Anything for Love
You’re originally from Biarritz, in the heart of the Basque country, a region famed for its outdoor lifestyle and sporting associations. What was your childhood like, and how do you think your background has shaped your approach as directors?
Yeah, and we still live there. It’s a great place to grow up, to live, to raise kids – but it’s starting to get busier and busier every year. I can understand why people come – a beach one minute from home, mountains and skiing two hours away, you can be in Spain in 20 minutes – plus great weather and good vibes. Anything For Love was shot around our home town. It would be a great ad for tourism!
What was our childhood like? The answer is somewhere in [Anything For Love], and this is probably the deeper side of that project. Our main aim was for our kids to live as we did when we were 10-year-olds – where everything was easier, safer in a way. My childhood memories are mostly about spending days outside with friends, our parents out of sight, having real life adventures with my brother. Every single day was a film scenario. Today we’re afraid of that, we always need visual contact with our kids and so they lose confidence, they lose identity, they lose passion. My son is into skateboarding, and since making this film, I gave him the opportunity to take more time outside without always being controlled.
Our personal background has shaped everything about our approach, we are what we film, we represent these little things, I believe. In this industry, we’re nobodies coming from nowhere – 100% self-taught, without any network in cinema or advertising. There wasn’t even a rental place for cameras in our town. We weren’t a rich family, but we were free. Our parents gave us the richness to be travelers, to discover, to listen to music, to dance, to open our minds to different cultures. We are a mixture ourselves: our mother comes from Morocco, our father is Spanish/French, so they raised us in a life of discoveries… And in a way, this little film is our contribution to following their education.
Anything For Love
Prior to directing, you worked as an architect and a social worker. How did you start experimenting with filmmaking, and when did you realise you could actually make a career out of it?
Creative experience was part of our education: reading, listening to music, drawing, painting, taking photos. Our father has always been a nerd and was happy to buy electronics – so we were able to shoot on Super8 and other VHS cameras all the time. Trying to reproduce the visual effects from [TV show] Bewitched, making fake commercials – that was our introduction to filmmaking.
When we were young, being a director didn’t seem like a proper job – it felt like an impossible universe to reach when you didn’t have the right network or the right family. Of course, that was before the internet and access to a global network. Now, you can pitch your film directly to Ridley Scott himself!
We were happy in our former lives, but we wanted to work together as brothers and best mates. I filmed and edited things as a hobby, I loved writing short stories and comics concepts, I wanted to write kids’ books – for me, everything was about telling stories. Nico has always been into visuals, drawing, stills, art and we wanted to connect both our universes. So telling visual stories was the perfect combination – it came naturally.
We started in our sports universe, because our network was there. From every little personal film I did around real life people, Nico saw a good opportunity to try to do the same with famous people. And the celebrities in our close network were rugby players.
So we tried, and we had some success. Then brands started coming to us asking to do the same for them, so we took the risk to quit our jobs and make it happen.
As former rugby players, how did your experience and emotional insights into the game feed into your first commercial spot for Gillette?
If you watch our films – especially the one we just shot for the RBC in Canada around Olympic athletes – you’ll hopefully appreciate sport is not just about the competition, the results, the skills. To us, it’s always been an opportunity to tell stories of passion. We’re passionate people, and more than our knowledge and expertise as former sportsmen, we try to develop the emotion deep inside every sporting story we tell.
Martin de Thurah’s UnderArmour film with Michael Phelps was a game changer for us. When we saw it, we knew our ambition should evolve from documentary to brand content and advertising. Putting so much emotion in such a short film, and being able to tell years of sacrifices in 90 seconds, that really impressed us. The only question for us was: how do you start working with these people? So we just asked some directors directly on Vimeo. The Michael Phelps film was released online in December 2016. We launched our very first commercial for Gillette in February 2017, and in June 2018 we were shooting with Antony Joshua for UnderArmour and Droga5 NY. We tried, worked, pushed and found a way. If someone, somewhere is making it… there is a way [for you] to make it too.
BBC Sport, Prepare to be Moved
For your 1.4 award-winning film, Anything For Love, you challenged your sons Sacha and Robinson, to 30 days with no screens, and filmed the experience. After an initial period of resistance, they embraced their digital-free lifestyle, and the end result is a lovely celebration of boyhood. It was clearly a very experimental idea: what was it like working without a script, having very little creative control and not knowing what sort of film you were going to end up with?
If you watch the film, the first time you will say, that’s cool. Hopefully the second time, too. But there comes a moment when you will notice camera placements, compositions, shots and reverse shots conversations… even a bit of acting (just a bit!) So there was a script, in reality.
