Where are you based and how did you first get into this line of work?
Guto: We have a different configuration from most of the directing-duos or collective. Diego lives in Brussels and I live in São Paulo. Whenever we have a new job, one of us have to travel to the base of the other or, if it’s the case, both travel to a third destination. We usually joke saying our office is Skype.
Diego: We work together for three years now, but our story dates back to college, where we both studied Communication. We know each other for a good 15 years and we always nurtured the idea of a collaboration together, we just didn’t know precisely what to do (we were just kids back then and now we are just kids with some more life experience) and right after our graduation we kind of went different paths.
Guto: I went to live in Portugal while Diego went to Belgium. At that time I worked as a creative in an advertising agency, a job I did for about 10 years.
Diego: Coincidentally, at the same time, I decided to risk life abroad and went to Belgium. But my working journey up to full time director was bit unorthodox, I have to admit. Before getting together as Salsa, I did a bit of everything. I worked with visual arts, got some gigs as a ﬁlmmaker, as an editor, while working in bars, cafes… Literally a bit of everything. Actually the whole idea of joining forces was from Guto.
Guto: At the end of 2014, already living in Brazil, I was tired of the agency life and quit my work as a copywriter with a very clear idea in mind: I needed to work with ﬁlms. So I invited Diego to do a pilot project together. If it worked, we agreed that this would be our “bread”. I knew Diego had a different aesthetic view, very artistic oriented, and I brought the creative drive and the ability of writing scripts and creating under the pressure of very tight deadlines.
Instead of making a short ﬁlm, a music video or even a low budget feature, we decided to make an advert as our pilot. That seemed like the best card we could have, since we wanted to make a living out of film-making. So we picked a fair cause, an NGO against human trafﬁc for sexual exploitation, and put all of our money and energy into making the kind of ﬁlm we would like to see. It was a very special project, made possible by the help of a few friends, a lot of work and a bit of luck.
One of the very many curiosities during the production of this project was how we found the strip club location. As you can imagine knocking at the door of strip clubs and brothels asking “Hey, I’m doing this project about sexual exploitation, would you let us ﬁlm in here? Btw… we have no money” wasn’t an easy task. And we wanted authenticity.
After a 100% ratio of doors on our faces, we decided to knock on the last one. Our last attempt. A place we always passed by during our scouting, but we were not quite sure about its activity, it just seemed too odd that beautiful art decor building in the outskirts of very a dodgy area of Brussels being frequented by middle aged men in suits in the middle of the afternoon. No time for judgments, it was our chance and we decided to knock at the door anyways. On a regular Tuesday afternoon. And so it happens that place was a 24/7 brothel and guess what… once again the answer to our request was “No. You can’t ﬁlm in here.” Strike 1.
After seeing our discouraged faces, the owner had a change of heart and promptly offered his new place instead. Still under construction. We followed one of his men in charge (a 2m tall security guard) for a few blocks into the unknown, until we stopped and entered in a empty under construction restaurant. Strike 2.
“What do you think?”, he asked. “Well… we are actually looking for a “slightly darker place”, something more party-ish… if you know what I mean.” He laughed and asked us to follow him. We suddenly ﬁnd ourselves walking though a secret door disguised as a wall and there it was: just next to the bathroom there was this secret entrance to a basement-slash-nightclub ready to shoot. All we had to do was paying the cleaning costs and the place was ours. Home run.
The production of “Heaven” (our ﬁrst project together) was an amazing journey full of ups and downs full of the many curiosities, like this one. We gave it all we had: physically, emotionally and monetarily. This ﬁlm set the tone to the kind of work we wanted to do. It was a very gratifying experience, only topped by winning the 1st Prize at the Young Director Awards in Cannes in 2015, opening the doors then to sign with the production companies we are currently represented by: Stink Films and Czar Belgium.
How did you get the MEMOIRES project?
We received this project in a rather unusual fashion. A design agency in Antwerp approached our producer because they needed a film to advertise the region of Kempen, a place in northern part of Belgium, known as a holiday destination around its lakes. A place that we knew absolutely nothing about. It was a pitch without any competition and if we would present something they liked on budget, we would get the project.
Initially, there was no script, just the obligation of showing some of the activities experienced there, things like: horseback riding, mountain biking, picnic, camping, etc. We also had to portray a rather large age range: from retired people all the way to young children. Our main challenge was working with these elements without falling into the easy trap of a promotional video full of tourists in a series of holiday activities.
But despite the lack of a structure, the agency had a very interesting concept we held on in order to develop the film. They wanted to portray moments that don’t make to your photo album. These moments you don’t capture on camera, but you remember forever and will always make you remember that place. This was the spark that made us dive heads first into the universe of each character. We wanted each micro story to sound true, authentic and that people of all ages could relate to. We guess this was our co-main challenge: balancing truth with special life moments without being too “touristic-ish” nor too epic. It had to be just right. At the end, even though Kempen is a nice region, it is far from being a Seven Wonders contender.
Our strategy was to find the big emotion of each age group and then combine it with some of the activities of the described in the briefing. So instead of just showing kids playing around the lake, we thought it would be more interesting to show them exploring and discovering the world away from the parents. Flirting with the forbidden. Instead of showing a group of teenagers giggling out happiness, we decided to portray about the ups and downs of a summer love.
What gear/cameras did you use and why?
We don’t have to go kit per se, our choices varies from job to job. For example in our project “This is Flamengo” we wanted to print a very raw look, something as visceral as the passion of millions of football fanatics. We deliberately wanted to overuse textures, not as a mere aesthetic decision, but more as a key conceptual element to the story. And in that case, we filmed with the Alexa in a very rough warehouse (for texture of the walls), and most of the other footage were shot with miniDV, photo cameras and even sometimes with miniDV filming projections of VHS.
