King She: Robert and Radha
You both built thriving careers in other disciplines – Robert as an editor and Radha as a journalist and producer – before joining forces as directors. What led you into the world of directing? And how did you come up with the name King She?
To be honest, the name came first. We were talking to a production designer friend who was travelling in Africa and there was a kind of magic to the conversation — like a drum beat, a pulse from some deep place. And then the name essentially came to Radha.
We had been considering the idea of a directing partnership for a while, but when the name appeared, that’s when we formalised our creative collaboration. And then we made Rare: A Boy Who Cried Swag.
From Rare: The Boy Who Cried Swag
You made waves last year with your debut short film Rare: The Boy Who Cried Swag, a thought-provoking portrait of model Rico Sanches that simultaneously examines his brother’s death at the hands of the police and subsequent cover-up. The film looks at systemic racism and trauma through the lens of fashion – juxtaposing beauty and brutality, the urge to create and survive versus senseless destruction and death. What sparked the idea for the project and how did it come to fruition?
Essentially Rico reached out to us to meet. He was in a commercial that Robert edited. And in typical Rico fashion, he DM’d every credited crew member on Instagram when it came out. We had just moved to LA and when he asked to meet, we were like – why not? We had lunch with him one day and during that meeting he said a line to us that just lingered. He said:
“Most people are afraid of dying. I’m afraid to wake up every day and be the same person.”
We couldn’t get that out of our heads. So, making a film about him became inevitable at that point.
From Rare: The Boy Who Cried Swag
Rico is a fascinating character, with a very strong creative identity and drive – what was it like working with him to bring the film to life?
Rico is high wattage. He’s very special. That cat has an idea a minute. In lots of respects, when you meet someone like Rico, you know you just have to turn a camera on him and something interesting will happen. We didn’t know his full story but we knew something bigger was there. That was part of the discovery process of making the film.
The film won 3 YDA awards, a 1.4 award, Best Short at Nitehawk Film Festival, a Vimeo Staff Pick and had its North American festival premiere at the Oscar-qualifying Ann Arbor film festival and online premiere on Nowness, and has been invited to over 25 festivals around the world. It also, importantly, raised awareness of the miscarriage of justice in the case. Would you consider yourselves to be activist filmmakers? What other topics or themes would you be interested to explore?
We both have anthropology backgrounds and Radha is a former journalist. It’s innate in both of us to want to shine a light on real human stories and the human condition – which of course is filled with injustice, and underrepresentation. Filled with pain and violence.
But we want to do it with bounce. It’s an awesome challenge to make work that’s watchable and also means something. We lean heavily into the authenticity of the characters or situations we are portraying. We try to go deep. We are research-based filmmakers. The more you can prep and understand the space you are going for, the more openness you give the work to dream a little.
On a personal level, we feel an innate responsibility to our children to make work that is sensitive and truthful and filled with good ideas, especially tolerance. Otherwise, what’s the point?
From Rare: The Boy Who Cried Swag
As a husband-and-wife team, how do you balance your personal and professional relationship? How do you resolve creative differences?
The creative trust between us is the best part of our filmmaking relationship. One thing we’ve always been able to count on is how deeply we respect and trust each other’s tastes and skillsets. We are both cinéastes at heart. When we’re on set shooting, we’re actually quite seamless together. It’s when we’re concepting our ideas and in prep that it’s a bit more brutal. We challenge each other in the early stages. At times we are a little too competitive about our ideas with each other. Friends of ours, who are also a husband-wife filmmaking duo, assure us we will grow out of it.
We signed to Somesuch in the fall. Tim Nash and Sally Campbell are the husband-wife founders of that company. And right at the start they gave us incredibly sage advice. They said: be sure we are clear which conversations we are having as filmmakers / business partners, and which ones we’re having as husband and wife. Because too easily in the same sentence you can talk about a pitch, who’s picking up the kids, finishing an edit, and any number of errands. And then you’re fuuuuuuucked with overwhelm and thinking how nothing is working and that you’re never going to get anything done.
We’re still figuring it all out of course. But trying to keep the sentences as separate as possible was a great first step.
Do you have different roles within your directing partnership, does one person tend to take the lead on a particular project or are your responsibilities and strengths evenly split?
50/50 all the way. Because making films is a constantly evolving process, we both have to stay very attuned to what’s going on. Be ready to adapt. A director we really look up to once said to us: Don’t make the film before you make the film. And we do think that’s one of the skillsets we’ve developed with doing documentary – staying very alive to what’s going on and revising our approach as circumstances change.
Apple Music: Pose
You shot two spots for Apple Music that earned you a Cannes Gold and Silver Lion, 5 AICP nominations, including Best New Director, as well as a D&AD nomination for Best Director. The films pay homage to Rihanna and building hype ahead of her Super Bowl halftime show – Pose, a Rihanna-inspired fashion show and ball, and Diamonds, a portrait of jewellery designer A$AP Eva. When did you first get talking to Apple and what was the brief? How did you find your first venture into the commercials world?
