“I have a good relationship with the Creative Director and owner of Genetic Denim, Ali Fatourechi,” says director Howard Nourmand, describing the genesis of a May 2013 fashion ad campaign titled The Be You Project that flips industry norms.
“Ali and I hang out a lot. It wasn’t like he had to sit down and explain his brand to me because our shared experiences of growing up in L.A. gave me a strong point of reference.”
Fatourechi works in fashion and Nourmand works in film, however, there is a lot of overlap.
Their paths intersect both personally and professionally.
In fact, Howard was at Art Basel, steeping himself in art, when he got Ali’s phone call. “I need you right away. It’s urgent.” Soon after, the two met up.
Ali had decided to do something more personal for his company, Genetic. Something based on the world he lives in, including and relating directly with his own circle of friends – a crew of young artists and entrepreneurs.
It is a series of one-minute interviews with ‘subjects’ rather than coached models or commercial actors.
CREATING AN ‘ANTI-AD’
Fashion advertisers usually create a world full of conditional payoff.
They imply: buy our jeans and you’ll have this world. The cute boyfriend. The fancy car. The amazing bag and accessories. You’ll live in this house with this dog. This is what your body will look like in these clothes.
In contrast, The Be You project focuses the lens on:
- Strength and vulnerability
- Visual poetry and abstraction
The subjects’ hair was not blown out. There was no makeup. Only available natural light was used, and there were no rehearsals. “We committed to embracing the moment, trusting that it would be enough.”
Ali wanted to take everything out of a typical fashion ad. In fact, he didn’t feel it was necessary to even show the jeans, Nourmand told The AWSC in a telephone interview.
It was more about representing the spirit and culture that Genetic is a part of. “We told each subject that this piece, if we were successful, would be a window into a moment of your life -- like a journal entry that captures your inner voice.”
These portraits were tailored for the Internet. “The slower pacing is a luxury we had because we weren’t constrained to air time.” What speaks to authenticity is that one subject is asked a question, and is given time on camera to think about it before answering.
I don’t think I’ve seen much contemplation in advertisements recently, although as people in society, we’re always mulling things over. It’s something to consider.
BEHIND THE SCENES
For the launch of ‘The Be You Project,’ Genetic profiled two personalities: Tasya Van Ree and Byrdie Bell. Both profiles were shot in one day. “We had to hustle,” Nourmand said. “We knew we were only going to have 20 minutes here and there for moving around and trying different things.”
The day before the shoot, Nourmand and some of the crewmembers went to the locations to map them out.
Because of the time constraint, Nourmand was concerned and wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be scrambling to figure out too much the day of. Prepping the essential camera angles helped him approach the shoot with a level of confidence.
His D.P., Kay Madsen, supported him in that way, even though Kay knew “we would end up discovering some of the best stuff on the fly,” Nourmand said.
“Often you really don’t know what you have until you get to the edit room. I have to credit my crew, because they gave me the security I needed to back off and direct in a different way.”
During the shoot, Nourmand had a monitor wired to another room, away from everything. “I wanted my perspective to be from the audience’s point of view,” he said. “Being away from the crew, lights and camera equipment, I became emotional and felt what the interviewees were saying so much more – isolating myself heightened my sensitivity.”
Nourmand’s experience working in motion graphics reveals his nostalgia about analog and vintage photographs. They resonate with a part of him that has to do with his past, and other people’s pasts. Across the body of his work, there are usually a lot of vintage, nostalgic references.
In fact, The Be You Project, although shot with Epic and a Cannon 5D, used vintage (Cooke Optics) lenses. Shooting through that retro glass produced what is known as the Cooke look with a warm and natural feel. One signature of Nourmand’s work is the integration of old technologies with new ones.
The best motion graphics invoke many layers of media.
So he brings that to advertising. You probably didn’t notice it on first listening, but there’s a point where the subject says, “I’m a cowboy,” and there’s the sound of horses layered in.
There’s the sound of the record player. There’s a person breathing, a creaky chair, a typewriter.
To make it more cinematic, all of those layers immerse you.
A few of the images that you see in the sequence don’t rely on footage that was captured on location, either. The team created some camera moves in After Effects and then digitally composited additional footage, weaving it into what already existed.
Nourmand used some of his motion graphics skills throughout to give it more dimensionality. There are sunrays and animated lighting composited in. “Even though I’m shooting film, I’m still relying on some of my old toolsets.”
PRACTICAL REASONS, PERSONAL ORIGINS
There is a difference working as a director compared to a title designer.
“There is definitely overlap,” and Nourmand has edged toward the direction he wanted – making commercials and developing his own small film projects – without exactly leaving behind what he did as a movie title designer. “I believe that these short format film projects are just the beginning of the secondary phase of my career and I’m starting to lay the foundation for what will come.”
Short Form Film Samples:
Although the director role has its own set of unique challenges, the development of ideas and creative problem solving components of the job remains the same. “The way I set up and brainstorm ideas, still applies. I’m asking the same questions, designing storyboards, collecting the same visual references, and sitting at the same desk.”
The big shift is that as a title designer, another artist had already set the concept and the context in motion. “You are working within their world,” said Nourmand.
“But when I’m working on a commercial or when I make my own movie, the initial idea will have come from me. That changes the experience for me and in terms of my growth as an artist -- that feels like the necessary next step.”
In the case of The Be You project, it seems to be a collaboration whose origin escapes definition.
Was it the creative team who built the architecture, while the rest naturally unfolded? Or is it the subjects, responding unscripted, who have breathed life into the golem?