How much did you know about Discord before landing this job?
Not too much actually. I knew it was a platform to post and share stuff online but had no idea of the scale of it or the sense of community on it. After a bit of researching I realised Discord had this amazing interactive relationship with its users. And even though this was their first ‘official’ commercial, all of their YouTube videos had a lovely silly sense of humour to them. It was clear they weren’t your average social media platform.
You turned to the Discord communities for inspiration, asking them how to describe Discord to non-users and turning their responses into visuals – tell us a bit about how that element of the creative process worked?
Amsterdam-based agency AKQA and Discord had put a call out to the Discord community to describe the platform starting with ‘Imagine A Place’ and they got so many weird and wonderful descriptions. When I came on-board, they had narrowed it down to the ones that are in the film. We had a few calls with the users and asked them to elaborate on their description and talk about what they use Discord for. It ranged from gaming, to socialising, to one user who was disabled and told us how full their life was because of Discord. It was such an interesting process and really opened my eyes up to how much Discord meant to them.
Ricocheting wildly between different genres – stop-motion, computer graphics, retro-pop animation – and settings, from mediaeval taverns to futuristic cityscapes – it’s fair to say that Imagine a Place makes for a trippy and very fun viewing experience. What are some of your favourite sequences from the finished film?
Haha, yes it’s a bit of an assault of the senses all right. It’s very hard to choose a favourite scene. I was blown away by the level of craft and detail by Jacknife Films for the stop motion tavern scene, I love the lo-fi silliness of the sock puppets and the VFX throughout the film by Mathematic are just incredible. The track out from Danny Devito and Awkwafina in the hall at the beginning is bigger and better than anything I could have hoped for. They brought such an epic sense of scale and detail to the whole film.
Awkwafina and Danny DeVito make a great double act, what was it like working with them?
It was fantastic. Devito is a comedy hero of mine so to be able to direct him was a dream come true. He was so funny, so nice and so enthusiastic. He barely left the set, just watched us shoot scenes he wasn’t needed for and he’d be just giggling away to himself. It was amazing. And him and Awkwafina got on really well so we just left two cameras rolling on takes and let them riff which was hilarious. As hectic of a day as it was, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed more on set.
What sort of a timeframe were you working to? What were the biggest challenges involved in production?
From start to finish it was about three months. The hardest thing was juggling all the different teams involved (the producer Matt Clyde deserves a knighthood!) and we actually used Discord for a lot of the meetings and file sharing. We’d be jumping from meeting to meeting with the agency, client, cast, VFX artists, stop frame artists etc. – all in different time zones. It was intense but a satisfyingly fast way to work. The amount of moving parts involved was crazy, so it feels really great that it all came together.
You’re already known for strong visuals and in-camera magic, with one spectacular example being Qiang Dao for Nike – where do you find creative inspiration?
Thank you very much! I’ve always loved camera trickery, and if I can mix that with humour/narrative all the better. Interesting transitions are always more satisfying when motivated by narrative so this script lent itself so well for that. It was instantly a puzzle of how we could seamlessly stitch these different genres together. Whether it was simple match cuts or the camera going into DeVito’s egg head it was really important to us that they were narrative driven rather than for the sake of a cool transition.
You started out making short films with your friends, tell us a bit about your journey into directing…
Yes! And thank god it was before YouTube so they will never see the light of day! I was really lucky to have a group of friends who were all really into making films. We’d just shoot endless amounts of stuff on a handicam, but when I was 14 I broke my knee and was out of school for three months, so I learnt to edit and could then do something with all the footage! From that point on I became obsessed with directing and editing, and having made films with friends for so long gave me more confidence when working with new musicians and actors later on.
Finn Keenan and Danny DeVito on set for Discord
What themes are you drawn to as a filmmaker, which you’d like to explore in future projects, whether personal or commercial?
I’d love to explore some big scale comedy like this Discord film. This is the first time I was able to experience mixing humour with VFX like this. I found the process of taking a really silly, fun narrative and working with incredibly talented artists to bring it to life very exciting. So I would love to be able to build on this and make more work like that.
What are you working on at the moment?
Absolutely nothing! I’m writing this in a tent in a field in the middle of nowhere. 🙂
Interview by Selena Schleh
Riff Raff website
PRODUCTION COMPANY: RIFF RAFF FILMS
DIRECTOR Finn Keenan
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Natalie Arnett
PRODUCER Matthew Clyde
EDITING COMPANY Trim London
EDITOR Thomas Grove-Carter, Vid Price
EDIT PRODUCER Noreen Khan
EDIT ASSTISTANTS David Davis, Josh Mannox
POST-PRODUCTION COMPANY Mathematic Paris
POST EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Hadi Dahrouge
POST PRODUCER Alan Portillo
MUSIC & SOUND DESIGN String & Tins
SOUND & MUSIC DESIGNERS Adam Smyth, Jim Stewart
AUDIO PRODUCER Alina Miroshnichenko
PRODUCER Jay Wintringer
DOP (LA & MEXICO) Xiaolong Liu
PRODUCTION DESIGNER Alessandra Cadman
COSTUME DESIGNER Jeffery Kurland
AWKWAFINA’S STYLING Erica Cloud
PRODUCTION MANAGER Ben Oswald
GRIMES’ STYLNG Turner
MEXICO CITY UNIT
SERVICE COMPANY La Casa Films
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS Axel Brinck, Polo Luisetti
PRODUCTION DESIGNER Luis Rojas
STYLING Ximena Barbachano
MAKE-UP Ivana Kiss
LONDON UNIT STOP FRAME
PRODUCTION COMPANY Black Dog & Jackknife films
STOP FRAME DIRECTOR Chris Hopewell
STOP FRAME PRODUCER Rosie Brind
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Martin Roker
LONDON UNIT PUPPET SHOOT
SOCK PUPPETS DOP Eoin Mcloughlin
SOCK PUPPETS PRODUCTION DESIGNER Tim Gibson
SOCK PUPPETS PUPPET DESIGNER Alexandra Day
MANAGING PARTNER Geoff Northcott
GLOBAL CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER Peter Ammentorp Lund
EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR Nicolai Smith
CLIENT PARTNER Mark Toal-Lennon
CREATIVE DIRECTOR Alex Rose
SENIOR COPYWRITER Noé Sato
SENIOR PRODUCER Elise Hagedoorn
PROJECT MANAGER Bethany Wong
SENIOR DESIGNER Gijs van de Wal
SENIOR MOTION DESIGNERS Lexington Baly, Thor Hedegaard, Christian Dekten
ART DIRECTORS Shiko Murai, Hugo Barne
COPYWRITER Arendse Rohland
EXECUTIVE STRATEGY DIRECTOR Miriam Plon Sauer
SENIOR STRATEGIST Hannah Portner
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF PRODUCTIONS Quentin Hugo Bernard
BRAND LEAD Tory Grove
CREATIVE LEAD Bem Yemesgen
COPYWRITER Mark Donnelly
HEAD OF TALENT PARTNERSHIPS Kenny Layton
HEAD OF MUSIC TALENT PARTNERSHIPS Eric Barnett
SENIOR PARTNERSHIP MANAGER Elisa Marin