Production Company of the Year: Iconoclast
With offices in US, UK, France, Germany, Brazil and Mexico, Iconoclast was one of the winners of the Production Company of the Year award at CICLOPE Festival 2022. We sat down with Executive Producers Alexis Delanoue, Tim Augustin and Nicolas Blankenhorn, from the German office, to learn how they got to where they are and hear more about their most awarded commercials this year: Penny – “The Wish” and WhatsApp – “One”.
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get into the world of production?
Alexis Delanoue: I studied film production in France at Gobelins School in Paris; passion for the old cinema brought me to love the idea of supporting artists and directors to turn their vision into a film. I went through all the different layers in the production process, from 3D animation to 1st AD to producer, with temporary experiences in the music and photography industries. I left France 11 years ago and I am now based in Berlin.
Tim Augustin: I started in 2011 at the ad agency BBDO to do a training as a marketing expert. After being on a commercial film set for the first time, I was curious about the production process and moved to the production side and never left since.
Nicolas Blankenhorn: Skateboarding. Cinema. Friends. The desire for entertainment no matter the format. After my high school my aunt and my uncle organized an internship and since then I worked in different layers, from driver to AD to editor to producer and postproducer, and saw every aspect of production – not only in commercials but also on cinematic documentaries, German Feature TV Films and a TV series. I was lucky enough to always meet inspiring people along the way who taught me so much.
The German office of Iconoclast has been running since 2014. What was the mission when you launched and how has the mission changed over the years?
TA: From the beginning we took our cues from what we admire internationally. This is not always appreciated in our market but became more and more appreciated rather quickly. In 2016, we produced for Mercedes-Benz Grow Up, directed by Gustav Johansson, together with our friends at antoni. The award season 21/22 however was the most successful so far and is an acknowledgment that we are on the right track.
NB: Aiming to generate international recognition for our work out of Germany, we carefully curated a roster of handpicked artists. And I believe the founders of Iconoclast Germany agree if I say it feels like a first full cycle of hopefully many more to come. In the rare cases where advertising work becomes relevant in general society and/or in the (pop) culture (like Penny, directed by Marcus Ibañez last year, or the music video Element for Kendrick Lamar, directed by Jonas Lindstroem in 2017), it is the most rewarding feeling.
What’s your favorite thing about this industry?
TA: The possibility to do things that are unique. For me personally it is very fulfilling to set up the teams and seeing how everything works out and becomes reality.
NB: The diversity of the projects. It is never the same, you always start fresh and the process is so much about trust that you can literally move mountains together.
TA: For me, it is also the diversity of projects within the industry. There is a pattern that is repetitive in the production process like casting / scouting / storyboard and so on, but the challenges we face with each project are totally different. Shooting at a remote island in Samoa brings different obstacles than a beautiful car shoot in a studio and it’s on us to tackle the different challenges to achieve the best possible film.
Tell us about 2022 at Iconoclast. What was the main goal this year?
TA: Coming out of the pandemic plus ongoing growth and transformation (feature film department, new executive producer board), we found ourselves (like everyone else) in a global recession caused by the Russian war against Ukraine. In this more than ever challenging business climate we try to optimize and steer through these rough waters, still pushing every day for amazing creative work.
AD: The wave of international accolades for many films coming out of the German market is a bit unexpected and the same time it was always the desire and the goal of the hard work to land films on an international level. We are very glad we had the chance to be a part in making this happen.
Why do you think Penny’s “The Wish” was such a success at CICLOPE and other festivals?
TA: The idea we got from Serviceplan was already very, very strong and on top of that it was the right idea at the right time. The last 2 years with the pandemic were globally challenging for everyone and it was a situation that nobody in our generation faced before. So everyone could relate to the film and was moved by it. Marcus Ibañez came up with a very unique script and we are thankful that the agency and client trusted a young director with such a project.
AD: His unique way to talk about what we have missed and lost during this pandemic is a global feeling. Also let’s not forget the sensitivity and amazing talent of Marcus Ibañez to transport this emotion to the viewer. It’s a very generous film that talks to everyone but also shows his incredible talent.
