Where are you based and how did you first get into this line of work?
Gaul: I am based in New York and originally got into film-making when I was little and Skyler was in one of my first “films” that was part of a project for 7th grade English class, where I was able to convince the teacher to let me make a short film based on a short story instead of doing a book report.
Getting into the actual work came maybe a decade later after graduating from film school and I was shooting short films for student directors who had anything from a bit of a budget to no budget at all, for a DP and on the side was AC-ing, operating and gaffing a bit too. I guess the most interesting story from that time was a pivotal moment, when I almost didn’t pursue film-making. I had started to take advertising courses in community college and had planned to pursue that further because it felt “safe.”
I was always very concerned about not getting enough work as a freelance filmmaker and was pursuing something that I didn’t really want out of fear that I couldn’t make it otherwise. Living in LA at the time, I had a friend who was attending USC film school. He wanted to direct and he knew that I wanted to shoot, so he would have me come on as his “ghost cinematographer” on projects that he didn’t want to focus on DP-ing. So he handed the reins to me and we formed a good team, and this one night we were up filming from sunset to sunrise and I had this excitement I hadn’t felt in years about making a little movie. And after a little bit of reflection on that moment, I could not let myself continue on my presumed safer career path without actually giving this film-making thing a real shot.
Skyler: I’m based out of Brooklyn and have been working in digital media and film for the last five years.
I started off as a writer and got into film-making as almost a means to an end. I had all of these scripts and ideas that I wanted to see come to life, so directing became the inevitable next step. I ended up falling in love with the creation process and began working as a content creator for both brands and publishers. I actually began making scripted comedy videos and eventually expanded to documentary and, most recently, dramatic narrative.
For the last year and a half, I’ve been working freelance, constantly trying to improve my storytelling craft and pushing to move into more traditional formats. Gaul will say our first brush with film-making was the silly videos we made in middle school — and he’s not wrong — but it’s only in recent years I’ve embraced the title of “filmmaker.”
How did you get the More Than The Sum – Adidas project?
Gaul: “Getting” the project didn’t happen. I just had to make it happen.
The project started as something that was an extra shoot tacked onto a real shoot that I was DP-ing in the gulf area between New Orleans and the Alabama coast. At the end of the project, we had some leftover gear and stayed with my friend Edward in his house in Nola. He’s quite the athlete and dancer and also happens to look good from just about any angle and any light so I didn’t want to put the camera to waste and just shot some fun stuff with him working out and dancing.
I then spent about six months trying to edit something from that footage but nothing was really meaningful. It looked like very nice footage of an dancer/athlete but no substance. I knew there was something more because I had gotten to know Edward and more about his history and about his character which had inspired me and I wanted to do him justice. And that meant making something more than your standard sports spec. That’s when I brought in Skyler, who clearly saw what I saw in Edward, and had the ideas of how to make it work in a more narrative fashion.
So to say that we had a pitch would be completely false, but we did have a clear idea going into it that our story was about someone who surprised us and defied our expectations so that’s what our story had to convey.
Skyler: The idea to make a spec commercial was borne of some of the classic frustrations of being young filmmakers working in digital advertising.
In my experience, what gets pitched to the client is more-often-than-not the safest idea, sometimes making it difficult to grow as a storyteller. We were hungry to try something different, so this project felt like a great opportunity to tell a story from a brand’s perspective without any of the creative barriers we were used to.
That said, we had none of the resources of a brand-sponsored project. We had a lean crew of Gaul (DP), a producer/AC, a sound recordist and myself. We had to call in a ton of favors along the way and explain “no, it’s not really an Adidas commercial!” more than a few times. Though we had a small crew and no budget, everyone was onboard with the vision and worked incredibly hard. We were also extremely fortunate for the generosity of everyone we met in New Orleans, from providing access to locations to giving us discounted rental prices and more. I’m convinced we couldn’t have pulled this off in another city.
What gear/cameras did you use and why?
