Sign me up: Michael Graham

We talk with new director Michael Graham about his a flair for shooting fashion and about his film making process.

Please tell us how you became involved with fashion film making. 

I’ve been interested in fashion for a long time and it’s where I draw a good amount of inspiration from for each of my shoots. I’ve been directing music videos for a while and even there I am very specific on what people wear. A lot of the time I specifically hand pick each piece of clothing myself because you can tell so much of your story through the clothes that your actors, or musicians, or models wear. 

I got into fashion filmmaking through my stylist for music videos. She was starting to work with Free People and they needed a director for their film shoots. She suggested I meet with the creative director after showing her my work and after a few meetings I got hired and we started making films.

What is your favourite way of shooting – do you have a small crew, what do you shoot on?

I generally like a very tight crew. I always try to work with people that I respect but also that I get along with really well. I like to have the feeling that everyone on set is excited about what they are doing and what we are trying to achieve. I feel giving a little creative freedom to each and every artist on set while maintaining the overall vision leads to a better piece in the end.

My favorite camera to shoot on is easily the Arri Alexa. The images you can get from that camera are just so beautiful. This last project for Free People we shot on the Alexa with these cheap, late 1960s, arri lenses. We wanted the image to have this soft, almost dream-like quality to it and because the glass was uncoated we captured this pastoral quality really well. Every time I look at dailies I am always floored by the look and quality of the Alexa’s picture.

How do you work out your narratives? Do you respond to a brief and draw up treatments or are you given a free hand to shoot your own stories?

It’s a mix of both. Working with the brand Free People I’ve been able to flex my narrative muscles a bit more than normal since I personally work with the creative director of the company. We get the line or the product we need to create a video for and then I work out a narrative and a treatment based on that. 

When a concept hits me I write down as much as I can, trying not to filter any ideas out whether they are small ideas, big ideas, visuals, music, inspiration, etc…A lot of times I’ve come back to ideas that I thought weren’t important at the time that end up being major driving forces of the treatment/narrative. Then I start pulling visual references, continuing to write any more ideas that hit me. After that I start grouping ideas and visual references, seeing what works and what doesn’t. After that I should have a fairly finished concept and that’s when I compile everything into what eventually becomes the final treatment.

However, with other companies lots of time I do have to respond to a brief. That’s different and fun in its own right. Most of the fun with advertising is the challenge of taking a client’s brief/boards and working it out to the point where I’m excited and inspired and, of course, hopefully they are as well.

What is your favorite part of the film making process?

I love shooting. There’s nothing more fun and exciting than when you’re on set capturing the concept you’ve worked so hard to create and seeing everyone around you working toward that common goal as well. My second favorite part is when you’re going through dailies and you have that first moment, that first shot, that hits you when you really feel like you got something good. Because watching what’s on your director’s monitor as you’re shooting and what you really get in the edit can be so different. But when you find that first shot that looks amazing, it settles your nerves and you know at least you got one shot right. After that, all you want is more.

Would you like to shoot other genres other than fashion?

I’d definitely like to branch out into new genres. Cars, sports, comedy, etc…Getting out of my comfort zone and trying new things is definitely what excites me most about filmmaking. You can do so much, and try so much, each project is entirely different and you learn something new on every shoot.

Are you signed to a production company?

I am signed with Foundation Content in the US at the moment but I am currently looking for new representation in both the US and Europe.

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