I Was The Art Director

Jean-Michel Bertin speaks to Gavin Lucas about his role as art director in the prank-filled video for Justice vs Simian track, We Are Your Friends


CR: What is your job-title/profession?

J-MB: I’m a set designer and art director. I work on commercials, videos, fashion sets for photo shoots, scenographies and shops. My client list is extensive: I art direct the TV show Star Academy 5 (the French equivalent of Pop Idol) but at the other end of the spectrum, I work with art galleries, like Air de Paris. I have just completed the set design for a new video by the artist Brice Dellsperger for a remake of Eyes Wide Shut. It included a crazy remake of a Flash Gordon scene. I’m currently preparing the new set for the tour of French hip hop artist Diams. I’m also working in fashion for people like Mario Sorrenti (we did a Hermes campaign and W editorial), Richard Burbridge and Surface to Air (with whom I collaborated on this video) and Hermes.

CR: How long have you done this?

J-MB: For about six years. I graduated from L’Ecole des Arts Décoratifs de Paris where I studied furniture design. I then worked for a few years in a design agency before starting as an art director.

CR: How did you get involved with this particular project – have you worked with the directors before? J-MB: Jeremie Rozan, the director, from Surface to Air asked me to get involved. We worked on a video for French band Scenario Rock together a couple of years ago. That video won a prize in a festival for best special effects (we made guitars fly, burn and explode). It was on a low budget – you could say that we are the best at making crazy stuff with a lot of ideas and no money.

CR: So on the We Are Your Friends video, what was your role?

J-MB: I had to define what could be done to create an apocalyptic post-party morning. Jeremie came to me with this “nesting” concept, which consists of putting things on top of your mates while they are asleep, or drawing on your drunk friends’ faces. There are also contemporary artists from Bordeaux who use bottles at parties to make sculptures around people. It was a strong concept: making a kind of sculpture around your friends at a party and then: action, stunts, slow motion. The slow motion was really important to make it arty, a little surrealistic like in an alcoholic dream…

I conceptualised it as giant moving sculptures of objects around people. I tried to make each as big as possible, crazy, up to the roof, loaded, oversized. Our film and its concept has seduced a lot of people and it’s about to be remade as a commercial for a big computer brand.

CR: Nesting?

J-MB: It’s a US frat thing where you pile stuff on top of your drunk, unconscious friends: both mean and nice. “You’ll never be alone again”, even if it’s with mean friends.

CR: Did you organise props buying etc to get all the “nest” objects?

J-MB: Yes, it was three vans’ worth of props we bought at a charity shop called Emmaus, plus my personal collection of sneakers!

CR: Where, when and how long was the shoot?

J-MB: We shot in Paris in mid-May. One day shoot, a real challenge. So many props! We shot in the Surface to Air office and shop which was quite a challenge too. The falling tower takes place in the basement.

CR: The video looks fantastic but also quite dangerous. The big tower of stuff that falls, the guys on the carefully balanced sofa… Were the actors all professional stunt people?

J-MB: Yes they were, we padded them up well but the sets were very well secured with wires and light harmless objects on the top of each pile.

CR: Just one take for each shot?

J-MB: Three of each to find the best camera angle and to give us enough footage.

CR: Quite a challenge for hair and make up – to make everyone look like shit. As art director, did you work very closely with him/her so that they get the right look? Do you also oversee wardrobe stuff too?

J-MB: It was everyday clothes, I just added some crisp crumbs and beer on the torsos and maple syrup in the hair. Yes, the make-up was important. And for once, it wasn’t beauty.

CR: Had you drawn up pictures of how you wanted the shoot to look? Did you have shots planned visually before the shoot – how long did it take to dress the studio?

J-MB: One day to dress the studio. I made drawings for the shape and the structure, to know where we would put everyone and to visualise what I wanted. We built a kind of structural skeleton and then fixed everything onto it, it’s like sculpting! Really, each scene contains a giant organised improvisation but the result is fantastic. It’s the rough aesthetic that makes the film so exciting visually. It makes you feel you can do it yourself with your own friends. Perhaps we should create a website called: “send the craziest sculpture built on your drunk friend and then let it fall.com”.

CR: I think you’re on to something. It could be a YouTube smash!


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