The young London-based filmmaking duo made up of former research scientist, Daniel Thomas Smith and film graduate Chris Read have worked together for less than a year but have already developed a distinctive style for shooting soft, ethereal, fashion-oriented films for the likes of Dr Martens, Nike, Umbro, i-D, and Hypebeast. The new film exclusively showcased on Dazed here focuses on the idea of the birth of the universe, following their themes of triptychs from birth/life/death, or past/present/future. We speak to the duo about their diverse backgrounds and creative visions ahead of the exhibit of their film at Somerset House for next season's London Fashion Week.
Dazed Digital: You and Chris both have very different backgrounds, how does your combination as a duo compliment each other?
Daniel Thomas Smith: Our backgrounds are very different but as people were really alike… the number of times we turn up to shoots or social events dressed the same is embarrassing. Chris has a stronger film background especially on the documentary/story-telling side whereas I come from a fashion photography via a scientific pharmaceutical background. It shows in our approaches, I like to plan every little detail, Chris allows for more spontaneity and freedom for it to feel real. I'm used to lighting in a studio were you can control the light whereas documentary is a lot more about feeling than an exact science. Also coming from a stills background I'll spend ages deciding if the blue in the highlights needs to go up or if the contrast is too much, whereas Chris keeps the overall feel in check, he sees the story and how it hangs together as a piece. It's great having someone on your wavelength to bounce ideas off and be honest about what you think works and what doesn't.
Chris Read: I would say that Dan's incredible attention to detail marries well with my focus on coherency and flow. We're polar opposites in many ways but when it comes down to putting a piece together, finding a common ground comes quite naturally. A mutual respect means that delegating tasks to each other is easy as we both trust each others judgement. He will let me get on with sections of an edit uninterrupted whilst I leave him to work on colour and grading. Offering opinions on each others work can also be done ego's aside as Dan is very good at pointing out when something I've done needs changing without making me feel like an idiot. It's a good balance.
DD: What is different about your approach to video-making? What are the characteristics of your 'style' if you can pinpoint it as such?
Daniel Thomas Smith: I think we have clean, modern, not over sentimental style... flow is important, models we use and the music we select is always new and young… they couldn't really be made any time other than now. For me anything taken in isolation is beautiful, we're just too busy to stop and really look at it… hopefully our films allow people the space to see that. Also I think we have aversion to anything too heavy handed so we try to have a sense of subtly about our work.
Chris Read: It's difficult to really talk about a style in my opinion. I think our collaborative process is still quite new so we are finding our feet in that perspective. I'd agree that we have a focus on the new and young and intimacy and I hope honesty plays a key part in what we have produced together so far. Finding that common ground between the untouchable beauty that Dan likes to focus on and the more real feel that I aim for hopefully provides some interesting crossovers.
DD:Tell us about the concepts and inspirations behind your new video, 'The Waltz'?
Daniel Thomas Smith: It started with hearing of the music (The Waltz by Au) which has an explosive and grand feel. The costume designer, Lydia Cawson came up with a piece that embodied the sense of a gaseous nebular formation. The film is ultimately about the birth of the universe, the chaos and the beauty that go hand-in-hand till its completion (whatever that may be). Also the idea of triptychs - birth/life/death, past/present/future, father/son/holyghost, ego/super ego/id. Everywhere you look phenomena occurs in threes.
Chris Read: Dan came to me with the concept and I was interested, especially after hearing the music. It was kind of his baby so it was a project that for me was focused on helping him fulfill his vision and aid and advise him on production elements that will help him tell the story. He had a strong idea for what he wanted and it was a great piece to cut.
DD: Looking at both your video for i-D and 'The Waltz' would you say you have a fascination with capturing the body in motion? Or the way the camera reacts to movement?
Daniel Thomas Smith: Yeah you're totally right, especially for me coming at this as a photographer. It's a luxury to be able to capture a movement in its entirety. I'm used to getting 125th of a second of it, now I can get it all. Also with movement it creates unique and unreplicate-able shapes and sequences… ultimately life is movement, nothing stays still, from the micro to the macro level, all things are vibrations and brief collections of processes. Photography freezes and preserves the fleeting and the fragile, whereas video runs alongside it.
Chris Read: I think we are interested in attempting to capture and display energy which I suppose is a sister to movement. As much as can be done behind the lens, analysing and looking for beauty in natural and instinctive movements is definitely a part of what we have focused on so far.
DD: What plans do you have for the future to progress as a cinematography duo?
Daniel Thomas Smith: I'm looking forward to experiment with new equipment, like the the phantom that shoots at 1000 fps and also working on bigger budget projects where you can really achieve what you set out to do. We're keen to strike a healthy balance between art and commercial work… I'd love to end up making perfume adverts… for me they are the pinnacle of where the visuals are so detached from the actually product that it becomes completely abstract and of the mind... trying to capture a fragrance with imagery. Kind of like a hyper reality or induced Synesthesia. You don't have to go too far down a certain path before film and photography start making you ask questions about consciousness, perception and the involvement of the observer…
Chris Read: I think animation is something I would be interested in exploring.