An exclusive interview with writer/director John Merizalde, the man behind the 11 X Human for AKOO
AKOO, a brand rooted in hip hop, commissioned the film.
Tell us about the briefing. How clear was it? How much freedom were you given? Was it different from previous briefings?
Develop a treatment for a short film that is rooted in fashion and is visually stimulating and thought provoking. The backdrop and common thread throughout the film should be that of civil unrest and explore the current severity of modern racism, black on black crime within our own communities and police brutality.
We want the film to be informative, high energy, gritty but not preachy.
Apart from a thematic level that the brand wanted to touch on, it was basically an open creative slate. It's very rare to get this kind of freedom on a project, especially on a branded piece.
We had some back and forth ideation in the beginning, but once I understood the vision for the campaign, I was basically allowed to roam untethered and capture whatever I felt was appropriate.
Being human and the concept of humanity.
How easy was it to portray? How would you define it? What alternative scenarios did you have in mind?
This was the biggest challenge for the piece - Trying to encompass such a large and abstract idea, and mold it into an easily palatable format. I don't think any director can claim that it's easy to portray humanity. It's an idea that is too big for words.
The goal as a director should be to approach your subject with authenticity and empathy - whether or not that was achieved is always up to subjective interpretation.
I always try to immerse myself in whatever subject I'm capturing and to connect with people. Otherwise you run the risk of becoming a bystander; a drive-by documentarian.
As far our piece - time and money were the biggest limiting factors on our scenes. Given more, I'm sure I would have delved deeper, but sometimes limitations can be good.
How do you see the role of this film and do you feel like you are taking sides? Do you feel you are being successful with your message?
The USA is a country that loves to polarize every issue. I think we're taking a side, but it's one that is unusually inclusive. We wanted to unify, not divide, while still tackling a tough subject. Killer Mike has always been an outspoken mouthpiece for these difficult racial and economic issues, so he really was the perfect narrator for this piece.
The goal of this film is not only to provoke dialogue on important racial and political issues in America, but also to inspire people and instill hope. I can't be sure if our message was entirely successful, but judging from the reactions to the film, I'd say we had an impact.
"I don't think any director can claim that it's easy to portray humanity. It's an idea that is too big for words. "
We often get told that low budget productions don't stand a chance against bigger productions.
How true do you think this is? In the case of 11x Human, how much of an influence did the budget have? Would you have done anything differently?
I don't think that's been true for some time now. The digital revolution has changed everything for young artists. I think the first big wave happened with the advent of DSLR's and the Vimeo community.
Tools that were once unreachable are now there for young filmmakers around the world, along with a platform to share their work. Budget is no indicator of how good a work is going to be anymore - it all really just boils down to the creativity and resourcefulness of the filmmakers involved.
Compared to most commercials and branded content, we had a minuscule budget for this film - especially one with this kind of ambitious scope.
That didn't stop us though. It just meant we had to get crafty with how we approached it. Lots of favors and good organization went a long way in helping us achieve something that should have cost way more. If we'd had a bigger budget, I'm sure there are more things I would have shot or done slightly differently, but I don't have any regrets with the piece.
What kind of return and feedback did you have with this release? How much exposure did you have and where, especially compared to other productions? What has been the main difference?
Honestly, I was blown away by the reception we got. Almost immediately after posting, we were staff picked on Vimeo, and following that we were featured on several big advertising sites and blogs, like Adweek and David Reviews.
It was all organic too, with hardly any promotion from the production team or brand. I would have never predicted that. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
t's hard to objectively judge your own work when you're in it for so long, and right after the film dropped I was very unsure of how it would be received. I'm just glad it had an impact on some people. I think the biggest revelation for most while watching it, was that it was a branded content piece. We were so subtle in our placement that people didn't even know it was for a company, which I think ultimately was a big positive for everyone. In a funny way it helped people become way more aware of the brand than if it were a more upfront "commercial".
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