British filmmaker duo Bradley & Pablo, most well-known for making hit pop music videos, are now experimenting with new forms of filmmaking. Their documentary Alone Together – which premiered at SXSW in March – is a record of hyperpop artist Charlie XCX while she made her album How I'm Feeling Now with the help of fans during the lockdown. In the same vein, they have also released Fracture, their first TV show as directors – in their own words a groundbreaking form of advertising, a partnership between Balmain's Creative Director, Olivier Rousteing, and United Kingdom's Channel 4. They have moved to Los Angeles where we had the chance to talk further about this exciting moment.
The pandemic set new rules apart, many artists and creative people came up with new solutions to keep themselves productive. For Bradley & Pablo that sense of new order with no set rules anymore made them break free and focus on filmmaking only. They were early collaborators with the PC Music label in London – interested in DIY and bedroom music which later on became known as the hyperpop genre. The label's founder, music producer A.G Cook, then had his breakthrough as the producer and Creative Director behind Charli XCX who rose to fame with the collaboration with Swedish duo Icona Pop's hit I Love It.
You guys met at the Design program in Central Saint Martins in London. Did you finish your design studies?
Pablo: Yes, kind of. I was studying graphic design at Central Saint Martins, Bradley was studying graphic design at Chelsea, the same university. And we met on our first day of moving to London, we were in the same student halls, the same student accommodation. We were friends for a few years before working together.
Pablo: And yeah, we both finished our studies.
How was that initial period when you finished your studies at Saint Martins?
Pablo: We actually worked together on Bradley's final graduation project. And that film sort of got us signed to our first production company that we went straight into after finishing college, basically. In the beginning, when we first graduated, we were still doing some different things. Bradley was working at a fashion streetwear brand in London as an Art Director.
Which one?
Pablo: It's called Illustrated People. And I was doing more art stuff, I was doing some shows and making sculptures and video work. But at the same time as that, we started making music videos together. And then that became more of our focus after a while.
Bradley: It actually started out more like a fashion film. For whatever reason, fashion films were the mediums of the moment. We felt like that was what we were going to be doing. I think we did another fashion film after my graduation project.
When did this happen?
Bradley: This was 2014. My graduation project was in 2013. After that, we got started. The production company we were assigned to is actually the fashion division of Blink Productions in London. We did this other fashion film for Christopher Raeburn. It was 2015 when we got our first music video opportunity.
For whom was the music video made for?
It was the PC music label for Sophie and AG Cook; they basically had an artist who they created called QT.
How do you think design has helped you to become better film directors?
Pablo: I think that our graphic design sensibilities come across in our work to some extent in every detail, like how we compose images and things but it also just informs our style quite a lot by using a lot of graphics and typography.
It's interesting coming into film with a different background, I always find it interesting when a practitioner has a different set of skills that they bring to their new practice, it gives you a unique standing in that world. If we had gone to film school, we probably would have watched all the same films everyone watches, and get the same references and learn all those things. I mean, now we're sort of catching up a little bit and learning the film basics, but I think, hopefully, it has meant that we may have a unique voice in that space.
I hear you, totally. Before getting into Alone Together, your first film documentary, I think between your initial graphic design period and moving onto film direction you guys did some animated short films as well, and motion graphics work.
Bradley: Yes we did, but not so much anymore. In the early days, like for my final graduation film, it was kind of a 3D animated thing with some live-action in it. Design sensibilities crossed over, obviously, but we were both doing more like illustration. We are really interested in this kind of cross-section style. Drawings were like big worlds of little pockets of stories and narratives. We started using Maya as the 3D animation software, putting cameras through them and kind of animating them. We created 3D animated worlds for fashion brands as well.
It is quite interesting to see this sort of evolution where you guys are coming from. And now you just released your first documentary film Alone Together, portraying pop star Charli XCX during the pandemic. How did the idea of making this documentary evolve?
Pablo: We were at home, we had been recently locked down in LA, the stay at home order had been set in place for a week or two. And, like everyone else, at that time, I'm sure we were trying to figure out how to reposition ourselves, how to make sense of the world that was unfolding around us and how we were going to reposition ourselves in that space, figuring out how to keep productive and make work.
Whilst we were thinking about that, we caught wind of this new project from Charli that we saw on Instagram. Charli and we worked together for a long time with friends. We weren't really talking at that point about working together, and I never thought anything about it. We just saw that she'd started this album project at home in a sort of collaboration with her fans like the first or second day that she posted it. And we were like, Ok, well, this seems like a really interesting thing. So we sent her a text, like: can we start documenting it and see if it kind of goes slowly?
