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In the director’s chair: Mate Steinforth on Moderat’s 360 video and why the 30-second TV format is probably now dead

For the latest director’s chair series, in which The Drum interviews directors on influences, passions and career highlights, animator and director Mate Steinforth, of Sehsucht, talks 360 video for Moderat, why the 30-second format is dead and why animation isn’t fun.

An earlier interview in the series saw Andrew Lang discuss funny moments in an Ikea ad and documentary making, while Camille Marotte discussed 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 in another. Mea Dols de Jong spoke about avoiding being pigeon-holed as a female director and making authenticity cinematic.

Last month Klaus Obermeyer discussed impossible logistics and growth with a vengeance. Well-known horror director Eli Roth also discussed his step into commercial film making and how his inspiration came from Ridley Scott.

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

My interest for moving graphics initially came from the home computers of the mid 80s. Then in the 90s I became really interested in music videos, I think my biggest hero would be Chris Cunningham and his music video work. Another name that comes to mind from that time would be Alex Rutterford and his work for Autechre.

What I admired about those pieces is the combination of abstract worlds and graphics in motion.

Outside of work, what are you into?

Usually I really like to nerd out heavily on technical topics in computer science and related fields. I became very interested in machine learning last year and I’ve been toying with a couple of aspects of cryptocurrency. So, yeah, all quite nerdy, sci-fi feeling things - that's what I like.

I also recently became quite heavily interested in music. I started playing the guitar a while ago and began exploring electronic music production. I do think there is some overlap between being creative visually and musically.

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

First of all, I work in animation pretty much exclusively. Every now and then we shoot some live action, but usually that would be to create a visual element that will be combined in post.

In the world of animation, I really like graphical styles and elements that don’t exist in the real world. This is really the biggest appeal of animation for me, to be able to build worlds that don’t exist in reality.

Within this area I have two styles I work with: on the one hand, very colourful, maybe even cutesy character pieces and on the other hand very dark worlds.

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?

I am generally quite open-minded, as long as I like the creative. For me, design is about problem-solving, and it's very much a process. I am not necessarily interested in having a very specific style, because that is not problem-solving. So I am always trying to find interesting aspects in whichever brief I get and to build the idea on those elements.

Having said that, I would enjoy working on slightly longer formats — telling a story with more than a couple of seconds like in a commercial, but maybe a couple of minutes. So short films or game trailers would be an interesting field to approach.

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

I always try to not redo things that either myself or other people have done. That also relates back to having a very specific style — I`m easily bored so I am not interested in repeating myself. I am always looking for an opportunity to do something new.

What's your funniest moment on set?

Animation is not fun. Get back to work.

What's your best piece of work?

That would have to be for the viewers to decide, but some of the pieces I feel turned out OK would be the film we made for the MTV EMAs and Moderat Reminder (360 and linear). These two films are good examples of the two different styles mentioned above.

Which ad do you wish you'd made?

Obviously a classic like PSYOP`s happiness factory is something I think they can be very proud of.

Coca-Cola "Happiness Factory" from Marc Altshuler on Vimeo.

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

I think this depends on the client, obviously. Sometimes there seems to be quite a big chasm between what the agency and the client wants. In this case, it is the director’s job to find a unifying vision to get everyone on the same page.

At other times, the working relationship is just flawless, which is of course great. In an ideal world I would like to strive to develop and evolve these existing great relationships. Unfortunately this becomes more difficult if all projects involve pitching.

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

Everybody has been saying "the 30-second spot is dead" and the internet will take over, and I think these claims have finally come true, and this, of course, is a paradigm shift everyone has to deal with in the industry.

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

The difference in my experience is that the client expects the production company/ the director to handle all the work that traditionally an agency would have handled. This can be a good thing, as you may be given access to more information, due to fewer loops in the communication. However, working this way can also be bad, such as when the client doesn't realize that all this work still takes time and should be paid for accordingly.