For our next Director 101 Interview we learn more about wandering director Simon Mulvaney. We explore his inspirations, experience and the processes behind his beautifully shot work.
What do you enjoy most about shooting for brands?
I shoot for a really eclectic mix of brands. But the thing I enjoy most about the process isn’t necessarily promoting the brand or product, it’s attempting to communicate some facet of the human experience through story.
If the product or service is a worthwhile one, it’s not usually too difficult to connect it to a human emotion. Communicating that emotion, is what I enjoy most.
Which project has been your most informative to date?
My most informative project has been working with Adidas, on my latest short film ‘Creators Unite’. The way in which a huge brand such as them held ‘story’ as the single most important element of any project, paired with the amount of creative control they provide their collaborators was truly inspirational to see.
Do you enjoy collaborating with other directors?
It really depends on the project!
I’m currently producing a collaborative, short documentary that is proving very inspiring to be a part of and I’m gaining a lot of insight and inspiration from working closely with dozens of different directors from around the UK.
However, I do believe that sometimes a project needs just one mind on it; one person to craft the narrative, to keep it on the right track.
How do you push a script to exceed client expectations?
More recently, I’ve been working on unscripted, documentary projects, where the expectations of the client (and of myself and the production team), is to pull some magic out of absolutely nowhere.
I love this approach and believe that the honesty and realism that an audience should ideally feel when watching it, allows them to associate trust and integrity with the brand.
If the client has a great product, experience or service - let it speak for itself, in the context of the emotional, human experience it heightens or provides.
Which clients have been a dream to work with?
There’s been so many! After working with them, I come to form friendships with most of the people I work with. So it’s hard to say ‘who are best’.
The first that spring to mind are Adidas/Intermarketing (for their unwavering belief in the creative journey), Eurocamp/Squad (for the trust, flexibility and responsiveness they showed throughout the entire process), Ticketmaster (for just letting me do what I wanted, with no creative restraints).
And obviously, The Gate Films, for their friendly, professional and community-based approach to filmmaking.
Have you had to work in any challenging locations? How did you handle it?
In 2017, I took a small camera, one lens and a drone on a 17 day hike through the Himalayas, with no sherpas, no guide; just a map, my film gear and the clothes on my back. I had no idea what the film would be, but I knew there would be one at the end of it. Luckily, I survived and people enjoyed the film.
For 2 weeks, I squatted in an abandoned building next to an opium plantation, in a remote, dirt-road village in Laos, in order to film a school being built close by.
I’ve battled my way through hoards of intoxicated and hysterical people in the birth place of Krishna, during Holy Festival. Bribing security guards to gain rooftop vantage points on the chaos that ensued below.
But in all honesty, the most challenging locations are the ones that have been overly planned, with so much riding on the perfect execution of set design and lighting conditions. For me, they often prove more challenging than embracing the chaos of the real-world.
What can film do that other other media forms can’t?
The only thing that separates human beings from other forms of life is our ability to tell stories. Whether it’s through literature, music or just run-of-the-mill gossip, it completely and utterly defines us.
The purpose of story... to build strong social bonds with those around you.
By warning others about potential dangers, you gain their trust. By showing them how to live a more fulfilling/healthy life, you gain their appreciation.
Thousands of years ago, these stories would be told around the campfire. Slowly, the campfire became the religious alter, the town hall, the newspaper, the radio, the television, the computer and now, it’s in your pocket, vibrating away with every new chapter of not only your story, but that of the entire world.
Film is currently the most effective way of telling stories, as it pulls together the most amount of known story-telling techniques, providing it the power to connect with people, in ways that no other medium can.
Who is the most important and or influential person for you in the world of film right now?
For me, the most important and influential people in film aren’t those winning Academy Awards and pulling in billions at the box office. It’s those sat in their bedrooms, experimenting with and crafting the future of film.
In the 1750’s, a composer needed an entire orchestra to communicate their story. In the 1960's rock ’n’ roll was born. Now, you only needed a small handful of artists to create something the world had never heard before.
For filmmakers, the 2020’s is our 1960’s. Filmmakers are becoming rockstars, through websites such as YouTube and Vimeo. They’re the people to watch out for.
What concept, idea or technique do you think is most underused? Which is overhyped?
Concepts, ideas and techniques should only serve the story.
What recent technological innovation has had the biggest impact on your work?
The ability to shoot HD video on affordable equipment came as a huge and turbulent revolution for the industry.
As a result, everybody is now a filmmaker. And it shows; with around 50 years-worth of video now being uploaded to YouTube EVERY DAY!
Do you think filmmakers have a responsibility to make challenging, socially conscious work?
Storytelling should always be an escape from the mundane. If it challenges, great! If it makes you act in a more globally responsible way, even better! If it just brings a smile and relieves the pressure of everyday life, that’s also great.
We can’t all be so serious all the time; film is as diverse as any other storytelling/creative medium.
When inspiration is waning, when creativity is sapped, how do you stay inspired?
I try to take my mind off the project by learning. Usually something springs to mind if you’re in a state of education.
How do you know when your story is finished and it’s time to walk away?
Either I get excited about another idea and drop everything, in order to pursue it, or somebody has to pry the film from my cold, anxious grip.
What non-film medium inspires your work?
All of them! But also non-medium’s entirely - nature, people, culture, history, world events - anything and everything has the potential to inspire.
Is the evolution of your style a conscious or subconscious process?
A bit of both.
At it’s core, my style hasn’t changed since I made my first film at age 12. Although, sometimes I grow bored of certain, more specific storytelling techniques and try new ones, in order to keep things interesting.
How do you balance meeting commercial objectives without sacrificing your art?
I don’t think that true art can have commercial objectives. For me, that’s an oxymoron.
However, in a world where the term ‘sell-out’ hasn’t been uttered in over a decade and consumerism bleeds into every facet of our lives, I’m very aware that it’s difficult to have one without the other.
For me, I try to fulfil my purely artistic side through personal projects, when I’m not on the payroll.
When somebody else holds the purse strings, I advise and recommend, with passion and conviction, but ultimately, the final say is never my own.
Even the biggest directors answer to someone, hence the reason why I think the YouTube/ Vimeo/indie revolution is sometimes more interesting than the achievements of feature film.
What’s going on in your world when you’re not looking through a lens?
I like to explore, learn and improve relationships with those around me. But after a while, I grow bored and want to make a film.
What’s your advice for emerging filmmakers wanting to make their stamp in the industry?
Do your own thing and don’t worry about any of it being perfect. It never will be. Don’t rely too heavily on anybody else, just get out there and tell a story.
If people enjoy it, maybe next time you’ll get paid.
What are you most looking forward to with your adventure with The Gate?
Continuing to tell stories that connect with people and that say something about who we are as human beings... with a lesson learned and a little logo at the end.
Follow Si's adventures below: