All Hail The Queen, London's Ace Directing Duo
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
WNW Members Dan Lumb and Crinan Cambell, the directing duo that goes by The Queen, aren't afraid to experiment with different techniques and styles. It's what keeps their work fresh, inviting their audience into the unexpected with each and every project. In our interview below, The Queen takes us on a tour of some portfolio highlights and shares how each endeavor allowed them to hone their collaboration and approach, and add new weapons to their collective visual arsenal.
Dan and Crinan also clearly see the London creative scene as an ideal environment teeming with energy. Their reverence is on full display here: "Production companies, galleries, and agencies are all being priced out of Soho and going east, and these amazing, fun pockets like Hackney Wick and Manor House are cropping up. It’s really competitive because there are so many people chasing the same opportunities, but that’s what gets the best work...The opportunities are coming from all directions, and places you wouldn’t expect."
Tell us a bit about The Queen’s creative background. Who are Dan & Crinan and how did they get here?
It was a bit like a scene from Seven Samurai - we met each other soon after moving to London - both fresh out of art college, doing odd jobs around Soho - camera assisting, editing, and cleaning stains off porcelain. Keen and green, we’d be shooting tests with borrowed kit, working long into the night. First out of necessity, we started helping each other out. The stuff we were making very quickly became more advanced and, well, just better, and we realised that with two heads and four eyes we were more than a specky monster. Many adverts, music videos, short films, and branded-online-advertorial-video-content later, we’ve done all sorts of work in all sorts of amazing places, and are having epic adventures all along the way. High-fives riding into sunset, as credits begin to roll.
What is it about the other’s creative style or personality that made them an ideal creative partner for you?
Generally, Dan’s the one who is very impulsive and just spews out stuff. Crinan has a more calm and logical approach, which aligns everything, then we question and layer things to make them better and better. The creative-ping-pong makes the initial ideas fast, then the refining takes a little longer - we recommend burgers over all other food for late night working. In commercials, with the number of meetings, conversations, and often nervy clients, we find it really helps to sell ideas and concepts as a duo (Crinan flutters his eyelids - Dan rambles).
What do you see as the turning point in The Queen’s creative development and career thus far?
When you’re working from scripts that you’ve been given, it can be quite hard to carve out your style as a director. Most of the times we’ve really made a jump to a new place or direction is when we’ve made something off our own backs - be it a music video, a short film, or just a camera test that you can show people. That’s when you realise how important it is to keep doing those side-projects; otherwise, you end up being typecast and being employed to basically the same job you’ve done before. We haven’t yet been shoved into one of the directing boxes - kids, cars, beauty, food etc. It’s useful to be typecast to get work, but through making our own stuff, we’ve been lucky enough to get a broad range of scripts which we’ve been able to treat with executions that tell those stories in unusual ways that we find fun to watch.
Which of your projects are you proudest of and why?
Virgin Media - Squeezed
It was mega low-budget, but sort of cemented our art direction style. The original script had a drawing of a balloon popping, and that was about it! We were lucky that the creatives totally trusted us. We’re always surprised and amazed when we look back at the first tests and treatments for each job and see what they eventually evolved into. This one’s a prime example of saying ‘yes’ to something and seeing where it can end up.
AARP - Disrupt
The combination of edit style and subtle visual tricks while maintaining a genuine emotion is what we’ve notice in a lot of other people’s stuff we love, and we always try to achieve this where we can. It’s important to layer in those pleasing, unexpected moments which trick the brain, and force you to think more about what you’re watching.
Samsung - Paper Skater
We like this one as everyone thinks it’s CG, but it’s not! The whole thing is stop-motion animated over seven long basement days, with two incredibly talented stop-motion animators. It’s so good to get the chance to push established techniques in new ways. We based the camera work on 90’s skate videos - low angles and fisheye lenses - and all the skate moves were studied frame-by-frame from life, which is why he throws his weight so believably. It was a lovely idea that was incredibly satisfying to craft.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
We’d love to get a few more narrative projects and combine all the technical stuff that we've developed over the years, which is why we write that sort of stuff into our short films. We really love visual storytelling, so working with lots of actors on a tightly choreographed, technique-driven, narrative number, in multiple countries would be it for us. ..oh, and a feature film.
Who do you see as the best brands, agencies, or studios to work with, in the UK?
We really like the recent Under Armour campaigns and the Nike women stuff has been ace. We’ve seen some really great scripts out of BBH and Havas, recently. Also the Ikea stuff out of Mother and the Volvo stuff out of Grey.
How would you define the London creative scene?
London’s so varied, and constantly evolving, which is the fun of it. Production companies, galleries, and agencies are all being priced out of Soho and going east, and these amazing, fun pockets like Hackney Wick and Manor House are cropping up. It’s really competitive because there are so many people chasing the same opportunities, but that’s what gets the best work.
How do you see the creative landscape shifting in the UK/Europe?
Advertising’s in a massive transition, and everyone’s still trying to figure out what on earth’s going on - it’s brilliant. Content-creation wise, people are slowly realising that asking for one good film will get you a much better result than 4 films for the same budget, but it’s a situation which never really goes away.
The opportunities are coming from all directions, and places you wouldn’t expect: PR companies, small boutique start-up places from one desk, clients and agencies coming straight to us with freelance producers, all mixing in with the big guys. You’ve just gotta keep open to adapting to however they want to work and wearing lots of hats if need be.
If not here, where would you most like to live?
Dan: I’d live in France.
Crinan: Edinburgh would be nice - anywhere with a long history, and lots of space.
We do half-and-half international work at the moment, and Skype from home most of the time, so in theory, we could be wherever we wanted, but unfortunately nothing really beats a face-to-face.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
There’s way too many but here’s a solid few giants: Martin de Thurah, Kasper Tuxen, Tom Kuntz, Koen Mortier, The Daniels, Andreas Nilsson, Bjork, Dougal Wilson, Jacques Audiard, Megaforce, CANADA, Goldie, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, John Hillcoat, Steve Annis, Trevor Robinson, Nirvana, Joanna Newsom, Daniel Wolfe, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Krejci, Sam Brown, Chris Hewitt.
What scares you most about making creativity your career?
Losing that thing that made us start doing it in the first place. We were born out of the self-shooting three-men-and-a-van style of filmmaking. The landscape has already shifted massively in this direction, and long may it continue.
One book, one movie, one show, from each of you. Go.
Dan: The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Magnolia, Baywatch
Crinan: The Etymologicon, Natural Born Killers, Crimewatch
What do you do when Not Working?
Cooking, writing, watching early '90s rave videos on Youtube, D.I.Y. Dad Stuff (double denim on the weekends).
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
Dan asked Ringan Ledwidge for advice a couple of years ago, and he sent some great nuggets. Among others: “Spec ads are kind of a waste of time, as creatives don't really take them seriously and don't really look beyond the idea. Music videos however I think are really worth pursuing; you can show them more of who you guys are. A lot of the guys I now work with were at the bottom of the ladder when we met, we became mates and supported each other and went up together. Basically don't wait for the work to come to you, which I'm sure you're not: go after it.”
Who are some WNW members whose work you admire and why?
There are loads of great photographers and illustrators that are fantastic for inspiration - it’s great to see. Creative-wise, there are some amazing people whose stuff we love: Patrick Burns, Richard Beer, Theo Bayani - all brilliant!
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
We’re finishing the script on a new short, working on two animated commercials for the US and pitching stuff in the meantime - in for tomorrow. If that happens we’ll be doing that!