Most of the footage is taken from smartphones, Instagram and so on. Did you film anything at all?
Bradley: No, we weren't able to film anything in person.
Pablo: We started documenting everything properly a week after the project had started. Luckily, she was doing self-documentation for social media and things like that, anyway. We kind of just caught wind of the project in the same way that anyone else did, any of her fans or the public. I was very taken by projects like this, particularly the part involving the fans, I think being able to see the pandemic from this perspective was something that was very interesting to us.
Bradley: Before the pandemic, we were hungry to break out of our music video medium. We were looking for ways to break into film. And so I think the pandemic really presented itself with this strange, rare opportunity where we were like, Ok, it seems like there are no more rules set anymore, let's make the film! And that's what we did.
Did you feel like it was an important film to make during this period?
Bradley: Well, from a personal point of view, in the beginning, I think it just felt like a way of understanding what was happening, which felt like a way to process what was going on, because we really didn't know what else to do. And it also felt, in some ways, maybe this is what we can offer to the experience of this moment and as filmmakers, we can document it. So it was quite organic in that thought.
Many teenagers cope with that sort of claustrophobic sense or the anxiety of being isolated.
Bradley: The thing that I think was really driving us, socially, was just the fans and the plight of young people stuck alone. We went to the club quarantine, like online raves from the early days, and saw all these people coming together, and it was just a really warm experience. When we saw it we thought that we wanted to document this, investigate and reach out to people who might be struggling during it and see. It was a way to connect.
Last week, I read an interview with Charli in The Guardian about her new album Crash. She said: “People who take it too far are better than people who don't.” How much of this resonates with you and your connection with the artist?
Bradley: I like that question. Well, that throws us off.
Pablo: Yeah, that's interesting. I think you always need people to take it too far. Otherwise, nothing new will happen.
Right? She talks about her new album which revolves around that concept. She wants to push her popstar persona as far as she could under the umbrella of this sort of hyperpop genre. Do you think the videos you make connect with this?
Pablo: Yeah, the first few music videos we made, how we kind of started working with Charli as well as with the record label PC music in London around 2015, and a little bit earlier than that as well, this was kind of the birthplace of that genre. A lot of those artists don't really make music anymore, but I think they've had a pretty resounding influence in that sphere. And, yeah, I think it was like the early version of hyper pop.
Bradley: It's probably why we decided to tell this story or were interested in it because PC music in those early days was about teenagers making music in their bedrooms. And it was the power of the home studio and the power of the Internet like anyone can be a pop star. I think that is definitely a thread in the film, what you can do from your bedroom.
Did you meet Charli through the label?
We've worked with her since 2015 on her Vroom Vroom project on videos, photos, like the whole release of that and then a bunch of different things over the years. We've done live installations for Halloween parties, other music videos, and yeah, we've worked with her a lot over the past. Also, she came to us because of PC music with our first video because she started working with the same guy, A.G Cook, as her Creative Director. He was actually a big part of the How I'm Feeling Now album.
You have made music videos for several successful pop artists in the last years, do these types of artists, generally, have an idea about what they want or is this more the other way around asking you for ideas of how your vision could enhance them as an artist?
I think the most satisfying and successful projects with pop artists are when they have a clear idea of who they are and the things that they're interested in. Then we can take all those things and mould them into something elevated and bigger, hopefully, beyond what they were imagining in the first place. But I think if you have this productive relationship where they can really speak from something that they're they're knowledgeable on, those are the best versions of those projects.
To finish off, I would like to talk about Fracture, the new TV show you are involved with in partnership with Balmain and Channel 4.
Bradley: Well, it's kind of weird. It's a very untraditional process because it was quite a groundbreaking new form of advertising really. It came through our production company, which is how we get commercial work.
So it came in as a normal commercial script would. It was by no means like a normal commercial. So it had a few different parties involved. There was obviously Balmain, the client. There was a creative agency, Sunshine. And then there was Channel 4. Sunshine was the advertising agency that connected Channel 4 and Balmain. They were working on this idea for a TV show, this new form of advertising. And then they wanted to find directors to bring it to life. It came to us and we pitched on it through that. The reason they came up with it is that at the beginning of the pandemic, the Creative Director at Balmain, Oliver Rousteing, was thinking about how they could reach people if the catwalk didn't exist. We spent last year doing it. It was our first-ever scripted piece. And it was like a really incredible experience for us.
Bradleyandpablo Metalmagazine 2.jpg