Gaul: Used my own personal Alexa Mini package with a rented 32mm Cooke Mini S4. A hazer for the dance parts was pretty key.
Skyler: I brought a paper notebook and pen.
Did you plan out the story structure from the beginning or did it come out in post?
Gaul: Wish I had something more to show we don’t have any story structure boards or anything like that.
Skyler: The story structure was hammered out before we touched down in NOLA, but since there were so many unknown variables such as access and weather, there wasn’t a traditional storyboard. A lot had to be improvised, so it was important that we over-communicated.
What do you do differently from other filmmakers?
Gaul: I feel like most of the time, I’m trying to do things similar to other filmmakers. Filmmakers that I admire and am inspired by of course, but ultimately no matter how much you can try to emulate, you end up making it your own and that’s what I think is beautiful about the evolution of art. What started as something that was supposed to look like high end athletic video ended up being more like a documentary profile piece with a musical number… who knew!
Skyler: Everyone has their own process, so I imagine mine isn’t identical to anyone else’s, but I can’t think of any particular step I take that sets me apart. I guess for me, as a story-minded director, I fixate on the narrative context of every scene and shot. Story structure and tone are my strong suit.
If you had to go back and do it all again, how would you get a foothold in the business?
Gaul: I’m not sure I really do have a foothold in the business. I feel like if your main focus is getting a foothold in a business then you’re better off being a producer or something who works a little more with the business. I try as much as I can to stay away from business as a DP as long as I can pay my bills. My goal is to work with people I like and create stuff that I am proud of and ideally can make a difference or inspire others.
Skyler: I would have just gone to law school. Kidding. I think I’ll always feel like I’m still getting my foothold in the business. There’s so much I want to try and so many people I want to collaborate with, I feel like in a lot of ways I’m just starting out. The only thing I would say to my younger self is try to worry less, but that’s also what I say to my current self.
What’s the one secret tip, go-to trick that you use often that takes your work to the next level?
Gaul: I honestly do not believe such a thing exists. I’m a firm believer in practice-makes-perfect, so if practice is a go-to trick, then I’ll pick that one because it’s the only way to take my work to the next level.
Skyler: Couldn’t agree with Gaul more. I’ll also add that it’s important to know your own skill-set and collaborate accordingly with those whose skill-sets complement your own. I think that’s how we found success with this project.
What has been the hardest part of doing what you do?
Gaul: I think the balance of work/life is the hardest thing. I love what I do, and have tried to incorporate it into my life. But then sometime my life becomes it and its too much. Finding a balance of what to do when I’m not on set or not researching or prepping for the next shoot is hard.
Skyler: The unpredictability of freelance life can be tough. It has made me significantly worse at making plans. It’s really forced me to improve my time management skills and general self-discipline too.
What is currently the best part of doing what you do?
Gaul: The absolute best part of what I do is that I get to play. I get to play with light, with emotions, with fancy tech toys, and I get to see new parts of the world and peek into people lives that I may have never been able to access otherwise in such a short amount of time.
Skyler: The people. I get to constantly meet and collaborate with brilliant minds.
What are some of your favorite stories or web videos that you’ve gotten inspired by?
Gaul: I love a vast range of styles—but more than any one style or genre, I like when I’m proven wrong. I like when my existing ideas or perceptions about places, people etc. are challenged and I see things in a new way. The stories that challenge me and enrich my life with new ideas are the ones that truly inspire me to push myself in the never-ending journey as a filmmaker.
Skyler: I’m constantly amazed by the wealth of imagination on Vimeo and YouTube in general. I think people can be quick to write off web video, not realizing that the next generation of great filmmakers are putting their work out there now. The stories that inspire me the most are those of particular directors, whose YouTube channels I watched as a teenager, who are now directing features and have their own Netflix series’.
Where can people follow your work?
Gaul: Instagram! I love Instagram as a tool to update my friends and others with what I’m up to and share a bit of my photos or occasional screen-grabs from recent works.