NB: A huge portion of the success and the resonance is carried by the Zeitgeist, the topic touched almost everyone in the world, no matter if you are in the US or in Venezuela or in Germany or in Thailand. It is larger than anything most campaigns normally tackle. This set the stage for the brilliant filmmaking of Marcus Ibañez and the team.
A great idea crafted really well can elevate it into a different universe.
WhatsApp’s “One” commercial also tells a story everyone can relate to. What role plays film craft in telling such universal and powerful stories?
TA: Well, it has a massive impact. You have to be able again to set up your team, we are working in a field where trust is sometimes disregarded for different reasons, but when you have gone to a point where you can go blind with your partner on set then you know you will achieve great things in respect for creativity.
NB: It is the essence. A great idea crafted really well can elevate it into a different universe.
TA: I think it comes down to be authentic: in casting, location, art dep, styling. To touch the audience you need to create an atmosphere they can relate to. And you can’t do that if the scenes feel staged. There needs to be some imperfection and realness. What made it easier in both films is that the product / brand wasn’t the main focus here. Both films were scripted to tell an emotional story and not to advertise a new product feature.
What do you look for when you think of signing new talent?
TA: There is no general answer to that. It depends on the genre. Different directors focus on different scripts: emotional storytelling, comedy, glossy car shots and so on. But I like to see a fresh and new approach in the work. Something that is unexpected and surprising.
NB: We need to fall in love with the work and the person. Do they have it?
AD: The unique language and perspective. The fact that talent feel unseen in a very seen and canalized medium. It’s difficult to be fighting for your piece of idea.
What are the main skills a young director should develop to succeed in the industry and what role does the production company play in the process?
TA: To stay true to their vision and concept. To question every script: is this helping my career and reel? And we as a production company are partners to our directors – we fight for their visions even if it might result in longer discussions with agencies and clients. And we suggest young directors for scripts where they wouldn’t be the first obvious choice. Like we did with Marcus and Penny. And the film is a great example of the result you can achieve when all parties have a united voice and vision about the project. And dare to favor opportunity over security.
AD: If you are young, then do what you have to do without compromise. Keep fighting. The path is hard but try to make something unique and not to please something others expect. Be yourself.
NB: Most importantly: be yourself, find your voice. Don’t try to be like someone else. Last but not least it is also a lot of luck (to be on the right place at the right time and have the right things to say but also the luck of finding partners in crime a.k.a. the production company to nurture your career).
Tell us about your latest signings.
TA: I think you will be the first to break this news: we will be representing Camille Summers-Valli exclusively in Germany! First, we have been touched by her dystopian and sensible view on the society and culture. Then, by the very unique visual language and storytelling she created. Between her influential documentary work for The New York Times, and the highly anesthetized campaign for Hermès, Jean Paul Gaultier and Adidas (to name a few), we are very proud to have her with us now.
TA: We recently signed Nicolina Knapp and shot a first project for Nike with her. She has a background as a photographer and you can notice that in her work. She finds the perfect harmony between striking imagery and human performance. She got international recognition after the release of her brilliant work for Amnesty – Land of the Free and we are proud that she joined the Iconoclast Germany family.
NB: Did you hear the name Savannah Setten before? In case you have not yet, check her out. We are over the moon to announce Iconoclast represents the British director. Savannah’s work has continued to deviate away from the expected and instead lives in the unfamiliar, cultivating her unique lens on the felt human experience through her collaborations with an all male cast of inmates in a high security prison in Ukraine, the native Udege community living in the borderlands of Russia, Korea and China. She has furthermore collaborated with NAS, Kendrick Lamar, Dave Free, Baby Keem and besides her SHOTS nomination as Best New Director in her first year of directing as well as the nominations for her work (e.g. Best Video at SXSW Film Festival in Texas, Cannes Young Director Awards, a selection of awards at UK Music Video Awards, SHOTS, 1.4 and Clio awards). You can find her work displayed on the likes of Vogue, iD, Nowness, Rolling Stone and Complex.
What are you looking forward to in 2023?
TA: Let’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Of course war, ecology and many more other topics on an idealist personal level. And a very creative year.
NB: World peace! We are looking forward very much to ’23 and a lot of outstanding creative boards.