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In the director’s chair: Camille Marotte on shooting anamorphic, digital budgets and being his girlfriend’s photographer

Camille Marotte is put in the director's chair

In the second of the director’s chair series, in which The Drum interviews directors on influences, passions and career highlights, Camille Marotte discusses why the best jobs come from asking to shoot anamorphic and how having many skills, including being your girlfriend’s photographer, can influence a director’s style.

An earlier interview in the series saw Andrew Lang discuss funny moments in an Ikea ad and documentary making.

Who or what inspired you to be a Director? (or who are your creative heroes and why?)

My artistic path was pretty complex. Both my parents were projectionists (remember that nice job from the past) and I remember the smell of freshly cut celluloid and the sound of the projector. But my real first personal contact with creation was at 17 when I felt in love with 3D. I wanted to design worlds and spaceships with lasers, spending crazy hours on my computer, with no time for showers. Then I discovered Photoshop and Painter and was crazy about speed painting, being a big fan of Ryan Church, Feng Zhu and other concept artists working on Starwars. I later taught myself photography and carried a little compact camera with me everywhere, which was followed by the exploration of web design, trying to create the best animated websites in flash. I finally found out my (still today) favorite software, After Effects, and for several years I called myself a motion designer (and because it sounded cool). I finally jumped into video and grouped all these passions into "directing".

So, I feel now I’m a bit of a chameleon, I design my treatment layouts, I retouch my photos, edit my director’s cut and grade them myself, and I also call upon motion design skills when I'm directing a sport or high tech commercial, or my photography skills when directing a beauty commercial. I think the new generation of directors are all like this, mixing worlds and techniques. I see some very strong musicians becoming directors because they have the rhythm in mind to create a moody story. I think the beauty of being a director is that you’re just bringing your identity and your way of seeing a story to clients; you don't have to copy anybody. You just have to bring what’s in your box.

Outside of work, what are you into?

That’s a tough one, as I think everything I do is quite related to work, even if I don’t see it as work most of the time.

I do a lot of personal photography on my travels or because I'm my girlfriend’s official photographer (ouch, maybe she's going to read this). I watch a lot of movies. I'm a big fan of science fiction and I love the classics of the 50s and 60s where matte painting was prominent. I also love to go on road trips in the French countryside and mountains without a clear idea of where I’m going, just to get lost. You always find beautiful places and incredible restaurants.

How would you describe your style of commercial/film making? What are you known for?

I really started directing commercials thanks to Jean-Pierre Philippot, who’s an established beauty director. He does a lot of L'Oréal and Garnier commercials. He called me one day because he liked the little beauty films I was putting up on Vimeo. So with no experience at all, I was directing a commercial for Maybelline in New York with an 85 people team.

I think the base of my style at that time, and what gave me access to direct this first big TVC, was pretty much the close relationship with the model, operating the camera myself for a direct connection and moving the camera in a very organic way (really like the eye of a French voyeur). Another part of my style is the colour grading. I’ve been retouching my own photos from the very start and trying to push their cinematic style, so I'm now quite demanding in the grading room.

Have you got an idea about what sort of projects you’d like to work on or are you quite open minded about what work comes your way?

As you can see with my artistic education, I'm interested in many topics and I like to explore different styles. I follow some directors who have become masters in one field. We tend to follow people who we have a strong identity with. I think I'm more mutable, even if I keep a same recognizable touch (some strange people told me) and I enjoy working in beauty as much as storytelling, cinematic, sport or luxury, so I stay open minded. At the moment I’m really enjoying exploring a much darker, cinematic mood with storytelling projects.

When you’re looking at scripts and projects that come in, is there anything in particular that you’re looking for?

One thing I always ask is, "Can we shoot anamorphic?" If the answer is yes, it tells a lot about the project ambition and style, as well as about the client and brand itself. For example, my film Touch More was for the P&G product Downy, which is a fabric softener. They had the ambition to create a very poetic film, without showing the product. It was only about the story and they agreed to shoot anamorphic (yes!), so it turned out to be a very interesting and sensitive film that I'm proud to feature in my reel.

