The Directors: Axel Morin
Axel Morin is a director and a photographer with a powerful vision of deeply aesthetic imagery and a unique storytelling ability. Inspired by the urban culture of his youth, he discovered his passion for photography at an early age. He uses bold compositions with a contemporary vision. His sought-after style is a blend of timeless sophistication with a fresh, provocative interpretation. He is represented by Frenzy.
What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
For all of us, scenarios are distinguished by the story they tell, who they’re for, and why they’re there. I work a lot on 'coup de coeur', which is to say, on feeling – if the creative brief makes sense in relation to my style of work, if it fits in with my ethics. If creatively I feel that I’ll be able to bring my vision to the project, then I do it. If not, I prefer to get off the wagon before I get too involved.
Our work is about passion, above all. Producing ads just for the sake of producing ads doesn’t do me or anyone any good. As we say in French “la qualité est rarement le très bon ami de la quantité” – essentially, quality and quantity don’t go hand in hand. It’s better to produce less but be more powerful creatively than to produce something immemorable.
How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
The starting point is always, of course, making sure you understand the subject, and going over it carefully with creatives, so you can then dive into this crazy world of creativity!
Once I understand what they want, I start making sketches and scribbling down ideas on Post-its that I stick up on the walls of my office – that helps me set up the backbone of the film. A film is like a painting, but in motion, so I try to find the right tools that I'm going to put in my film before I start. I like to understand everything I'm doing and, for that, I have to ask myself the right questions. I always try to have the images and colors follow each other and come together to tell a story when they meet.
I often close my eyes and imagine my sequences, my movements blending together, see the expressions on the different characters’ faces, the visual poetry of the set around me – that’s how I create the story, the tension.
Before becoming a director, I did a lot of editing that allowed me to understand how a film works.I often listen to music during this stage. It helps me think, escape, and move forward on the script. Actually, whatever music I listen to do during this stage often winds up as the music for the film! Music is so important to a film and so often, it’s thought of too late, after the film is finished.
For me they go hand in hand. How many films have you seen spoiled because of the wrong choice of music... that, unfortunately, happens to a lot of directors. You present your film with a terrific soundtrack, the film is perfect, everything comes together marvelously, and for whatever reason, someone goes and changes it, which can often throw everything off the rails, when you go through the editing with a different soundtrack in mind. It ruins the emotions you created with the editor. That’s why it’s so important to talk about music throughout the creative process. Image and sound must be considered equally important, otherwise you’ve lost even before you’ve finished making the film. That’s the philosophy behind my way of doing films, my creations.
So, once all my ideas are clear, that I’ve gone through the ‘shake things up, cut, destroy to rebuild’ stage, I go through the storyboarding stage where I think more in-depth about my camera movements and everything that I had worked out.
This step is crucial, it allows you to see if your film works or not, and you have to be precise, because it’s important to be understood by the crew.
That being said, I'm someone who works a lot on spontaneity, on what I’m feeling in the moment, what’s around me, the vibe with the cast, so I always leave room to improvise. You make storyboards and moodboards to help your team understand your ideas, but the story isn’t really born before you’re on on the set. If you write too much down or detail it out, you shut doors and you’ll have a hard time opening them back up.
The end of all this story comes during editing and that’s such an important part. That’s where the work is concretized, where it all comes together, where you have to believe in what you do.
That’s really the best part of the whole creative process, the actual shooting – the energy on set is unique.
For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Human relationship is very important to me. I can’t imagine doing something where I’m working on an assembly line – I need to understand what I’m doing with myself and in relation others. I have to see how it all comes together.
What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
I love fashion because I really admire material work, the meticulous crafting behind each piece, the often extraordinary shapes. All the stories that can be told behind a piece of clothing or a shoe. It’s beautiful being able to turn those stories into films.
How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?
It’s already influencing us, we’re getting closer and closer to a world controlled by machines.
This is a difficult time filming because you don’t have that human connection that you usually get filming. Today we turn to remote working so we can keep doing our jobs and make films at a distance, directing a film from the other side of the world, without being able to interact with the cast and teams, other than through a screen. It’s the passage of time through the world of 'Black Mirror'!
On the plus side, in this case, it allows us to continue creating with talents from all over the world. But that’s not how I imagine the future, and I hope we drop this impersonal system once everything gets back in order.
Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
It’s important to think about different formats well in advance because today, with social networks and the multitude of existing formats, your film has to be live everywhere. It’s both daunting and exciting - digital offers so many creative possibilities!
