By Veronika Doroscheva
Martin Monk is a talented director and writer currently based in Berlin. He also founded a film production company “The Filmgym” together with his partners from New York.
“Happy Tears”, a short fashion film that he shot in 2013, won prizes at both Berlin Fashion Film Festival (BFFF) (“Best emerging artist”) and “Shot on RED Film Festival” held in Los Angeles, California (student prize), and just recently the main prize at “Nos Yeux Grands Ouverts” held on the 6th of March 2014 in Paris. The movie featured AW 2013 collection of the talented Swiss designer Julian Zigerli. During the 64th Berlinale Martin presented his brand new fashion film “AWAKE” that he made in collaboration with Berlin based designer Hien Le, whose AW 2014 collection is featured in the movie.
-Please introduce yourself…
I was born in Berlin. When I was 16, I moved to England to finish my school there. Then I studied history and philosophy in London. I also went to Paris for a year.
My mother is Russian and my father is English so I am quite mixed. When I was 16 I went to Berlinale for the first time and this experience made me realize that I want to be a filmmaker. Now I am 28 and I feel that I am arriving at where I belong. Why (did I start) directing? Simply because I like to tell people what to do and I always know everything better (laughs). But the most inspiring thing about being a director are people I meet through my work. I can tell you, it’s the best job in the world!
- What is the idea behind your short fashion film “AWAKE”?
As the title suggests, it’s a story about differences and similarities between dream and reality. It sounds quite abstract, I know. But I think, when it comes to love and romance, people have a lot of ideas in their heads about how the relationship should be, they have these images that they carry with them that are defining the way they look at other people. You know, the things that we read as kids or that we see in movies, and listen to in music … we spend a lot of time putting these ideals in our heads. When finally it comes to reality, the ideal image that we have created doesn’t work as it is supposed to. The reality doesn’t obey our fantasies. So if you stay too much in your fantasies, you will probably end up very lonely. In my film I am trying to deal with this phenomenon without being sarcastic. The fantasies that we are carrying in our heads might be very beautiful, but part of the growing up process is not letting them control your interactions with other people in reality. To put it in one sentence, “AWAKE” is about waking up from dreams and fantasies.
-What is your working process? How do you start to work on a project?
First of all, I need to see the collection. I start with the aesthetic part and then I try to find the emotional base. Then, I look at colors. Is it a summer or a winter collection? What colors are going on there?
Colors are especially important for me in my work. I take the color as a starting point for developing the set and the scenery. When I see that the designer has orange in his collection, which is quite aggressive, I might think about putting it in smooth scenery to make a nice contrast. Making fashion films is collaborative work: you work a lot with designers. How the work goes depends on each designer. With Hien Le for example, I had a lot of creative freedom. With Hien I also knew immediately that I wanted to make a story about a boy and a girl, because he makes menswear and womenswear. Besides, we also decided that the premiere of the film should be held on Valentine’s Day, so I knew it should be a love story then.
My work can also be very intuitive and spontaneous. For example, while working on “Happy Tears”: the designer Julian Zigerli showed me the print he was using in the collection that looked like veins. It was about winter time. The trees around already lost their leaves so the naked branches looked like veins as well. I decided to play with it in the film by contrasting the images of the trees against the print.
-Do you have to like the clothes that you shoot for a fashion film to make a good film?
You don’t need to love the clothes, but you should definitely appreciate designer’s work.
-Who is your audience?
I am reaching out to anyone who is as sensitive and emotional as me, so in a way I am reaching out to myself, with the hope that being honest to myself will help me be honest with other people. I know that not everyone, but some people will understand what I am trying to say in my movies. I gave up the idealistic idea of doing something that everyone likes a long time ago. I don’t have a target audience though: age, sex, sexual preferences are not important.
-Would you describe fashion film as a special film genre that deserves a special place among other film genres such as feature film, documentary film, drama, comedy and so on. Or is fashion film only a subcategory of other major film genres instead?
I think it’s an own genre. It’s not a subgenre, but it’s special, because it’s just a mix of other genres. Nowadays you have a lot of different types and different styles of fashion film. It can be more commercial or arty, it can go more into dance, performance, body performance, animation, special effects, narrative, documentary, there are many other genres coming together in fashion film. Fashion film can be political, humorous, emotional, or glamourous. It doesn’t really matter, because there are a lot of options and this makes it very interesting.
