We hit Paris to learn more about WeAreFromLA, a talented French directing duo who recently worked with Pharrell Williams, Death Grips and Citizens!, among others.
Responsible for the world’s first 24-hour video clip in the form of “Happy,” Clément Durou and Pierre Dupaquier of WeAreFromLA consistently churn out work that combines interactivity, entertainment and fine cinematography. Their work, finely covered in a manneristic glaze of pop culture, which they’ve often managed to market more successfully than big agencies, evokes an interesting scenario for a new generation of young filmmakers and digital artists. We meet Clément and Pierre on a warm Parisian afternoon to play some old-school arcade games and find out more about what’s happening in their lives now that they’re working on their second big production in the U.S.
You guys won the 2013 FWA Site of the Year Award. Furthermore, you’re part of the Iconoclast network production company that pushes some of the most influential filmmakers out there (CANADA, Harmony Korine, Gus Van Sant, etc). Neither of you are even 30 years old. How do you feel about these great achievements and your rapidly rising success rising?
WeAreFromLA: It’s been three years since we’ve been directing – everything happened very quickly. We’re indeed very lucky to work with the production company Iconoclast which is, nowadays, the most challenging and demanding clip production company worldwide. All year long our work is motivated by passion. And we will do our best and fight for luck to stay on our side. It’s amazing to see our names next to Gus Van Sant’s on this company directors’ list. As a matter of fact, as we see WeAreFromLA written in this list we are willing to work even harder to stay there and to prove to our “neighbors” that we’re worth the spot. It’s very stimulating to be surrounded by people like this; it really gives the impression that everything is possible!
How was studying at the Olivier de Serres? Do you think film schools are an important place to learn how to make films or is experience in the field more important?
WeAreFromLA: We went through an applied art school specializing in graphic design. We never studied movies or cinema; we never learned how to direct one. We discovered discovered directing while working on our different projects. I think what matters is not the path you embrace but the will to communicate about things. We want to send positive messages, to make people travel with their minds through strong concepts and visuals. I’m not sure going through school gives one the taste for communication but anyhow, it definitely helped us to understand and to participate to some technical discussions.
You also worked in advertising. How was that experience?
Clément: We worked for several years as creative people in an advertising agency. It’s a good way to learn because one can discover various professions and learn how to get an idea accepted not only fast but clearly. It is also where we discovered the interactive video; where we met digital programmers.
Details and composition are clearly an important aspect of your aesthetics. What role does fashion play in your work? Do you have a favorite designer/brand?
WeAreFromLA: We are very influenced by pop culture in every way. We get inspired by everything we see in the street, on TV, on the Internet. In short, we’re inspired by daily life. To be quite honest we are as much influenced by a fashion designer as by the neon signs at nightfall, by fast-food packaging or luxurious restaurants, by Martin Parr photographs or by Michael Jackson’s clips; by Beyonce’s bottom or by the ’90s American movies, by YouTube fail videos or Rihanna’s sensibility.
Is Paris a source of inspiration for your work? How do you spend your free time out of the set?
WeAreFromLA: We are very lucky to live in such a beautiful city with amazing architecture on one side and a joyful mess on the other – like in the working-class district we live in. We are not great fans of Paris’ clichés, like when a person needs to spend 10 Euros for one coffee.
On the other hand, the north of Paris has an incredible strength and energy; we’re not so far away from what was Hackney in London a few years ago. It’s a total mess – anyone can feel it directly. Everything happens in the street, all the energy resides there, you only need to walk outside to regain strength.
Tell me about LA. How’s that compared to Paris?
WeAreFromLA: I think these are the least comparable cities in the world. Paris is a very centralized city with beautiful monuments everywhere, small cafes, pedestrian areas and fat raining clouds. LA is a big suburb where you go for dinner in a restaurant in a parking lot. The sky and light replaces all the monuments, making LA a city where beauty is diametrically opposed.
What I like about Paris is that you are able to go to work every morning by walking and not necessarily by taking the subway. What I do not like about Paris is this “bourgeoise” attitude where people fight for their kids to go in the best schools in the “right” districts. What I like in LA is being able to go to work, every morning in a convertible car and not having to take the subway. What I do not like in LA is the fact that you cannot drink two beers before driving since you always drive.
From your Twitter profile you guys seems really busy traveling these days. Is there any upcoming project you can tell us about?
WeAreFromLA: At the present time we are working on an ad for a big airline company while working on the post-production of Pharrell’s new video clip that we just shot. In fact, we only have cool projects so now the challenge is to do things right.
