Brazil nuts: directing duo ALASKA
You’ve been directing together since 2011. How did you meet?
Just like any fine romance, we met at film school. Obviously we were both passionate about cinema but both of us were also driven towards telling weird little stories within weird visual narratives… and we also needed to make some money. So, we started what we thought was a production company and we called it ALASKA Filmes.
What inspired the name ALASKA, given you both come from Sao Paulo?
There are a bunch of different reasons, but I guess the main one relates to a short film project that we intended to shoot in Alaska’s mysterious and iconic landscape. But it was quite far from home, so we had this plan: let’s go do some commercials to fund this passion project! We called the plan ‘Missão Alaska’, and guess what? We still haven’t made it – it’s just too cold for us – but we got stuck with the name.
Jaw-dropping SFX is a hallmark of your work, whether that’s repeating GIF-like glitches or Matrix-style ‘bullet time’. Is this an aesthetic you’ve consciously chosen to specialise in, or did it evolve organically over the course of your career?
On one hand, we see our work as a reflection of the films we love and the directors we admire – this ranges from superhero films with overwhelming in-your-face CGI through to conceptual in-camera crafty effects (we grew up on milk, cereal and Michel Gondry…)
On the other hand, we feel like we naturally gravitate towards creating fantastic or magical narratives. I guess this comes from the desire to share some of the dreamlike thoughts that rush through our heads. One of the most beautiful things of being a director is being able to extract a scene from inside your mind and share it with the world, so I guess our visual effects craft is a result of this constant struggle to make our craziest thoughts come to life.
Your recent film for Facebook in Brazil is a departure from your usual style – why did the job appeal?
Our film for Facebook appealed to us for a strong specific reason. We felt like it was a great opportunity to use our music video craftsmanship in favour of speaking up about something relevant. Facebook’s ‘Comin Out’ is a film that speaks the truth about its characters when it comes to acceptance and freedom.
The project is the result of a thorough casting process in which we reached out to people who were willing to open their hearts and ‘come out’ to the world while dancing to Diana Ross’s iconic song.
We used this opportunity to help share our cast’s feelings of liberation and the empowerment of being themselves. Everyone deserves to be loved and accepted for who they are, so it was a joy to create a piece that speaks for the LGBTQ community and that has been so warmly received by everyone.
Your films are often a celebration of geekdom – most notably, in CCXP ‘Battle of the Geeks’, and World of Tanks ‘Grown-Ups’. What’s the appeal of the geek/gamer and how much personal experience are you drawing on?
We love referring and celebrating geekdom, for sure. Not only as a result of our geeky childhood, but also because it’s a niche where you find huge love and devotion. It’s really inspiring to make something that people relate so passionately about. People cheer when they watch ‘Battle of The Geeks’, they devour it, they duel about who’s going to find the most references. It’s just pure fun to see people relate to something you created, and the geek universe is something that helps establish this passionate connection.
Victoria Mexcican Beer, Nuestra Tierra
One of your most impressive spots was for iZettle, the story of a plucky independent shopkeeper struggling against a huge faceless corporation in a dystopian world reminiscent of Blade Runner 2049 and Black Mirror. Can you talk us through the concept and how you brought it to life?
Creating a dystopian world is always so much fun yet challenging at the same time. In this iZettle spot we wanted to create a sombre future, in which this huge corporations invade everyone’s daily life, scan your profile and bombard us all with target hologram ads. But we also wanted to create a warm side to the narrative, showing the reminiscences of tenderness through the baking craft of our protagonist. Her charisma and struggle make us want her to prevail, for the long life of her small bakery, as the world around her gets progressively dark and invasive.
We chose to shoot in Kiev, so to embody the cold and brutal aspect of Soviet architecture, whilst also creating a futuristic atmosphere with holograms-ads, questionable fashion trends and futuristic devices. Our DP on the job, and dear friend Pierre Kerchove, created a ‘glowy’ and foggy atmosphere that makes the world feel dystopian but also eye-catching. We used small practical lights to replicate the impression that the holograms were really standing all over the place.
Truth be told, we had a few extra tricks in our back pocket that unfortunately didn’t made it to the final script, but we were super happy with how this dystopian world was shaped.
It’s also interesting that after the iZettle spot which none-too-subtly referenced a global retail giant, you went on to make an actual ad for Amazon! Any awkward feelings about that?
Haha. Love this question… but, no, no awkward feelings at all! It’s funny when you put these two films side by side, but I mean… that’s why the world keeps on spinning right? The client made sure to poke us with funny jokes, but it was all very friendly. After all, everyone knows we are just a couple of professional guns for hire.
(Our masterplan is actually to burn ALL big corporations to the ground and devote ourselves to organic farming… just don’t tell anyone.)
Tove Lo, Are You Gonna Tell Her?
Alongside big brand ads like Pepsi, Amazon x Bose and Samsung, you’ve done some music videos, including the heartbreaking promo for O Terno’s ‘Ai, Ai, como eu me iludo’, in which tiny humanoid robots assist people with everyday tasks, and are labelled ‘defective’ when they develop emotions and minds of their own. Was it a case of already having the concept for the video and finding the right song, or the other way round?
It was actually the other way around. We are very close friends with the band, so when they reached out to us with a song, they gave us total creative freedom. The song was about this guy who never has his love returned in his relationships and has his heart broken all the time. We wanted to tell this story from a slightly unexpected perspective. So we chose a defective tiny humanoid robot.
Truth be told, we had thought of the technique beforehand: we wanted to test a mixed technique in which we would use ‘plastic-like’ makeup/clothes and distort the actor’s proportions to give the impression he is actually a big-eyed freaky mini-helper. So everything is made using compositions: the toy is actually a grown-up man handling a two-metre-long knife, meaning there is no 3D. This technique and the lyrics evoked us to create this story, and the result feels like a weird meeting between Toy Story and Tinder.
easyjet, Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek for easyJet is an amazingly complex spot full of seamless transitions which must have taken serious preparation and planning. How much was captured in camera versus post-production? And what were the biggest technical challenges?
When we met at film school, we would spend the afternoons testing all sorts of crazy little tricks. We would shoot and comp little tricks in After Effects, in a very trial and error kind of way. These days we basically do the same, but we are paid for it!
Some of the scenes required a bit more complex post-production though and we made mock-up test scenes to try the effect out.
But the real fun thing about this project is that most of the effects are done essentially in-camera. There are tweaks and comps, of course, but the idea was to make it feel like ‘elevated Tiktok effects’, something that your niece and her neighbour could be doing right now. Often, some of the simplest effects are also the most enjoyable: like the scene when she dives on the sea, comes out from a fountain, shakes her head and – puff! – her hair is dry. This whole sequence is built on effects that are almost as simple as a match cut, using the actors and camera movement to create a sense of seamless transitions. I guess the magic relies on how simple they actually are.
There’s also some fun cameos in this one. I got to be the tourist who unfolds from inside the suitcase. That made my grandma finally understand what I do for a living, so a win-win situation there.
Out of a suitcase in-camera, easyjet
What else are you working on at the moment?
We released a music video [Modo Turbo] for Brazilian pop giants, Anitta, Pabllo Vittar & Luisa Sonza earlier this year. It was a crazy ride with less creative control than was ideal, but we definitely feel like it’s a fun one for the books. (And it’s been seen by more than 50 million people in less than a month).
We are also about to shoot a dance music video in which the lead singer, a metamorphic mutant, devours her ex-boyfriend, a sexy vampire inspired by 90’s era Dennis Rodman. We’re excited for this one.
Interview by Selena Schleh
See Making of Modo Turbo here
ALASKA FILMES website