “Florian”: Erik Gersovitz
Post Production – Edit
Editorial: Arcade Edit
Managing Partner/EP Damian Stevens
Executive Producer Nicole Visram
Producer Gavin Carroll
Editor Nick Rondeau
Assistant Editor Paulo Miramontes
Editor (Cloud Rider) Nick Rondeau
Assistant Editor Paulo Miramontes
Editor (Mother Trucker) Greg Scruton
Assistant Editor Paolo Miramontes
Editor (Feed Your Head) Greg Scruton
Assistant Editor: Paolo Miramontes
Post Production – VFX
Colorist: Ricky Gausis
Executive Producer, Color: Amanda Ornelas
Producer, Color: Summer McCloskey
Producer, VFX: Nicole Saccardi
Supervisor, VFX: Gizmo Rivera
Post Production – Audio
Sound: Eleven Sound
Mixer/Sound Designer: Ben Freer
Producer: Dawn Redmann
Executive Producer: Suzanne Hollingshead