For me, if you don't think about your format beforehand, you risk weakening the film. It’s so important because it supports a certain form of narration. The way you frame the shot, that you integrate it into the format you’ve chosen creates an emotion that you lose if you try to duplicate onto a different format.
All that to say, that if you think about all the formats beforehand and you take them into account with the creative teams and your crew, everything goes well. What I like about having so many formats is being able to recount different sensations through your film, through varied digital immersions.
What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?
I love working with new technology – it fits in with the world in which we live, and there are so many different ways I can use it in my films to give new meaning and conceptualize certain desires.
Today we’re lucky to be able to explore so many tools! I like not limiting myself and experimenting as a visual artist in my studio. I’d even consider myself more of a visual artist than a director or photographer.
I have no problem switching from an iPhone to a 35mm camera and then bouncing over to a DV shot and integrating 3D in all of it, or even illustration. If it makes sense for your film why deprive yourself of it? Each of these mediums are brushes that you have to know how to use wisely ... as in painting ...
Take advantage of the world we’re in and play around with different tools. They may not all work for everyone, but we’re lucky to have them in 2021. The idea is really figuring out how to use them to your benefit. For me it’s not so much a constraint, it’s just a question of knowing how to use them, at the right time, and being able to ask the right questions.
Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best - and why?
It's a clip that I like very much because it's very personal and I had real creative freedom with the artists. They trusted me.
In a way this film is a literary retranscription of my vision of modern society that I translated in an aesthetic way. It’s dark, sensual, dangerous, this suffocating hold, this deep, mysterious and bewitching examination of conscience with a powerful groove.
In this film there’s a big part about dancing with the dancer Strauss Serpent (a fascinating man, whom I like a lot). I love working with the body in movement, the abstraction of the body fascinates me. A body, however beautiful it may be, contorted, twisted, can make someone feel uncomfortable, or not - it’s a wonderful vector of emotion.
For me, sculpture, photography, painting and dance are part of the art of volume in space, they’re familiar entities.
In this film I wanted to focus on the body, and this dance that conveys tension, precisely and meticulously timed with the other entities in the film.
That’s the driving force behind 'feeling' this kind of schizophrenia that penetrates us deep down, as if possessed by a strong, powerful being, suffocated by the tension of a mysterious, shocking and sensual world. It’s a refusal to be suffocated by the expectations of society.
You get the impression he is attracted by and absorbed into all the other entities in the film, almost in spite of himself, like someone afraid of heights, standing in front of a precipice. Perhaps a Freudian interpretation... In this film there is a beginning and an end, where the observation becomes unstable and disturbing.
This project was also about creative freedom, it was a carte blanche with the creative director JPPM of the Nina Ricci brand, and I had the confidence of designers Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh.
I had a lot of fun doing this project. As I said before, I like to mix mediums, I like to confront a lot of elements with each other and tell a story with punctuation. It's a fashion film that presents the collection, yes, but above all, it tells the story of the collection’s creation.
I also had carte blanche on this project. I like the story that’s told here - the sensations, the visual emotions that emerge from this project, which are directly linked to the clothes.
I also had a lot of freedom to mix still and moving images, and it was very interesting as a plastic art.
All the background images are iPhone archive videos that we classified, then inlayed in the backgrounds of each look to give meaning to the collection, to the clothes...
My friend, Olivier Leone Didi, runs creative direction for this brand along with designer Julia Toledano whom I work with regularly. It was the very first film for the brand and there was just a small group of us, including the talented Sara Grace Wallerstedt.
I just love « this movie » for its « art video » graphic universe, for its authenticity, simplicity and spontaneity.
A super campaign that I had a lot of fun making and it was great working with the brand and Apple’s teams. They gave us incredible creative freedom, be it cutting the films, the frames, the experimental 'art video' in editing, etc. I also like that this project transcribes a part of my universe - this hybrid documentary/art film/fiction pleases me a lot. In this project, I had to show each city (Paris, Marseille, Lyon) with its own heartbeat, its own unique sounds, emotions, stories, to give a contemporary vision of these cities and retranscribe my vision with the sound of the artist (Lomepal 'Paris', Reef 'Marseille, Chilla 'Lyon') It was a real collaboration with the artist and, for me, a city is a living painting in perpetual evolution. You just have to look at it, capture its emotions and retranscribe them with your own vision of the world, at least that’s what I tried to do with these three films.