In the director’s chair: Madja Amin on rappers firing bodyguards and being self-taught

In the director’s chair: Madja Amin on rappers firing bodyguards and being self-taught

The latest director to answer The Drum’s questions in our Director’s Chair series is Madja Amin, a director signed to Halal that won a Cannes Silver Screen award in the young director award category for his Stray Sheep short film.

Previously in the series, The Drum has quizzed Bruce St Clair, Miguel Campaña, Matías Moltrasio, Jamie Jay Johnson, Emmanuel Adjei, Henry Busby, Andrew Lang, Camille Marotte, Mea Dols de Jong, Klaus Obermeyer, Eli Roth, Mate Steinforth, Pamela Romanowsky, Traktor and Doug Liman.

Who or what inspired you to be a Director?

Martin Scorsese is the ultimate inspiration. I remember seeing ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Mean Streets’ at a young age, and how great of an impact it had on me as a teenager. He is great at mixing visual artistry with big stories for a large audience.

I kind of paved my own path to becoming a director took an unorthodox route and I’m self-taught. I was and am really inspired by the collaborative process, and the people I work with have always driven me to grow in what I do.

On a more personal note, I’ve always been inspired to bring a more diverse point of view to filmmaking. For someone with my background, and of my generation, pursuing a career in film was not really an option. So, my cultural and mixed experience is an influence throughout my work for sure.

Outside of work, what are you into?

To me, work and fun are interlinked. Besides being on set and watching films, I have a four-year-old daughter with whom I love to spend time with. Becoming a father gave me a new sort of drive in my work.

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

I think my Amsterdam upbringing influences my work heavily. I don’t shy away from dark realities or characters. At the same time, I’m drawn to expressionism and I always aim to add stylistic elements to my work.

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?

In terms of music videos and commercials, I like to keep things as open as possible. I tend to favour jobs where there’s room for creative collaboration, as working with the creative team from the early stages is always such a great experience. But I’m always on-board to trying new things and want to avoid putting myself in a certain box. I recently pitched on a very playful campaign, which was new for me but surprisingly fun to do. I want to make my reel as diverse as possible while staying true to my signature style.

I love to juggle projects in the commercial world and other formats. I did my first short film, ‘Stray Sheep’, with Halal, which was a great stepping stone towards the TV film we are currently making together. When developing scripts for my fiction work I take inspiration from my personal experiences and develop it in a conceptual way. I feel really lucky to get to do fiction, music videos and commercials simultaneously, the variation between different formats is equally important to me and I try to stay very open-minded in terms of exploring new formats of storytelling.

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

There’s an abundance of content nowadays, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does push me to look for new creative concepts that I haven’t seen before in advertising. If the idea surprises me, I’m sold. Projects with a strong creative excite me because you feel like your contribution will elevate something to stand out, to realise its full potential. When Åkestam Holst sent us their Maurten brief, I got triggered immediately because their idea was so different. And the collaboration was very fluid and transparent, which I think is clearly manifested in the end result.

Maurten - Unofficial from Halal on Vimeo.

What's your funniest moment on set?

One of The Netherlands’ biggest rappers fired a bodyguard on set because he was jumping the queue for some tea. It wasn’t that funny when we realised we were in a sketchy suburb without security…

What's your best piece of work?

I’m still very proud of my music video ‘Habiba’ for rapper Boef. It really had an impact on Dutch pop culture, and it kick-started my film and commercial career.

Boef — Habiba from Madja Amin on Vimeo.

Which ad do you wish you'd made?

Daniel Wolfe’s ‘Hennessy’ spot. The story, performance and cinematography are all equally stunning.

Hennessy 'The Piccards' - Director: Daniel Wolfe from Tom Lindsay on Vimeo.

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

It’s interesting to see how each of these departments fulfil different roles in the process – often highly dependent on the project at hand. Which sometimes leads to discussion. Every project, every agency and client takes a different approach. Which is also nice, because you learn a lot from working with different departments and people in different roles. Eventually, we all share the same goal and want to make a memorable campaign together. And a good flow of information is always crucial to make that happen when that flow starts and who’s involved various though.

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

I haven’t been around for that long, but I do feel that the amount of content needed per campaign, divided over different media and platforms, has substantially grown since I’ve been directing commercials. Plus, you see a bigger demand for a mix of formats and a more hybrid approach to creative projects. There are so many new platforms for storytelling, which obviously has an effect on the work that you do as a director.

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

I haven’t had any client direct experiences so far, but my guess would be that the creative concept could be built from scratch which allows for more creative freedom for the director.

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