Marco, how would you sum up the time since you left college?
Leaving Art Center marked the end of a cycle. I had been studying all my life until that moment and I finally stepped out of school with great expectations. I can tell you it wasn’t easy. To be honest, I spent something like eight months pitching on projects without shooting a thing, and that shit can break you bad.
I never really lost faith though and kept studying, researching, prepping myself for the day that would come. Then that day came and, luckily, a few more after that. Along the way, I signed with a number of production companies around the world and managed to win gold at YDA last year, although I couldn’t go to Cannes to attend the ceremony and my award fell off the shelf a few days after I got it, shattering to pieces.
Now it’s been almost two years since I graduated and I think it’s just about to start for me. I do still lose most of the pitches, but hey, I didn’t chose this job because I thought it was easy.
Are the briefs for the commercials quite detailed or is there an expectation that you will create your own visual story? We’re thinking of your latest pieces for BMW X2 and Uniqlo in particular.
It really depends. These last two projects, for example, were completely different. The brief for Uniqlo that came out of TBWA\Chiat\Day was already very well structured and detailed. They knew they wanted it to be a one take escape through ages of constricting undergarments and they pointed out, from the beginning, which type of underwear they wanted to include. Yet a lot of work and research had to be done in order to design those shots within a space, in a way that would feel organic and seamless, and that’s really what my approach was about.
The initial brief for BMW, on the other hand, was supposed to be more of an interview of Pietro Sedda in his studio where he would talk about his collaboration with BMW on the new X2. When it came to me, I just thought there was so much more we could’ve explored, therefore I asked the creative team at M&C Saatchi if I could just get a few days to pitch something from scratch and, luckily, they went with it. I just liked the idea of mixing art and technology and wanted to create a space filled with installations, something that would feel like walking into the Tate, and have the new X2 being its main piece.
How did you find the transition from having creative freedom on your earlier Golden Goose work to creating work for a client with specific demands?
It’s a different way of working and it can definitely get frustrating at times, but I gradually learnt to appreciate it as well. No matter how much you fight, you will never win it all, so I just try to be truthful to myself and pick the projects that are worth fighting for. I just really want to create a body of work that will only belong to me and that lives within my world, that’s why I feel I will never be very prolific as a commercial director.
On that note, I still think that, to this day, my best work came from having a chance to work directly with clients on ideas that originated from me, and I will always be seeking for that type of relationship.
What were the main challenges of shooting the commercials?
Uniqlo was very challenging from a technical standpoint. It wasn’t just about the stitching, but also about figuring out ways to get those garments off smoothly. On top of that, I remember the tricky part was finding a way to make it fit exactly into a 60 second commercial, so every action and camera movement had to be timed with precision.
Moreover, in order for our takes to match seamlessly with one another, the final edit had to be locked while shooting on set, which can be scary when you only get eight hours of daylight to shoot the entire thing. The main challenge though, was to break down the space while creating the illusion of a linear path, so that we could seamlessly get to that cliff at the end. In order to do that, I came up with the idea of building a maze in the middle, which we then moved to a different location where we shot our ending.
BMW was much easier and I had a lot of fun with it. I guess the main challenge was selling my idea to agency and client, who always imagined this film being very bright and sunny. It was more about production design and art direction, which has always been my favourite part of the job and something I feel quite confident at.
To what extent do you write your own narratives for your music videos – from the highly complex and cinematic Li Yuchun for Chris Lee to the mental dental film for Tierra Whack?
I write my own music videos on my own or with my closest friends, I think that’s the whole point of it. The one for Tierra though started from her idea of performing from a dental chair while being flooded with anesthetics, and I just came up with the rest.
You have an extraordinary cast in Chris Lee’s video – how did you find them?
They were all street casted in Milan and we got them to shave, one by one, the day of shoot. It was cool.
Were they professional dancers and did you work with a choreographer on the movement sequences?
None of them were dancers or actors, not that I know of. When shooting those action sequences we started blasting heavy metal on set and they all just went crazy. They got very involved with the concept and the atmosphere we created and went for it.
What were the main challenges of creating this film?
Probably shooting half of it in China and having to convince the label that the part in Milan wasn’t gonna feel too dark or “culty” since they were really concerned about censorship. Writing the treatment from the beach while on vacation with my friends and my girlfriend of the time kind of sucked too. On the other hand, the shoot in Milan went very smoothly and I really had a good time.
What was the process for creating Eye for an Eye and Star Back Home, two earlier pieces which you wrote yourself, and perhaps mark when your own visual language became more confident?
We shot both of those projects back to back during my last term at Art Center, which was kind of exhausting considering I also had to figure out how to take care of my finals in order to graduate. Back then, I was developing a series of projects for Golden Goose and Star* Back Home was initially meant to be just a backup idea for a bigger installation film, which sort of fell through because it was just too ambitious for the time. Yet, that backup idea ended up being pretty damn hard as well and I remember having a few panic attacks along the way, but I’m very grateful things went how they did.
Our approach was definitely very naive. I just thought I had a very good idea and, when the client gave me the green light, me and my producer Malcom just decided to pick the best students we knew from school and flew up Oregon, stealing every good location we could possibly find and losing a bunch of equipment on our way there. Looking back to it, it still feels kind of crazy we managed to deliver but sometimes I wish any project could be done like that.
Eye for an Eye was a film for Vogue Italia and Fashion Film Festival Milano. We literally prepped it while shooting in Oregon, in between breaks, and I remember thinking, for a good moment, it was gonna fall through. We really didn’t have any money for this one, so we shot it entirely in one night, including all the parts that you can only see in the interactive version (https://eyeforaneye.video/#/). I wanted the story to be the second chapter of a trilogy of home invasion fashion films, the first one being Three Rivers and the third one soon to come. They are all branded films that revolve around three girls inside a designer house, but in every film we play with a different genre. The final chapter, which I’m writing with a friend at the moment, is going to be be a sci-fi that takes place in a house in the desert.
What are the key lessons you’ve learnt about filmmaking over the last couple of years?
I came to the realization that it doesn’t get easier and that it probably never will, but I gradually learnt to live with that. Seeing a project through is literally so hard, from beginning to end, at least for me, and that’s why I have so much respect for directors that do this job well. Most importantly, filmmaking is also incredibly rewarding on so many levels, and I do believe it can change you into a better person throughout the journey. You really need to love the craft and give it all you got, be passionate and persist every time you hit a wall, because mere talent might not get you far enough but passion can take you anywhere.
Now that you’ve graduated from Pasadena where do you call home?
I moved out of Pasadena but I still live between Milan and Los Angeles. I try to go back and forth as much as I can because they both tend to get static after a while, probably like anywhere else, but I do think they sort of complement each other in a beautiful way. At the moment I’m writing from my apartment in Silver Lake but I will go back to Europe in a couple of weeks to shoot a project in Barcelona. After that, I’ll probably spend some family time in Italy if I can.
See previous interview here