From ‘Paris Through Pentax’ to ‘The Deep Blue’ with Antoine Pai
Antoine Pai’s journey to becoming a filmmaker is as cheeky as it is canny. After cold-calling a bunch of Parisian production companies, he was eventually invited to shoot the behind the scenes film for a big Lancome campaign. Instead of settling for second best, he snuck the script home, shot a demo of his treatment and edited the entire thing over night. His ballsiness paid off because both the agency and client loved what he’d come up with and he was awarded the full job right away.
These days his an established director with US production company REVERSE. His landmark project - and the one he's most proud of - is 'Paris Through Pentax', a film that garnered close to a million views in a couple of days and went on to be selected as one of Vimeo's top 100 videos of the year before inspiring a series of copycat videos from filmmakers around the world.
We caught up with Antoine to find out more about that project, his ventures into farming and techno worlds of France, and the technicalities of shooting underwater.
LBB> When did you join REVERSE? And what is it about the team there that clicks for you?
Antoine> I joined the REVERSE roster in 2016. I love the energy that comes out of it. Thibaut Estellon is a pretty badass EP who is extremely supportive of my work and career. The whole team is very understanding and willing to find solutions for every project. I've met and collaborated with some amazingly talented people there - from DPs to art directors - and we have a great working relationship. Not only do we click creatively, but we also know how to have fun.
LBB> Where did you learn your craft?
Antoine> I graduated from business school with a Masters degree in strategy but I wasn't passionate about it. I was more interested in pursuing photography and film at the time. My father was a photographer, and as a kid, I used to play with his Leica, trying out different framing, lighting, and compositions. So I’ve always been inspired by that.
That being said, I am entirely self-taught. I’ve learned my craft by reading books, watching tutorials, and participating in online discussions, etc. And I’m constantly looking for new ways to express and evolve my creative voice.
LBB> How did you first get in the industry?
Antoine> It’s actually a pretty fun story. Since I had no contacts at all, I cold-called different production companies in Paris to offer my non-existent experience; but I had a vision and I wanted to bring it to the next level.
A couple of weeks later, I received a call from a production company that wanted to put me on a job, which was the behind-the-scenes film for a large digital campaign for Lancôme. However, I felt like I could bring something special to the campaign beyond the BTS. The script, in which a Parisian woman goes through her typical Parisian journey, called for a highly technical production, with dynamic shooting and editing, as well as slow motion effects. I snuck the script home, shot a demo of my treatment with a friend, and edited the entire piece that same night. Both the agency and the client liked my demo so much that I was immediately put on the job. Two weeks later, I was shooting the commercial with a full production crew, terrified and excited at the same time. The campaign was a huge success for the brand and led to more Lancôme projects.
LBB> Which creative talents in your field have inspired you in your own career?
Antoine> I’m not able to confer all my sources of inspiration to a few talents since there are so many directors out there who can be a source of inspiration. Still, there are a couple of directors who I really enjoy and find their work to be truly inspiring. Romain Gavras comes to mind. He has a great aesthetic and vision for storytelling. I also find a lot of inspiration in Gustav Johansson, Megaforce, We are from LA, and Gus Van Sant.
LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of?
Antoine> It’s actually one of my first projects, ‘Paris through Pentax’, which got nearly a million views in its first few days. The film was rewarded as a Vimeo Staff Pick and was also selected among their top 100 videos of the year. My friend and I wanted to capture the beauty of Parisian life as shown through viewfinder images. We shot a few of the best spots around Paris, including a mix of famous and not-so-famous locations. We also created a wooden jig to hold the camera and black-paper-covered flag to get rid of any reflections or flares. This resulted in a relatively inexpensive setup that created an expensive-looking high-end finished product.
I'm most proud of the piece because of its simplicity. I remember after the video launched, the concept of the film was copied several times, which is for me one of the best compliments you can possibly have.
LBB> And what recent projects are you proudest of and why?
Antoine> ‘The Deep Blue’. I had the chance to write the voiceover and direct the film. It required a very technical underwater shoot and the crew was amazing despite difficult weather conditions. It was particularly interesting to work on this project because we had a different appreciation of time. For a diver to stay underwater for a minute or more felt like a short time for what we needed to capture on film. But for the diving crew, it was a very long time.
LBB> Do you have any personal or side projects on the go? What is it, what inspired it and why is it important to you?
Antoine> I love experiences where I can surround myself with diverse sources of inspiration and see the world through a different lens. Lately, I’ve been writing short films in order to develop the narrative factor of my direction. And beyond filmmaking, I’m working to build a garage for old cars, a long-time passion of mine.
A few years ago, I co-founded a techno music label called MaximalMinimal. We were based in Lille and our mission was to promote young talents. I was also part of ‘Terroir Electronique’, which produced small festivals that brought together French techno artists and French farmers. The idea was to listen to good music while enjoying some of the finest produce. These were both opportunities to bring together many interests, talents, and groups in a creative way.
LBB> What really drives you creatively?
Antoine> That one moment when you see the first edit of your film is where all the magic happens. It's a real moment of personal satisfaction. What also drives me is how versatile the film production process is. It's not just one creative process among other formats. You need to write and read; listen to music, speeches, and voices; you need to see and compose different scenes; and understand time and speed. The fact that you are using an immense range of tools and inspiration is what drives me creatively – the diversity.
LBB> What are the aspects of your work that you really obsess over?
Antoine> I think it’s important to remind yourself that as a director, you’re building a film for the viewer. You need to be able to keep their interest and emotion at the highest level. And for that reason, the way the rhythm and the aesthetics of the film is built is very important to me.
LBB> How would you describe your approach to your work?
Antoine> Tough question. I would say that it can always be improved. And I’ll probably say the same thing in 20 years. I quite like to improvise, though. I believe some of the best ideas just pop out during the shoot and brings a great sense of authenticity to the final result.
LBB> When it comes to enjoying the creativity of others, what sort of thing excites and inspires you?
Antoine> First inspiration is definitely music. Our senses are all connected, and for me, music triggers my imagination. Every time I listen to something new that has the power to bring you into a journey, I stop doing whatever I’m doing for a few minutes, then try to think of a scene or a shot. I also read a lot of comic books, which have a great sense of rhythm. I read them as if they were storyboards.
LBB> Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
Antoine> I spend most of my time with Tara, my other half, who is an incredibly talented mind. She is an actress and also head of a boutique handcrafted apparel company. She is my gateway to re-centering.
More recently, I became really passionate about race driving. There’s no other sensation quite like driving at 170mph on a racetrack.