Filmmaking couple Tania Verduzco and Adrián Pérez AKA Los Pérez have made a name for themselves creating incredibly dynamic work with some of the world biggest stars. Their signature frenetic camera movements and heightened set design give them a strong and identifiable cinematic sensibility. Their latest artistic venture is Get Smoooth Again, a video for Klarna featuring A$AP Rocky with a comedic twist on the famed musician’s return to embracing fashion post-lockdown. DN joined the directors in conversation to discuss how they became involved in working with Klarna and Rocky, what goes into achieving their bombastic cinematography, and imbuing their creativity and narrative filmmaking in branded content.
How much creative input did you have from the get-go in creating Get Smoooth Again?
It was a very cool creative process and a project that we designed and worked a lot prior to the shoot. First we received a very rough script from Klarna, they had some key situations and wanted to blend the brand world with A$AP Rocky’s, so the mix was something super appealing to us. The Klarna team gave us complete freedom to develop the script and we worked with Gary Richardson to have some cool NY dialogue, we presented boards and script to Rocky, who was also very involved in the project and all the situations which was great. He’s a true artist so the project was constantly evolving. During the shoot he changed the dialogue to something more natural and realistic for him, as he had to feature himself during lockdown.
It’s seemed to me like a film built around these central striking images like Rocky on the sofa then engaging with all the neighbours on the streets, did you develop those during the planning period?
We had envisioned some key shots since the beginning, which of course were hard to create as you need post or a more technical approach, like the shot of Rocky climbing up the staircase with the $ shape, we built half of the staircase, had to shoot it with a drone so we could have that height and in post we built the other part. Or the shot of the camera travelling through the interior of the cars until we land in Rocky’s face coming out from hibernating in his crib.
How much of a challenge practically was it achieving that shot of the camera moving through the cars towards Rocky?
When you think of a shot and you haven’t seen references before, you have no idea how to do it. So we did some rough rough tests with cars lined up, a big selfie stick and an iPhone, and we passed each other the phone to re-create the shot. There was a point where we said okay, this could work. So we did a proper rehearsal prior to the shoot with our DoP Ben Todd and tried different kinds of grips and equipment. The shot needed three plates and we had to match speed and height each time, one pass for the gypsy cab, second pass for the lady car, and one last one for Rocky and the background. Ben made it more complex as he wanted to tilt the shot at the very end when we landed on Rocky. No motion control could pass through the window cars, so it was all done manually with tracks and rehearsals, pure old school tricks!
We wanted to have that contrast of those static long shots in the apartment sequence to recreate the boredom of lockdown vs the exterior where the camera moves freely.
There’s a real contrast in the method of shooting in the apartment and the camerawork when the narrative shifts outside, what was your thought process in deciding that?
We shot with the Alexa LF and Signature Primes and Open Gate aspect ratio. We wanted to have that contrast of those static long shots in the apartment sequence to recreate the boredom of lockdown vs the exterior where the camera moves freely, the jazzy music and the sound design set the tone of a busy city coming back to life.
How much of the short was practically created on set versus digitally manifested in post-production?
We had the need as filmmakers to shoot a more cinematic narrative, and not overdo it with crazy transitions or tonnes of VFX, we used post-production to go further in our ideas, like the swagger cat smiling with his grillz.
All the sets both interior and exterior are filled with life, who did you work with on the design and how did you approach it?
We always like to question the concept behind and what we want to express visually. We wanted to play with lockdown as a dark moment in our lives versus coming back to normal which should be more colourful. We also love to think deeply about the backstory behind our main character. The main concept of the campaign was that fashion culture was on pause for Rocky. So we tried to recreate visually what that was for him, his clothes and cool sneakers were vacuumed packed, his living room was full of crisp bags and pizza boxes and his sofa had a deep dent as he probably had spent the whole lockdown playing video games. Of course these were all speculations and Rocky was happy to play with those ideas too. He even poured some soda on his t-shirt before shooting as he felt he looked too neat.
We intended to make Rocky’s apartment more moody lighting-wise, blinds down not letting the daylight beams get through, the interior designed mainly with a desaturated or more muted colour palette. On the other side we made the exteriors more colourful and playful as a more optimistic point of view, people are walking faster than Rocky and expressing this positive come back through their clothes too: crazy patterns, loud colours, etc. Lockdown is gone so fashion is back!
He’s a true artist so the project was constantly evolving.
For this project we had the pleasure to work for the first time with Mark Connell but we felt like we’ve been working with him forever! He did such an amazing job. We thought we were detail freaks until we met him, so it was a perfect match. We love the passion he puts into his work. We designed concepts and sketches together prior to the set builds, but no one can imagine his attention to detail, he’s a perfectionist! Each of the golden records in the staircase had a metal plate properly carved with Rocky’s best songs. We were never going to do a close up of them, but just the fact that they are there, adds another dimension to the set. He played a lot with Rocky’s world and there are tonnes of easter eggs, like the Babushka Bagel shop, the ‘Flacko’ posters or the ‘Smoooth’ bodega interior which had tonnes of crazy stickers and packages of Klarna candies.
How do you fit your creativity as filmmakers into branded content like this?
It’s a very special project. We loved the previous Klarna work and it was a challenge for us to do something new and different that they have never done before as they wanted to blend Rocky’s world with Klarna. We are grateful because of the creative freedom they gave us and the constant collaboration with the creative team and producers. It’s so rare to find a project where everyone wants a great film where creativity is the main rule.
What do you find are the biggest benefits you gain as filmmakers in making shorts for brands?
This was a great experience not only from the filmmaker point of view but also as cinema and music consumers. Shooting a short film with A$AP Rocky as the main actor was great, not only because you dig more into his work, music and world, but also to collaborate with such a talented artist like Rocky was amazing because he’s a killer actor who liked to improvise dialogue and try different things and he was super involved in the whole process. He even designed the chips bag which is the MacGuffin of the story! Approaching a campaign from a short film point of view gives you more freedom in designing shots as you can do a more cinematic narrative. Also, the rhythm of the edit and the performances just breathe, you’re not asking the script constantly “how long was this camera move?” It just lasts what it has to.
What are you both working on next?
We just shot a new short film for a big video game that’s coming out in Fall, can’t wait to show it!