How would you describe what you do?
We’re storytellers. Whether it’s a brand campaign or a narrative film, we always try to dig deep and extract personal meaning. Because, if we don’t really care about what we’re doing, then why are we doing it? Some of our more functional responsibilities are to be the medium between the message and execution. Often, the client has something inside their head (perhaps a tone, an image, or a feeling) and it’s our job to get that out of them and bring it to life on screen. They know their brand best, we are here to translate it into flickering images.
How did you get into this job?
We both decided to quit our jobs together in 2013, to do the filmmaking thing full-time. We weren’t sure how it would work, but we knew there wasn’t another person we trusted more than each other. Armed with that and one month’s rent, we set out to compete in crowdsourced commercial contests. It was an opportunity to practice our craft every day, and we were lucky to get a taste of success early. For the better part of three years, our business model was winning commercial contests. We found that when your livelihood is tied to competition, you learn to be productive quickly. We’re still narrative filmmakers at heart, which is why our work tends to be driven by story first, design second. Ultimately, we’ll always live with one foot in narrative and one in commercial, and with the lines increasingly being blurred, we can’t wait to see what the future holds!
What is most challenging about what you do?
The nature of being a directing duo often lends itself to different points of view. (After all, we’re still two separate human beings, with two different imaginations.) Our challenge is always getting inside the other’s head, so that we can present a “Venn Diagram” of our collective vision. It means that the writing process is often more intense and thorough, but the final product is exponentially stronger. Early on, we learned the phrase, “I’d rather do it right, than do it right now” and it has given us permission to take our time and write a better product.
What is most rewarding?
Often the most fulfilling part of the process is when you look back on the project and realize how it was improved by the other. We spend so much energy sussing out the strongest version of both our visions that it’s easy to miss the benefits of the collaboration in the moment. Only after we wrap, during the edit or even weeks after delivery, do we stumble on a little detail and say, “yeah, you had a great idea there.”
What’s a typical work week like?
We generally start each day with a morning pow-wow. This is a great way to burn off what’s hot from the previous day and set goals for each project we have on the plate. Because we’re constantly in different stages of prep, shooting, or post, no two weeks are ever alike. We have found that we do our best writing in the mornings, so often we’ll stretch out a campaign’s development over a series of days (time permitting.) Because we both went to school for producing, we’re pretty good with managing our own logistics. This is generally an afternoon function, given the left-brained nature of it. Because we spend so much time together professionally, we try to leave each other alone on the weekends (just so our significant others can see we’re still human.)
What needs to happen the most in order for a shoot to run smoothly?
Usually the smoothest shoots are the ones with the most thorough preparation. Some of the best productions have been when we’ve gone back to the location and photoboarded each shot, so that we know the exact focal length of each lens on the day. We also love to rehearse. There is certainly beauty in an improvised performance, particularly in comedy, however often our shot list is so ambitious that we don’t have the luxury of a “warm-up take.” In theory, our team should be so prepared, that in case of any emergency, no one would skip a beat.
Whats your best job/worst job?
As filmmakers, we look at every day behind the camera as an opportunity to improve. So even if the project seems bland, we try to pump each other up to find creative ways to better our skill set. Outside of filmmaking, we’ve each held an assortment of odd jobs before coming to LA. Both of us worked in the service industry back in Chicago during film school, that certainly prepped us for the long hours on our feet that accompany production. Eric worked as a location scout back in Chicago, where he helped out on ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Contagion’. Justus’ worst job was corn detasseling in South Dakota. (Google it.)
What advice would you offer someone considering a career as a Director?
Find someone to team up with. Kill your ego and search for a partner who motivates you to excel beyond your own expectations. You need the stamina to get up everyday knowing that you have a giant mountain to climb. Find someone who complements your voice and amplifies your passion. We each have different tones, styles and even senses of humor, but the sum of all our strengths is exponentially more nuanced because we take the time to collaborate.
If you had one project that you could post on AdForum to represent your work, what would it be?
This is a fun spot we recently did for Country Archer. We got incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the brilliant talent in Garland Scott and the brand was incredibly supportive of our comedic tone. All in all, one of our favorites from this year.
Finally tell us something that most people don’t know about being a Director?
We are not the smartest guys in the room. If you’re doing it right, you’re surrounding yourself with people better at their field than you. Our job is to corral all of these different breeds of artistic stallions down a path that hopefully leads to a good metaphor. (Uh oh.) Seriously though, film school teaches you that you can do anything. Maturity teaches you that you shouldn’t try to do everything. Engage the passions of other creators and be open to new perspectives. Take the Barack Obama approach and lead by listening. You’ll find you will grow much deeper as a storyteller.