Your work is very dynamic, often interactive and always fun to watch. It brings you face to face with an experience and it almost naturally (and compulsively) pushes you to share it with your friends. The video you shot for Evian has 73,857,705 views and the video for “Happy” has 147,485,567 views. Is that something you have learned to achieve working in advertising? Do you have a specific communication strategy?
Clément: We don’t really have a strategy, we just try to realize projects that touch people and bring an instant communicative feeling to them. It feels amazing to see people on the other side of the world having a great time thanks to us. Three years ago, we designed an iPhone application and directed a video clip for the song “I Love U So” by electro band Cassius. There’s been hundred of videos posted on YouTube from all over the world, from Internet users using the application and having fun filming themselves doing it. It’s really great to watch an entire Madagascan family having fun using something you designed, or a Pakistan teen sending a message to his “potential future boyfriend” by using the application. Go look on YouTube for Cassius – “I Love U So,” it’s incredible.
What role does technology play in your creative process and in your daily life?
WeAreFromLA: Technology is omnipresent in our creative process. Actually, there are two major elements: technology and human beings, what is sensitive, emotional. We consider digitals objects; trying to mix pleasure and interactivity. Technology needs to be completely invisible to the user so that the final work will touch him/her.
Where did the idea for the world’s first 24-hour music video come along?
WeAreFromLA: We wanted to direct an everlasting video clip; one which lasts so long that it couldn’t be watched by only one person. We wanted to give freedom to the Internet users, to give them the possibility to choose what had to be watched. What’s amazing with a 24-hour video is that you can show everything! Actually, as you’re directing it, you feel like you’re turning the street into a show, like a documentary. It actually leaves room and time to show so many things and different people that in the end, we almost had a realistic picture of LA street life.
“WeAreFromLA” seems like a strong statement for two guys growing up around Paris. From the success of your work it seems like it was also a bit of a prophetic name. Have you always dreamed about making it to Hollywood or did you just want to leave some ambiguity behind your origins while focusing on your aesthetic?
WeAreFromLA: LA, it’s the pop Mecca. The American Dream. Silicon boobs, plastic, packaging, short-lived stars, golden cars and cinema. Everything we enjoy.
Nowadays guys travel a lot and get in touch with a lot of people around the world. Do you search out inspiration or do you tend to work on your own intuitions inspired by what surrounds you?
WeAreFromLA: Obviously, people we meet inspire us. Especially as we have been lucky to meet some amazing people lately. When you get the chance to work with a guy like Pharrell, it’s impossible not to be under his influence. It’s the kind of meeting that allows one to put some perspective in his own vision of things.
We worked in collaboration with Benjamin Millepied in January on a project for adidas. It has also been such an inspiring meeting. He allowed us to discover contemporary dance in a very simple and funny way, and absolutely not in an elitist and cold way as I could imagine it before. It feels good to open to new disciplines, to have people who gladly initiate you to new stuffs. By the way, I can’t wait to work with him again.
I read about an interesting GIF animations project – about physical changes in the transexual community – that you exhibited at the Agen B Gallery in Paris. Is fine art something that you’d like to explore more in the future?
Clément: Yes. We really want for our projects to carry in this direction. We need to find a gallery owner with whom we could work in the future. Actually, we don’t really see the difference between a video clip, an interactive movie, a short film, an artistic performance and an installation. We feel like trying everything!
You’ve worked with names like Yelle, Cassius, Death Grips and Citizens! What kind of music do you guys listen to in your free time? Are there some names that you’d specifically like to collaborate with?
WeAreFromLA: Odd Future, Rihanna…
This is one of the first interviews you’ve released in English. Do you think there’s a difference between the French press reporting on your success abroad as talented directors, versus the tendency of American media to focus on celebrity?
WeAreFromLA: It’s not our first interview but it’s our favorite one, for sure. I don’t know if there’s a big difference. Although one thing is certain, and that thing is that in France, medias wanted to share the fact that there were two French directors behind this project’s initiative. French people tend to be bored of themselves nowadays so showing up with a positive video like this made people feel better and journalists were able to talk about a positive initiative between France and the US. And we must underline the fact that Pharrell did several TV shows in France where he claimed his love for this country, for Daft Punk … so it’s been very enhancing for French people. Between Pharrell and France there’s a real powerful mutual attraction.
Interview and photos by Davide Bernardis for Highsnobiety.com