Chat with Berlin Directors


10/09/2017

Last week we took filmmakers BERLIN out for a coffee. We discussed how they measure their success and the upcoming screening of their first music video for JaJa Kisses.

Who are you?

S: I’m Ste, director of Berlin.

B: I’m Ben. Also director of Berlin!

S: We’re not from Berlin though – we called the company Berlin because the first job we did together was in Berlin.

What time did you wake up this morning?

S: I wake up every day around 3/4am – by my housemate’s cat licking its genitals. I hate it.

B: I wake up at 8am every day.

S: That’s definitely not true.

B: … Most days.

What’s your favourite coffee?

B: White americano. Sometimes I have sugar, sometimes I don’t. I like to mix it up.

S: Filter coffee. I love a V60. It’s like tea, not too thick.

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

B: Granola, blueberries, honey and yoghurt. I made it all by myself!

S: Four slices of granary toast. Marmite. Loadsa butter! I normally cook breakfast for me and my girlfriend but today I pressed snooze loads and just had toast.

You make your girlfriend breakfast every day?

S: Yeah, I like to make sure she eats!

Who do you make breakfast for, Ben? 

B: Myself.

Tell me a bit about your company!

S: It works two ways. We operate as a director/DOP partnership. We can be hired to anyone to direct and film a project for them. We do a lot of editing. We can also work as a production company with a larger crew. We are a creative company and come up with ideas for other people, as well as making our own films.

Is this the industry that you both wanted to get into originally?

S: Originally I wanted to be a graphic designer, and I got onto a yearlong foundation course. I turned up with all my new pens and pencils (my parents spent quite a bit of money setting me up for the year) and they told me the course was cancelled. They offered us the option to change to catering or media. I went for media.

B: I studied graphic design too. My course wasn’t cancelled. I did it because I was good at art but I developed an interest in film, so I dropped out of the graphics course and joined a film course instead.

Did you ever think you’d be running your own company?

S: Originally I fell into presenting documentaries because I like investigating and don’t mind interrogating people. However, when I was at university I produced and directed a documentary and fell in love with directing. I didn’t want to be in front of the camera anymore. I wanted to be more involved with the writing and developing the style of the film. I didn’t think I’d be running my own company, but I did want to be involved in directing shoots and other people’s projects.

B: I was working freelance before I joined up with Ste. I didn’t envisage having my own company, I just took freelancing one step on a time and never looked too far ahead. I think it’s good to have ambition, but you always have to deal with what’s in front of you first, before you can get anywhere.

How did you meet?

S: We met through a mutual friend. One of my friends from uni was also a friend of Ben’s. We met up a few times after I graduated and after I wrote a comedy film I asked Ben to help with it, as I knew he was a DOP. We really enjoyed working together, so Ben invited me to do some paid work in Berlin. We just worked together more and more and really liked it. Last year we decided to do it officially and launch a company.

B: Ste had gone into full-time work from August 2015 to Feb 2016. When he came out of the job in March he said, why don’t I become freelance and we can work together more.

S: It was Ben’s idea really. He said I’d be wasted in a fulltime job where you are limited on creativity and personality. I mentioned the idea of a company to Ben and he said let’s just do it.

Is there anyone you look up to in the industry?

S: I don’t think there’s anyone we want to be like, but we have a lot of respect for other companies. I have lots of respect for people who run things their own way.

B: You can’t have someone else career but if I could create work of the same quality/same vein as David Fincher I’d be pretty stoked.

S: Richard Ayoade is someone I aspire to be like, in the way that he writes books, writes comedy, directs comedy, acts and makes documentaries. He does everything doesn’t stick to one thing, feels like he’s built his own road which I’m hoping to do!

Do you have any advice for someone setting up a business in your industry? Something you wish you could tell yourself?

S: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice in areas you’re not familiar with. Getting a business set up properly requires assistance from people. And just do it. Do what you want to do. It’s going to be hard. It’ll be difficult financially and creatively, just be aware of that and do it.

B: Create the situation that best suits you. Do you work best on your own? Do you need people around? Work out what’s best for you and be realistic about what’s going to help you deliver results.

How do you measure your success?

S: Every film we make is an achievement. We grow our company by creating more and more films. Every film, every trip is another success and it makes you start to feel like ‘This is it. We’re nailing it.’ We recently went on a trip to Toronto to film a group called Bad Bad Not Good. They had a pretty full calendar and we’d only have a small window in which to film them in the UK… so we went to film them in Toronto. Straight after we landed back from Toronto we got a flight to Barcelona to make another film.

B: It was a mad couple of weeks but we balanced it out! We measure success project by project and month by month but mostly we want it be about telling compelling stories and working with culturally significant people.

On Wednesday you are showcasing your new film Zoning featuring the music artist JaJa. How did you meet JaJa?

S: I used to work at an advertising agency and there was a girl who worked on reception with her sister, called JaJa. I didn’t know much about her but we became friends and we added each other on Facebook. Things started popping up where she was singing and making music. I saw a couple of these and thought her music was really cool. Ben and I were doing another job at the time and we met a girl who had a friend who was making videos for Bastille. We asked her how they got into that and she said, they were just friends. I started thinking about who we might know, then I thought about JaJa. She’s on the verge of making it big – she’s got a great manager and when we got in touch it was the perfect time for her to make a high standard, cinematic video.

B: We came up with the concept and presented it to her as a deck to check we were on the same page and to make sure she liked it!

S: Being at air space makes the brand of Berlin more solid as we have a good professional home. We wanted to put on an event that promotes us as filmmakers, and air space had the perfect place to do that. It’s a great place to bring clients. It also gives air space the chance to use their venue for a music event, and it gives JaJa the chance to perform and push her brand out.

What’s great about working at air space?

B: Stacey and Baz brighten up the experience of sharing an office. They really gel people together and make an effort to put on office events and grow the community. It’s really genuine and that’s evident. It’s easy to be reclusive in a co-working space and not get involved, but Stacey and Baz make sure no one gets left out.

S: Also it’s stylish as f**k. It’s so cool and it’s not pretentious. It’s just good design, which is a great representation of us, so it works really well when we invite people down. And the location is unbeatable!

What’s next for Berlin?

B: Hopefully another promo video for JaJa. She and her manager loved the video for Zoning, so they want to get us a budget to work on something bigger. We love her music and we’re keen to keep the relationship going.

S: We are editing our short comedy film as well. I just need to make some daytime hours for it! I’m currently editing it mostly in the evenings. We’ve also got some ideas that we’re pitching to the companies we met when we set Berlin up.

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