Touch More from Camille Marotte on Vimeo.

What's your funniest moment on set?

It was Cape Town in 2014. I jumped in a helicopter with my director of photography (DP) and started to shoot above Table Mountain, but the wind was really strong and our pilot couldn’t keep us steady. My DP was about to throw up and the camera was rotating in the air, but we finally got the shot. We were supposed to land just nearby where all the team were waiting for us, but the wind was too strong, so the pilot landed in a field nearby and just left us. It was a huge private property surrounded by a three metre-high, electric fence that was supposed to keep out big animals. My DP thought it wasn't working after touching the wire a few times and started climbing (which felt like a good moment to start filming). Just before reaching the top he got the shock of his life and fell on the grass looking like a dead rabbit with a surprisingly nice bacon smell. We finally found the property exit and the way to our production friends only to meet the owner riding a quad bike, with three enormous Rottweilers, asking us why we had just landed in his garden. All this at 8:30am in the morning.

What's your best piece of work?

I think I'll have to answer with two projects. They are very different, but I can't choose between them. If tomorrow starts without me which was a Vimeo Staff Pick and was in the Vimeo Best of 2014, was a very personal film I did using many shots of people and daily life in India, Vietnam, Senegal and Morocco. I used a very powerful poem by David Romano in the film, which deals with what you remember about your life in your last moment just before you die. I was deeply touched by the comments I had from people who recently lost someone and were touched by the film.

If tomorrow starts without me from Camille Marotte on Vimeo.

Face Your Own Beast, which I just finished, is a dark and moody cinematic piece featuring a boxer training in an abandoned train station at dawn, and finally confronting a real 535kg grizzly bear that symbolizes his inner monster. What I liked the most about this project was the strong cinematic style we where able to achieve. Everything was shot in one day, starting at 4am at the train station and finishing at midnight in a boxing ring we built in a vintage gymnasium. I edited the film, recording a voice over with Roll the Dice by Charles Bukowski. I really enjoyed shooting this project, which was more like a short film than a commercial. I liked the poetic meaning of the images together with the poem. I’d like to work on more pieces like this in the future.

Face Your Own Beast from Camille Marotte on Vimeo.

Which ad do you wish you'd made?

I remember being blown away by ‘A Journey’ by Bruno Aveillan for Louis Vuitton. As a comment on Youtube said, “Every single frame is a pure overdose of visual cocaine”. It opened the door to a cinematic and poetic type of commercial – those that weren’t trying to sell a product, but just create a strong emotion connection.

A journey / Louis Vuitton - Bruno Aveillan - QUAD from QUAD productions on Vimeo.

How well does the information flow between clients, agency and production company on a job?

“In the best comprehensive way” would be my dream answer, but most of the time it creates three teams with different goals. Marketing numbers for the client, keeping the client for the agency, and potential Lion D'Or for the production company and director. With experience, I’ve become a very attentive director, dropping the easyrig to check with the agency and client directly to make sure everybody understands what I'm doing.

What's been the biggest change to the industry during you career?

Well, I had a chance to shoot a commercial on 35mm film in 2011 before the total switch to digital, so that was clearly a big change. But I think the biggest one is the explosion of different medias and marketing needs. Before a few directors were competing for a few big TV commercials, now a lot of directors are competing for TV, Internet, Facebook and Instagram campaigns. What’s strange for me is that the budgets are still a lot lower for digital film, but I think this will change. A brand has to polish its identity, whichever media they’re using.

Have you worked on any client direct commercials (no agency involved)? What's been the difference?

I have several times, for digital projects, and I enjoyed it a lot. The biggest change was that I was able to create the complete story from scratch, instead of just reinterpreting an existing storyboard. It’s really liberating to sign the film with your name and be proud of it. I think this will happen more and more with clients who work with trusted directors (dream).

How long would it take you to count to 1 billion?

Like everybody, around 82 years, I tried once but then I stopped to eat some snails.

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