Back in the day – “the day” being a Monday in 2003 – two ambitious filmmakers Thea Burrows and Nick Marchant co-founded Maker. 15 years of directing brilliant branded content for the likes of Adidas, Finisterre and Gaggenau later, Nick catches up with Maker’s London Exec Luke Toyne about the past, the present, and the future.
Nick: I’ve always been an observant person, I’m fascinated by how people behave and what makes them tick. Film’s ability to present someone else’s experience and to have an audience feel what that’s like is what I’m most drawn to.
Luke: How did you get Maker moving with you in the director’s chair?
Nick: It was through Revolution bars many moons ago. Before ‘channels’ were a thing we persuaded them to give us tiny budgets and a lot of freedom to make Revolution TV. It was essentially a chance for us to dream up and make lots of weird and wonderful content – and lots of mistakes! We had loads of fun and learned some hard lessons along the way but I think they’ve stood us in good stead. I think the next few years will see some pretty exciting things from Maker.
Luke: What is The Nick Process?
Nick: For me it starts with working out what emotion you want the audience to feel after they’ve watched the film. Then finding the key to that in the script. If you can really distil that central idea then everything else should play into that. As you develop it further your always looking for how you can express that central idea in a richer more interesting and hopefully surprising way.
Luke: What pieces of your work are you most proud of from the last 15 years?
Nick: Lost Memories was a favourite because of the creative freedom and it was my first opportunity to work so closely with an actor. I feel we achieved a sense of mystery with it that I really like. Also the film about the surfer Neil Erskine for Finisterre connected with a lot of people, it was great to hear how much they got from it.
I think as audiences we immediately know if the actor or subject has any doubts. With actors I’ve found it’s about having clarity on the bigger ideas, so an actor can try things safe in the knowledge that you can help them find what feels right. With the documentary style films I’ve made it’s similar in that the subject has to feel that you understand them and that you’re coming from the right place.
Luke: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt? Have you had any shoots go really tits up?
Nick: I think the biggest lesson is not to rush. It doesn’t make things go any faster and the results suffer. Fortunately no major disasters on my shoots. Although I seem to remember you narrowly averting one by talking down the shotgun-wielding Lord of the Manor who was very upset about all the cars on his drive! That was one of the most fun shoots we’ve done – an ad with the Hairy Bikers at a country pile in Cheshire. The only help they needed was in not messing about with the script too much or teasing the client. Charming, funny, mischievous buggers the pair of them.
Luke: Beyond manors complete with furious gun-toting Lords (the joys of being a producer!) you and I have filmed in Amsterdam, Paris, Lipsheim, Washington State and LA. As a director how do you tailor your approach for foreign shoots?
Nick: The challenge is in having to react quicker to the locations because new opportunities always present themselves when you see them for real. So I think the trick is to be open and adapt while keeping in mind what you’re trying to achieve, the feeling you want to evoke.
The Gaggenau shoot near Seattle was definitely one of these. We developed the boards pretty dramatically in the few days before the shoot. We found some pretty special shots that elevated the film and you can’t really beat it when a deer walks out of the forest right into your shot. I don’t think I’ve ever said “turnover” quicker!
Luke: Does a premium brand like Gaggenau require a different approach to other clients?
Nick: You’ve got to get the brand and have a good feel for what is and isn’t them. I suppose with luxury brands, and definitely with Gaggenau, this comes into sharper focus because you’re looking for something very distinctive and exclusive while maintaining a certain mystery.
Luke: With clients such as Gaggenau, Almost Famous and El Gato, food glorious food is a strong area of expertise for you. We all know the tricks of the trade for making food look sumptuous on-camera but how do you make that content emotive?
Nick: I think food is naturally emotive because it’s so intrinsic to us, it’s natural for us to desire and get satisfaction from it. Playing with texture and movement can be so visceral and seeing elements combine and change really builds anticipation. Our senses are linked, so it’s about playing with images and sounds to get the viewer to anticipate or imagine the taste sensation.
Luke: Filming for Interxion also saw us dusting down our passports. How do you make a stereotypically “dry” topic like tech and data engaging for the viewer?
Nick: I kind of like the challenge. For me it’s not about making something interesting, (nearly) everything can be interesting depending on how you show it. Looking at things from different perspectives can really help. I suppose it’s a bit like a tight and a wide shot often being more interesting than a mid. With data if you visualise it up close it’s kind of fascinating and similarly, if you look at the wider implications and uses you quickly realise what a massive effect it has on our lives and our future.
Luke: Then there’s your work for sports / active wear brands such as Adidas, ASICS, Ballyclare, Dare 2b and Umbro. How do you translate the intensity of sport into emotive video content?
Nick: I think so much of sport is about emotion. I played to a pretty high level when I was younger and to me it’s about the control and release of emotions. When you’re playing sport you need to focus and control your emotions, all those voices of fear and fatigue that want you to stop or not even start. And then there is the strength you get from that control and the release and rush of emotions that comes from the effort you put in. I think the play between the body and mind in sport is where the drama is.
Luke: Looking to the future, what would your dream job be and what direction do you see your work going?
Nick: Apart from a rap version of Romeo and Juliet with Dr.Dre doing the soundtrack, I’d love to push the boundaries of documentary content. I feel like that area is a bit tired and formulaic. I’d like to make films that are less verite and more expressionistic. So anything that lends itself to being bold stylistically. Combining sounds and images to convey inner worlds of a film’s subject fascinates me. It offers so many opportunities to make films that feel fresh.
I think the direction that some content is going in where it’s less about disruptive advertising and more about what audiences care about can only be good. So hopefully I’ll be working with more enlightened brands who want to tell human stories in interesting ways. And ideally in far flung destinations!
To view more of Nick’s work check out https://www.makerprojects.co.uk/directors/.