Filmmaker and Director of Photography Alexandra Bas’ latest short for fashion brand Penguin is entitled The Distance Between Us, a name which alludes to the themes of openness and vulnerability amongst young men that sit at the core of the company’s campaign. Bas brings these themes to fruition visually with wide, dynamic compositions that boast rich colours and lyrically through a poetic narration which underpins the intimacy being shown, as these men gather and frolic against the backdrop of a grand, elegant home. DN is excited to premiere the Director’s Cut of this short film, which expands on the core ideas of the original campaign spot, in conjunction with a conversation with Bas where she takes us through the genesis of the Director’s Cut, her process of working as a director/cinematographer on the project, and the challenge of bridging a traditional fashion film with something more narrative-focused.
What was the initial idea you were proposed for this campaign?
The original idea for this campaign was to create a manifesto, with ‘play’ as the principle, bringing a kind of enthusiasm for life, a flow of true enjoyment in a sense of timelessness and security. During the shooting, I tried to reinforce this concept by adding the sensation found in a real friendship, the feeling of those kinds of vacations between friends that will last forever in memories.
When did the talk of a Director’s Cut come into play?
We were in the edit and I hadn’t begun thinking about a Director’s Cut when the news on social media about two tennis players from opposing teams holding hands as a gesture of support, deeply impacted me. Why should sport be something so masculine? What is masculinity supposed to mean? Why should the simple gesture of two men expressing tenderness be such a new thing?
I tried to reinforce this concept by adding the sensation found in a real friendship, the feeling of those kinds of vacations between friends that will last forever in memories.
All these questions motivated me to retake the editing and research, I found the 72nd edition of the magazine EXIT, talking about masculinity with which I resonated. So, I wrote a version where I wanted to express my thoughts about a topic that is sometimes uncomfortable, but much more important. Because it is true, when we forget to play we lose our sense of wonder so why not be free to play without all those borders and limits about being vulnerable or needing the other?
You’re the cinematographer on the project too, how did you approach bringing that sense of joy and openness visually?
As cinematographer, I wanted to be both wide and close when capturing the guys, that’s why I chose to work with Alexa Mini LF in full frame, in combination with a set of vintage lenses as the Canon FD Prime, in this case with Full Frame Rehaused by P+S TECHNIK, in order to enhance the beautiful location and at the same time embrace that timeless feeling proposed in the beginning.
Was there anything else, in the way you tackled the making of The Distance Between Us, that bridged that gap between a traditional fashion film and something more narrative-based?
In order to combine the elegant approach of a fashion film with the playful and fresh spontaneity of something more narrative and emotional, we decided to have one day in Steadicam and one day in handheld. Then, in post production, the final touch was having original music by Nirvana Guerra inspired by Territory by The Blaze, a voice over gentle and emotional and of course, the colour grading by Delfina Mayer who gave a special look to the film in low key.
With fashion films, it’s often about creating those shot compositions which highlight both the theme of the piece but also the clothes. What was the balance between meticulously planned shots ahead of the shoot versus those you found on the day?
We had a tech scout in that stunning house, where we decided the spaces and the hours that we would shoot. It was a request of the client to have always inserts of the brand and try to be available to read the brand in each close up of the guys. So, in place of having a storyboard, I had so many references about what I wanted and how I would light each space. There were some shots planned specifically for the natural light too so we had to be on time. However, there were some shots like the guy with the rainbow in the eye that were totally improvised when we saw that magical spot of light.
As cinematographer, I wanted to be both wide and close when capturing the guys in order to enhance the beautiful location and at the same time embrace that timeless feeling proposed in the beginning.
As an artist, what do you enjoy about the format of the fashion short? How does it help develop your craft as a filmmaker?
What I enjoy the most about fashion films is the freedom. You can explore lighting and compositions that you can’t propose in a commercial or in something more narrative. You need to think mainly about the concept and create each shot on the basis of that language.
You wear the hats of both director and cinematographer for this short, was that a challenge? What do you enjoy about working that way?
Well, I use to be just a cinematographer. When The Lift, the production house, proposed me to be the director as well, it was kind of weird for me, because I honestly didn’t have experience dealing with clients and agencies. But they explained exactly to me that what they wanted was that freedom I was talking about before and that for this project the priority was the light and the composition. I can say that I had the lucky fortune of counting on a team that were so supportive and flexible that were guiding me in that challenge of being the director.
I truly believe that the responsibility of being a director in some opportunities helped me improve my ability to compose shots whilst thinking about what can work in the edit. And also to understand how it would feel if we needed to do some changes that the agency and client asked for in post. Even the responsibility of finishing a director’s cut made me want to be in a director’s shoes since I noticed how hard it could be to continue with a post process alone, whilst being busy with other projects.
What are you working on next?
Right now I’m in pre-production on my second narrative feature film as cinematographer. It is the debut film of Esteban Villagómez and we will be shooting in Quito-Ecuador in June. I’m so excited about this new experience.