The whole campaign was created as a celebration of Rihanna’s music and her legacy. Each film was like a visual mixtape that was inspired by one of Rihanna’s hits and then using a real-life fan.
For Diamonds, we filmed A$AP Eva at Popular Jewelry in NYC. Eva is known hip-hop’s go-to jeweller – she’s made pieces for everybody in the game. So we made a film about her creating three custom, Rihanna-inspired diamond pendants. And we essentially pitched the idea of using the diamond to visually lens the story.
For Pose, we staged a Rihanna-themed ball. The ballroom category assignment is ‘Rihanna Realness’ and the contestants serve it by replicating some of Rihanna’s most iconic looks. Rihanna has had a long relationship with ballroom and as an artist has been a prominent supporter of the queer community. Authenticity was our main objective. We conducted extensive interviews and research into the New York ballroom community to find our cast. We also consulted with Rihanna’s friend and hairstylist, Miyake-Mugler House Father, Yusef Williams, who is a central figure in the ballroom scene. For us, getting it right was so important. So we were so thrilled when Leiomy tweeted exactly that when it came out.
eBay, Everyone has a Thing
And tell us about your recent eBay spot, Everyone has a Thing
When the brief came in from Special Group (the agency), the big challenge on the table was how to remake the ‘My Favourite Things’ track. How do you push such a beloved song into fresh sonic space while keeping it recognizable? We knew we wanted to play with the idea of sampling, and we ended up collaborating with Human to craft the music. It was a really rewarding process working with them. As for the film, we wanted to take visually lush scenes about things and build an emotional context around them. It was important to walk away feeling something. So we brought in a loose narrative structure about a single mother and her son who is getting bullied. She gifts him a card game that becomes a joyful obsession, and ultimately leads him find a whole new community of friends and collectors. That story was one we really believed in. And we loved the ending where she tucks him into bed with a blanket that shows him as a victorious character from the game even in his sleep.
Cassie Marin, Tanto
Your style is highly experimental, and bursts with imaginative, original visual references – a head wrapped in billowing cloth, the hummingbirds, Rico becoming a giant – literally “the biggest thing in the world” and towering over the city; tell us a bit about where those references come from and where you find creative inspiration?
What’s exciting about film is that you get to try and communicate an idea visually. And the more clearly that idea communicates, the more powerfully it lands. It seemed obvious to us that if Rico spits a line like “I’m going to be the biggest thing in the world”, that he should then be a giant.
One thing we’re not interested in is FX for FX sake. It’s always story-driven, concept-driven. For instance we’ve just released our 1st VFX music video for singer/songwriter Cassie Marin. It’s very purposeful and narrative driven, as it’s about the artist’s struggles with an autoimmune illness that we told through the visuals of a girl purging metals through her skin.
What are you working on next?
We launched a podcast with the Young Director Award early summer and we have more episodes to release soon that we are excited to share. And we are working on a horror film. More news on that front soooooon.
King She’s podcast series for the Young Director Awards featuring cinematographer and director Bradford Young; Chinese filmmaker and recent NYU film school graduate Yuan Yuan; and Swedish director Niclas Larsson is out now on Spotify and Apple Podcast!
Interview by Selena Schleh
KING SHE website
Cassie Marin, Tanto
Artist: Cassie Marin / @cassiemarin
Director: King She / @kingshe.co
DP: Andrey Nikolaev / @kefirux
Editor: Robert Lopuski / @robertlopuski + Dusten Zimmerman / @dusten_zimmerman
VFX Partner: Jamm / @jamm.vfx
Additional FX Artists: Eric Epstein / @defaulteric, Sarah Banks / @ssarahbankss, Scott Stirling / @scottstirling
Telecine: Daniel Devue / @danieldevue_colorist @the.trafik
Sound Design: Robert Lopuski / @robertlopuski
Executive Producers @natloos @natalisussman @ilonka_galliard @mrlamar
Co-Executive Producers @yamelthompson @v_rawrr @westcoasthaze
Artist Manager @gerardodsp
Production Company @mygosh.co @aguitainc
A Very Special Thanks To @timmynasher @sallyc70 @somesuchandco @rowensr @the.trafik @danieldevue_colorist @asheredwards80 @jamm.vfx @carrshillng @cabinedit @rarefabrics
EDITORIAL PARTNER: @cabinedit
Editors: @robertlopuski @dusten_zimmerman
FX ARTISTRY & PARTNER @jamm.vfx
Executive Producer / MD @asheredwards80
FX Producer @am_depauw
Lead Compositor @alexsnookes
CG Supervisor Zak DiMaria
Flame Artist Ryland Bowen-Johnson
Flame Artist Pat Muños