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Categories: Interviews

The director talks the differences between the London and Berlin film scenes, surviving as an independent filmmaker, and more.

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Cinema Jam recently spoke to Browzan (Christopher Brown), a director of film and video whose more than ten years of experience in the industry includes directing numerous short films, music videos for such artists as The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Flying Lotus, moving image films and content for clients such as Guiness and Universal. His work has taken him to both the BFI London Film Festival and Cannes. We discussed his life, career, and the most important advice he has for other independent filmmakers.

Tell me a little about your background – how you got into film and some of the highlights of your career so far. 

I grew up in Brighton. I had quite a few creative interests growing up – a mixture of creative writing, storyboarding cartoons, acting in school plays, a bit of painting and making amateur movies with my pals on a Sony hi8 DV camera. I then discovered editing programs like Windows Movie Maker and began to understand how to put cuts and music together – which blew my mind, as we used to cut in camera.

I’ve always loved watching movies, originally Hollywood classics, then as I dived deeper, more European Art-House & American New Wave. I wanted to watch everything so I could compete with some film nerd friends of mine.

I studied film in college and then TV in university – for some reason I listened to the advice that TV was a more realistic career path? I realised immediately that I wasn’t interested in TV shows, so I focused on more narrative drama and wrote my first screenplay as my dissertation – I then made a grad short, which is around the time I think I decided I would devote myself to cinema and art. 

Meet Me Where the Sun Shines (2016) – Moving Image

From graduation, I’ve been making films ever since. The first major film sets I experienced were as an extra – I learnt a lot about the process, dressed as a football hooligan. I interned at Vertigo Films, and then moved into Live TV, post-houses and film work; I worked a number of production roles to survive whilst I self-funded shorts. One led me to Cannes Film Festival, which was an unforgettable experience.

Last year I decided to give music videos a go, as music is one of my biggest sources of inspiration. I directed 4 last year, some super lo-fi, but one video was commissioned by one of my favourite bands: The Brian Jonestown Massacre – which all happened over Twitter.

Highlights so far are probably 1. BJM’s ‘Pish’ music video 2. getting a short I co-produced into London Film Festival 3. making a film in New York and 4. going to Cannes.

What sort of projects does your company, Browzan Ltd, focus on, and what creative edge or style do you and your team bring to different projects?

We focus on making films with heart, moving image, music videos for bands I like and some cool content on occasion, as long as the content is interesting. We are not driven by fads- it’s about expressing and finding originality. The creative edge is all about suiting the piece – not drawing attention to a gratuitous style, but letting the work do the talking. More like a Coppola approach as opposed to a Wes Anderson one. We show up on time and deliver. 

What are some of the main themes you like to explore in your creative work?

Themes – I would say I use film as a medium for expression, so whatever feelings, textures, moods, characters or concepts that interest me: love, hate, mood, passion, violence, friendship, surrealism, politics, fear, isolation, connection – life! Film I find is a great way to crystalise a moment in time – time you will never get back, like hearing a piece of music. 

Brian Jonestown Massacre – Pish (2016) – Music Video

I love form and playing with how stories are presented – so I guess I’m always trying to find that new angle, something that will stimulate me – as Francis Bacon said “the artist must deepen the game.”

Normally watching Kubrick, Coppola, Noé, Brando, De-Niro, Rourke or Bergman can trigger something.   

You’ve said you’re based in both London and Berlin – at what times are you in each place, and how do the film communities differ in both places? 

I moved to Berlin the beginning of this year – I go back to London on occasion when a job ‘pulls me back in’ – but I wanna make Berlin my new home, for the time being. 

I’m still new here so trying to discover the industry. So far it’s clear, London has way more filmmakers, a stronger industry and it pays better – the levels are very high, which is a blessing and curse – great for the technical aspects, but everything begins to look the same – a ‘standard’ is perpetuated, all too often. 

Berlin, I’ve met less filmmakers, more musicians and artists – the feeling is more experimental and DIY.

Beat Heart (2013) – Short Film (Drama)

Also, being in Berlin beats out any pretentiousness, which London can plant in you – which is understandable, cos you have to play the game, compete and survive; I’ll always love London as my roots are there – I just really wish there were better funding opportunities. The only films that seem to get funding are social-realism-council-estate/This is England ones! Which (personally) bore me to tears.

How has living in each place affected and influenced your creative work?

So far, Berlin has inspired me to do more moving image work – the city appreciates video art, it’s everywhere – from Berghain, to small bars, to the U-Bahn – plus there are some great expos and video libraries like NBK, which are really inspiring.     

London makes me more diligent with technique, money and practical elements that are crucial when tackling high-end productions. London inspires me to burn and conquer – Berlin inspires me to think and create.

You’ve got over 10 years of experience in the industry. What are the main things you’ve learned about yourself as a filmmaker over this time?

I’ve learnt that being a filmmaker or artist is financially, at times, tricky, as you don’t work normal work patterns. It’s a rocky road, full of highs and lows, but it’s all worth it, especially when you learn some new film grammar, get your work out there or meet an inspiring person. 

Ichliebelove – Norvegian Map (2015) – Video Art

When you step on a set, surrounded by people coming together to help make your idea or vision a reality, there is no greater feeling for me creatively; an idea can become an event.

What advice would you give to other independent filmmakers?

Keep making. If you wanna be a director, don’t be a runner and work your way up, just make films and do something else on the side, cos it can turn you off the industry. Read books, go to expos, research, travel, take in as much as you can, so that when you do make a film, you have something new and important to say – don’t imitate, be courageous with your decisions, don’t overthink an idea, or get the perfect draft of a script, just shoot it when it’s kind of there – the rest will reveal itself, only in the making. Don’t define an idea, there’s no magic in that.

Don’t make projects only for the money, cos it will damage you in the long run – make films you have passion for; if you do films you don’t care about you will start to resent filmmaking. Passion is precious, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

What projects are you currently working on and have planned for the future? 

I have just made some new moving image work for The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Other than that, more short films and video art – I’m working on putting pieces into an exhibition, rather than online, and seeking financing for a feature. Working on working harder and counting my blessings.

For more about Browzan’s work, visit browzan.com. Follow him on Twitter @Browzan and on Facebook.

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

Posted on Jun 6, 2016

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