-Is there any recent fashion film that you especially like?
The winning film of Berlin Fashion Film Festival 2013 (BFFF): “Odditory” by Monica Menez. This one is brilliant. It’s sexy and funny, and it’s smart. I really enjoyed it. The director is a genius.
-What is the main purpose of fashion film? Does fashion film express the idea and the concept behind the collection better than a lookbook or a runway show?
I don’t know if better, but definitely different in a very positive way. Philosophically, fashion is a quite interesting phenomenon, because it always deals just with the surface. If you talk to people who are not in fashion, they would say it’s superficial. I don’t agree with it. It’s not superficial, because the way we dress has to do with our body and our body is political. Fashion film can help to give fashion an intellectual depth that you won’t be able to explore only by looking at the images. As a director I often deal with some ideas that might have inspired the designer to create the collection, and I am trying to explore them cinematically. What I try to do is to see what is creatively expressed in the collection and how I can contribute to make those ideas deeper. It’s something that you certainly can’t achieve with the lookbook.
I hope that with my films I can help the designer to better understand his own work. I had a very good working experience with two movies that I shot: the designers had a chance to see their own work in a different way and they were very surprised and excited about this experience.
-Do you have any designers on your list you would like to work with?
Hedi Slimane, whose work I like very much since he started to work for Dior. You know, all this rock-n’-roll chic, skinny jeans, leather jackets. But Hedi does his own films…Too bad for me.
-Do you have a favorite director?
Ingmar Bergman. My favorite Bergman’s movie is “Wild Strawberries”.
-Who is your favorite fashion designer?
I would say again, Hedi Slimane.
-Besides your work, what are you passionate about and why?
Football. I used to play football before I got injured and had to stop playing. Football is an art. It’s so artistic and aesthetic. It’s like a performance or a dance.
- Do you have superstitious beliefs, any kind of everyday rituals?
My morning coffee. Also when I travel, I always take the same things with me. I listen to music. Yeah, I hardly had a day without music.
-What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in life?
You have to be honest to yourself about yourself, and to be honest to other people.
-What is the exact position of fashion film between art and commercially driven strategy?
First of all it depends on the brand. Young up-and-coming designers are usually making more artistic films, first of all due to a limited budget. They look for young creatives and they give them creative freedom, because they can’t pay much or can’t pay at all. The commercial aspects are not so important here. If you look at bigger brands, you see that they want to show their prestige and power, their commercial success, so they hire successful Hollywood directors. Martin Scorsese did a campaign video for Dolce & Gabbana starring Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson. This is of course totally different than making a movie with 3000€ budget. It also depends if you are talking to American or European audiences. In the USA they don’t distinguish so strictly between art and commerce. You can be super arty and still commercial, and it’s not a contradiction. In Europe we have a more intellectual approach to this question and separate more strictly between art and commerce. The same in music. In the USA, Rihanna is considered a real artist. Here, well…you know…commercial. I think, however, if something, be it a collection piece, a music track or a movie, touches you, then it’s art and it doesn’t matter if it’s commercial or not.
If fashion film is art or commercial strategy? I think it’s both. Look at fashion industry: the designer creates a collection in order to express his/her ideas and concepts, but he/she also wants that people buy the clothes.
I also think that the audience will reject everything that is too commercial. On the other hand, I see a big trend coming up in brand entertainment, when big companies hire artists to create films and other kind of visuals with product placement only, because it’s good for the image and it’s part of the capitalist mechanism.
-I have a feeling that it’s already started. The designers and big retail companies are working with artists in order to develop prints or special products and so called limited lines. Big brands are launching collaborations with designers. Think: Rick Owens Footwear collection for Adidas. Also Stella McCartney made a collection for Adidas, Jeremy Scott as well… to name but a few.
Yes, Bob Dylan appeared in a Chevrolet Super Bowl commercial. There was a big buzz around it. People were saying, “how could he sell himself in that way, he is from revolutionary generation of counterculture.”
Remember, Andy Warhol brought commerce into art back then. Now a counter-movement is starting, of bringing art into commerce. This blending of art and commerce is fine as long as you as an artist don’t let your creative decisions be influenced by commercial interests. If you do, you are crossing the line.