The concept of 30 days without screens was 100% real, and all the activities came from the kids’ minds. That was the deal, but when Nico and I realized that what we were filming during activities, could be a great support in making a great film, we then imagined some scripted moments to tell the story – only a few, but enough to be able to give structure in the edit. So we started with a real life experience, filming things as we always do just for the memories – and the more we were reviewing the footage, the more we controlled the creative, because we knew we were getting something special to tell.
At the end of the day, for the kids, the project was amazing, scripts or not. They loved doing a bit of comedy and actually wanted to act more because we were encouraging them. Imagine a whole month of having your father tell you “That’s great, good job!” Gaining confidence for an eight-year-old kid means everything, but for us, obviously it quickly became an opportunity to get a proper new film on the reel too. It was a win/win.
Anything For Love
They say never work with animals or children – what about when it’s actually your own children? What was the most surprising part of working together with your sons?
Our sons are in our films for Gillette, the BBC, the last RBC project we did, and a project we just shot in France for Decathlon! They are into our universe all the time, they are our best pals and sometimes our very first inspiration. But it can be really hard to work with your own kids, because they can say no, and a kid on a real shoot never really does that. In the end, filming them, telling stories with them is first and foremost a great opportunity for us to spend precious creative time with our kids. Some people love fishing, or playing football – we love making films with our sons.
We actually made another one with them, during the autumn lockdown in France – they asked us to. It was a real pleasure to get involved with their crazy idea – which became even crazier when we were part of it! One day our duo, Michel & Nico, might become a collective of four, with Rob and Sacha, sooner than you think. They’ve already got a name for it and we will have our first film soon.
Anything For Love
There are some lovely, poignant and also humorous moments in the film: how did you approach editing and choose which vignettes to include?
I am an editor first and foremost. My editing experience is way stronger than our filmmaking background because I spent more time editing than shooting. I love timelines, because it gives me the feeling of being close to the end.
It was the same for Anything for Love – we had a ton of footage, so we edited some of it in 15s teasers first. When that was done, I started to build a story around the little scripted moments and conversations between the kids. Everything else was intuition – Nico found the perfect track during footage selects, and everything became easy – a track giving us a perfect title and the global meaning because yes, we do everything for them because of love. So nothing was really challenging on the edit, because we had total freedom and time – the two words that don’t really exist in advertising. No client, no expectations – just us two to convince.
This film is just a small part of what we lived… a glimpse, a trailer. But a cool one… everything else is just for the memories.
What’s your working dynamic like as brothers and co-directors? Does each of you take responsibility for different parts of the process? How do you resolve creative differences?
I am the one writing and speaking, and Nico’s the one working on concepts. We could say he is the art director and I am the copywriter, to use an agency analogy. But the more we progress, the more we try to be involved in every part of the creative process. We never resolve creative differences – if we’re not both happy, we don’t go for anything.
But we work on our strengths too. Nico doesn’t judge my work on storyboards and storytelling, and I give him full freedom on visual research, locations and wardrobe.
I really love the way we’ve evolved. I remember the way we started on our first project – asking my EP: “Tell me again what a PPM is?” 10 minutes before our first one with Procter and Gamble. That was only a few years ago, so I am looking forward to seeing what we will be like five years from now!
Renault Sport, The Ultimate Test Drive
You’ve carved out a real niche in sports storytelling, from Red Bull documentaries to 6 Nations rugby, pro surfing, rally car driving, boxing and Olympian athletes. What is it that appeals to you about this world?
The common thread is the passion the people put into their art – and yes, it’s art, not sport. Sport accomplishment is somewhere else, in the stadium, the field, the track. What you see on TV is not what we’re really into. We love the ‘backstage’. We love the people we meet, and the experiences we get to be part of. I always wanted to try boxing, and my mum wouldn’t let me, but filmmaking allowed me to tell boxing stories, work with world champions, sleep in a Muay Thai boxing camp and train with them. It was a bucket list experience, and I have many more to live! Filmmaking allows us that. This is the dream job in a way.
After winning a 1.4 Award, what’s next for you in 2021?
Winning another one next year with the film we did in the autumn lockdown with the kids!
2021 started great, winning awards, winning jobs against directors we admire. Shooting in France for the first time with La Pac and coming back in the UK for a great project – the biggest for us so far, and the first with Merman since joining last year.
The RBC team in Canada has confirmed us for another campaign in September, for the Winter Olympics, with our Canadian company, Holiday Films. Doing lots of films for the same client is something we’ve been looking for since we started – we’re really inspired by people like Mark Molloy and the way he develops great campaigns for the same brands.
Our goal is to have at least six good films to share this year. We’ve already got four on the way. And of course, we want to get vaccinated soon.
Michel & Nico are represented by:
Directed by Michel&Nico Produced by Seven Sunday Jakarta DP Fredrick Backar Edited by Michel Sound by NicoAgency : What If Jakarta Client : Surya Pro Service production company Skinny film Cape Town 1st AD Devillier Fourie