For MEMOIRES, our intention was bringing something special to excerpts of common life situations, and together with our cinematographer Sander Vandenbroucke, we decided that anamorphic lenses would be the most appropriate way. We also wanted a very dynamic and inside of the action feeling to the ﬁlm, so since the beginning we made the decision to shoot as much as we could with wide lenses, trying to get as close to the action as possible. Going for handheld allowed us a freedom of movement necessary to get natural reactions as we shot, helping us printing the organic feeling we were looking for. Our camera gear for this project was Alexa Mini + Lomo Anamorphic.
Did you plan out the story structure from the beginning or did it come out in post?
We always plan well what we are going to shoot, but we always like to leave the door open to the unknown. Especially in a project like this, in which printing truth from the first to the last frame is very important.
We had a rough idea of the order of the scenes, but mostly was decided in the editing room. Our approach to the story structure was:
1. Defining all the scenes of each micro-story;
2. Planning a few transitions per group, kind of an in and out point to each universe;
3. Leaving all the shuffle to the edit room.
So answering your question, yes and yes.
What do you do differently from other filmmakers?
This is a difficult question, but we can at least say what we try to do differently. We always try to bring our truth to any project we take part in. When we need to create a scene we always ask ourselves: Is this how people really are or is this the way people are in movies and adverts? If the answer is the no, we tend to discard the scene.
Another thing that we always try to bring to our projects is novelty. Something no one has ever done (or at least we have never seen) or that is minimally disruptive. MEMOIRES has a bit of that, in times where we see people connected everywhere, talking through and sharing data with each other, we decided to show a young man in nature, in total harmony with the now, destroying his smartphone in a moment of euphoria. Or children out of the sight of their parents getting their faces dirty full of mud. It’s what children do when they experience freedom, they flirt with the forbidden.
In a quite unusual comparison, we are just like kids without parents supervision. We want to flirt with the forbidden in our stories, as long as there is some truth in there.
If you had to go back and do it all again, how would you get a foothold in the business?
Guto: DOP. hahahaha… Every week they are in a different project and they only get the fun part of it.
Diego: DOP or Production Designer, but I’m leaning more towards DOP. They don’t have to deal with all the struggles as we do and arrive on the project at the funnest part of the process. But if I’d have to transform this into an advice, my plan would be: I’d start by doing visual research and treatment for my favourite directors, then get some set experience and flirt with every sector (camera, production, art, editing, etc…). I’d do that for a few years and then would use all of my knowledge and network into my “masterpiece”. Then repeat.
Jokes aside, we are very proud of our trajectory. We could have started a little earlier in the industry, but having the backgrounds we do was key to shape our style and our approach to each project.
What’s the one secret tip go-trick that you use often that takes your work
to the next level?
We think the only secret is to leave it all on the field and always try to fine tune your projects until the very last day, when its released. There is always something to be perfected in every step of production and looking for the best result must be a constant obsession. From the pre-production to the colour correction.
Be a psycho nerd and study your favorite movies, scenes and directors. Be curious and find out how things are done, understand equipment, storytelling, whatever is at your fingertips. Stick to the people you admire and find out what methods they use and invent your own. And of course, be committed in making it happen and always build a light and fun environment around you. Do not forget you’re working with what you love, so have fun and be more fun. This is something we never give up: Having fun in each and every project.
A second tip is to not get involved in projects you don’t identify yourself with. As tempting as it may seems. Again it’s all about “not forgetting you’re working with what you love”, so don’t spoil your appetite. We are not saying you have to wait for that dream project to fall on your lap, only that you should invest your time and your energy into something that, although it might not be incredible at first, it is worthy and you know that with your contribution could get even better.
What is currently the hardest part of doing what you do?
The hardest part for us is the amount of time and energy spent on pitching.
We give a lot to every and each project we get involved in and when it does not happen, for reasons beyond our control, we get a little frustrated. We still like to believe in the utopia that in an ideal world people actually choose who they want to film based on creative approach, but more and more we see that excel sheets come first on deciding important things such as storytelling, brand creation, and so on. Don’t get us wrong, we are not preaching death to numbers, we are just asking for more communication and focus on the end result and what we witness quite often are too many other priorities influencing the end goal.
That was definitely not the case of “MEMOIRES”, we had a lot of freedom, dialogue, commitment to the end goal and a very, very tight budget.
What is currently the best part of doing what you do?
Meeting so many talented people and working on unique projects around the world. This is
something that very few professions can provide. Also seeing that over time the projects you want to make start to become the projects you usually receive. It’s a very rewarding, relieving and gratifying feeling.
What are some of your favorite stories, web videos that you’ve gotten
Guto: We could spend a lifetime talking about our influences, but I’d rather mention the things that recently made an impact on me. Mother! From Aronofsky, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and all the filmography of Yorgos Lanthimos and The Handmaid’s Tale series and The End of The Fucking World by our fellow Stinker Jonathan Entwistle.
Diego: I also loved The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it is my favourite movie of 2017, that was
disturbingly beautiful. Two other highlights I recently had the pleasure of being struck with were: The series “The Young Pope” by Paolo Sorrentino and “Polytechnique” one of the first features of Dennis Villeneuve (I recently re-visited his filmography prior to Blade Runner 2049). I also love the Chef’s Table series, I find fascinating the chef’s thinking process and how they approach food in a very different and creative way.
My source of inspiration is endless and I’d better stop now otherwise this can become a very long interview. You know what… I think you should start a podcast and do follow ups of the interviews, it would be super fun stretching a bit more the conversation and going into details on some of the topics.
Where can people follow your work?
The best way to people to follow our work is our Vimeo page: www.vimeo.com/salsadirectors.