Last week, the fashion film for Melbourne-born New York-based label Skodia, ‘Float’, premiered at New York Fashion Week. We had a yarn with film director Kess Broekman-Dattner about his latest labour of love.
SPOOK: How did you get into the ‘biz’ in the first place?
Broekman-Dattner: I’ve long been drawn to the field of fashion films, having been raised around fashion as a child (His family business Stephen Dattner Fur Imports was a multimillion dollar empire at its peak).
The fashion industry has a reputation for cattiness, slave labour and soullessness, but there’s a whole other aspect of it that revolves around ingenuity, responsibility and self expression. It’s a boundless source of filmic inspiration and one that’s seen all sorts of film makers respond via the medium of fashion films.
Having built my name making high concept narrative based music videos, via a background in advertising and commercials, the move to working with designers in this burgeoning field is a total no brainer; respond to characters that are realised and standing before me, find soul in the artist’s voice and brand, then bring the two together in stories as visually striking and intricate as they need.
How do you constantly continue to develop original content?
When coming up with original material, whether music videos, fashion films or branded content, it’s always about getting to the heart of my client’s sense of self and vision. Asking why? Every time we unearth an answer, sifting past first thought responses until we get to the kernel of “truth” right at the centre. Then I bring that to life in as honourable and soulful a way as possible.
Jess McKie, Skodia’s founder and designer, was clear from the outset that she wanted a conceptual and design oriented film. Even though I’ve focussed so much on narrative over the years, I’d actually been wanting to make something along those lines for some time. To take my love of story and weave it into something solely design oriented.
My challenge was to capture the experience of being wrapped up in Skodia’s clothing. These pieces are soft, minimal, with loads of movement, while defying category, time and place. It’s clothing that can be worn anywhere, anytime, by anyone. To me the experience of these pieces was a legitimate focus — not just an excuse to show the clothing looking pretty.
My compass point then became: employ all I’ve learnt around story structure to turn Skodia’s use of fabrics, range of motion, enveloping design and universal suitability into an accessible, emotive filmic metaphor.
“The fashion industry has a reputation for cattiness, slave labour and soullessness, but there’s a whole other aspect of it that revolves around ingenuity, responsibility and self expression.”
How do you go about assembling the right crew and how do you find the collaborative process?
I adore the experience of working with people passionate about their chosen field and bring those types together on everything I do. I prefer the process to be less top down and more a web of invested minds, free to speak their thoughts and frame up behind the vision. When you have a healthy mix of both direction and collaboration with the right kind of people, the possibilities and quality within budget are blown open.
In this instance we shot for about ‘none’ dollars and a bajillion truckloads worth of goodwill. Film making is one of the most collaborative of the arts, since few can realise every aspect of it on their own. It was crucial that, if we were asking favours, we get good souls on board.
In production that really came down to our producer, Hannah Bellil, who is often instrumental on finding great and willing talent in front of the camera, as well as our Director of Photography Josh McKie (brother to Jess), who’s one of a very few cinematographers who speaks my language — and is gracious, committed and generous on set. In the post department, it was my first time working with editor Peter Bennett, who grasped perfectly the rhythm and intent of the film, while Closer (Liam Daly)— traditionally an experimental sound design artist — and I bounced various versions of the score back and forth till we had something we were both happy with.”
In all of the above cases, each individual was working for free. Just wanna reiterate that. Sometimes I’m just a little bit blown away by the generosity of others.
What specific challenges did the team face and how did you overcome them?
We shot the film in a single day, using natural light and one LED brick, at three locations in Melbourne (having found a triptych of locations that could paint as broad a canvas as possible).
We were blessed with three incredibly generous and gifted performers who were able to leap take after take into the air or go deep zen with a lens inches from their face. At one point I was bodily lifting a dancer onto my shoulder so we could get a shot of her feet floating in the air (it didn’t make the cut, unfortunately). In exchange for all the manhandling and physical exertion, they walked away with a Skodia piece of their choice. Gotta give back anyway you can.
The biggest hurdle we faced was getting our post process handled around paying jobs, since all our post was donated. Luckily our deadline was flexible and the souls we worked with professional to the end, so the process, while protracted, was largely painless.
Continuing the design trajectory, we have two performance music videos coming up that have further challenged me to frame structure without a straight narrative — and I’m really excited by them.
Beyond that is a move to the U.S. and a film industry that’s viewed as an ingrained and legitimate piece of the country’s economy. Have been talking with a couple of great companies in NYC on previous visits, so it’s really now time to just get there and kick it off.
I also have the love of my life in New Orleans, waiting for me to move over so we can drive to the Big Apple and live in a shoebox.
So. I got no excuse but to get on it, really.
Fashion film for Skodia (skodia.com) Directed by Kess Broekman-Dattner (kessbd.com) Producer: Hannah Bellil (hannahbellil.com) Dancers: Kristy Lee Denovan, Brodie Chesher and Sam Wong. Cinematography: Josh McKie (joshmckie.com) 1st AC: Nick Foster Make Up: Marlene Olsson Editor: Peter Bennett, Method Studios, Melbourne Colour Grade: Roslyn Di Sisto at Smith (callmesmith.com) Compositing: Dave Abbott and Leah Clementson (daveabbott.com) Music: Closer (closernoise.bandcamp.com)