By Ugo Bresolin
We had the pleasure of interviewing Devi Brulé, a multi award-winning film director from the USA, recently. Along her career, she has worked with many international brands, including Calvin Klein, Frito-Lay, Nestle, Unilever, Müller Yogurt, and Ural Motorcycles and her fashion film Euphoria won two prizes at the Davey Awards. We had a chance to speak to Devi about her secrets of success, how she conjures emotions with her work and more.
EUPHORIA / Fashion film
Production Paradise: You’ve been in the industry for 15 years and you’ve gained a lot of experience working with many different productions, from commercials to fashion films. When did you first discover you wanted to work in the film industry? What was the spark that started your career?
Devi Brulé: Growing up I always wanted to be a screen actress. I started in the theater at age seven, and completely fell in love with it. I realised I had an ability to conjure emotion in others, and to make them feel something poignant when telling a story. I was mesmerised by that – something about it felt significant.
Then, when I was 13, a family friend invited me to spend three weeks at her getaway in the Caribbean, and I can’t exactly pinpoint how, but that trip changed me forever. There was this incredible raw beauty everywhere – cashew trees, fresh coconuts, vibrant tropical fish – but it was juxtaposed with a very palpable hatred toward white people on that island. The U.S. Navy had done a lot of bomb testing there, severely angering the locals, and it was my first encounter with real racism. Our group got several Yankee go homes, and some local guys antagonised one of the teenagers with us and threw his bike in the ocean. Another kid found a huge bombshell while snorkeling. It was a pivotal age for me where the larger world came more into focus, and when I returned home, I immediately started researching film schools.
Production Paradise: Your work brings a cinematic approach to advertising, engaging the audience with emotions and a strong visual aesthetic. Has this way of storytelling always been present in your work?
Devi Brulé: Absolutely. Though it’s definitely evolved and matured. I’ve always been a visual learner, plus, I grew up with a lot of visual arts. In high school I made a non-dialogue short with classic silent-era aesthetics. It was fully storyboarded and everything. So from the beginning I was emphasising visuals and emotion, and leveraging music.
The emotional core is how we access and experience a story, whether it’s thirty seconds or two hours. But communication happens on so many levels, and a lot of it is non-verbal. Often it’s about what’s left unsaid. I believe that you don’t always need dialogue to convey emotion, reveal character, or tell a story.
Production Paradise: Where do you find inspiration for your work? Tell us a bit about your creative process.
Devi Brulé: As a director, I’m hugely inspired by the natural world – and our human connection to it. Nature is where I go to ground myself, and there’s a reason that being in the wilderness has that effect on us. We are people of this earth; we belong to it. Any time I can capture even a piece of that idea in my work, it’ll feel like a success. Terrence Malick does that beautifully with his films – there’s a sense of presence and belonging.
I find that the most magical parts of life appear in small, personal moments – and they’re fleeting. That’s what I got to explore so intimately with my Euphoria series. If you’re tuned in and sensitive to the moment, there are amazing things happening around us all the time. You have to decide to participate or you miss them. It takes an awareness of environment. So that’s what I try to do with my camera.
Everything is intention, and the creative process absolutely impacts the finished piece. That’s something I’ve discovered very tangibly through experience. Now I always ask, what do I want the final product to feel like? What kind of process and experience can I create to support that?
Most of my projects have their creative inception with one or two key images and a feeling or “texture.” For the treatment, I’ll collect a lot of visual references that begin to solidify the images in my head. Usually there are storyboards. Casting is absolutely critical. Within these stages, sometimes the concept itself takes the lead and starts to develop organically.
Ultimately I look for the meat of the story – the heartbeat. What are the moments and images that carry the journey and deliver emotion? Often it’s about subtlety, and communicating clearly but with a light touch, which you have to find on set. It’s a balance, and tricky, and that’s why it’s fun.
Of course the collaborative aspect is huge – it’s absolutely teamwork and relationship. I’ll bring in a strong, specific vision for the aesthetic and emotional tone, but great ideas can come from anywhere, so I like to keep the door open. As the project’s guide, it’s my responsibility to maintain the creative integrity of the piece, keeping it on track so that ultimately we deliver a product the client is proud of.
Oh, and music! I keep playlists for different genres and purposes, and listen to them while I’m gathering images or writing. I’ll also share tracks with the cast or crew if it helps convey a tone or idea. Music is really what brings cinematic emotion to life.
CALVIN KLEIN / Trenchcoat
Production Paradise: More than a mere spot, your fashion film Euphoria is a sensorial experience, which creates beautiful connections between the natural world and human emotions. No surprise it has been awarded with a Best in Show and a Gold award at the last edition of the Davey Awards, the most prestigious competition in the creative world. How has this affected you?
Devi Brulé: It’s funny, during the filming it wasn’t even about fashion. The core idea behind the piece – that intimate connection – is what was really driving it. So I didn’t start out with the intention to take it to festivals, but along the way I discovered this whole world of fashion films and the festivals devoted to them. The first place I submitted Euphoria to, The Int’l Fashion Film Awards, gave it a nomination for best cinematography, so right out the gate we had an amazing premiere and a red carpet interview. But the best part was that I got to see all these filmmakers experimenting with fashion, and started to recognize this whole universe of potential – I was really inspired by their work and it motivated me to keep creating with fashion and brands.
The two Davey Awards were icing on the cake, really. The film had grabbed a few more honors on the festival circuit, but until then I’d never submitted my work to an industry competition, so it was my first big creative award and statuette. I keep it on my desk for days when I’m feeling a bit flat.
But I’d say more than the awesome validation it brought, the real take-‐away has been how the project drew out this love of fashion that I hadn’t fully acknowledged – along with an appreciation for the subtleties of the genre. I love combining commercial rythm and technique with narrative filmmaking, and fashion films are ripe for that kind of exploration.
Production Paradise: Is there some new technique or style you’re planning to experiment with in your upcoming works?
Devi Brulé: Lately I’ve had my eye on kaleidoscopes. Some of the other commercial directors I admire often shoot through glass objects and use interesting lens distortions, which really appeals to me. Within the kaleidoscope effect, there’s something glamorous and surreal and romantic all at once, and those are all worlds I like to play in. If I’m going to incorporate a new technique or tool, it should feel natural to the content, and a subtle kaleidoscope feels like it can organically fit into fashion, fragrances, luxury goods, beauty – a lot of the sectors that I enjoy.
EUPHORIA / Snow
Production Paradise: Working in the visual media industry is fascinating, yet can be very difficult to break in. Any advice to a young filmmaker?
Devi Brulé: Yeah, it can be really challenging to inhabit the role we know we were meant to play, which is why it’s so important to cultivate a belief in your own inner knowing. You have to trust that spark.
Film school can be great, and it’s where I met a lot of people I still collaborate with, but it’s not everything. With all the resources online, you can really take your education into your own hands (don’t underestimate libraries!). I left school early to start working in the industry, but I kept reading and educating myself all the time. I still do.
Get on set as much as possible so you can make mistakes and learn. Create your own opportunities. If you want to work in commercials, make a spec spot. Have a great idea and refuse to spend a ton of money. A great idea will attract crew and they’ll bring gear and their buddies if they believe it’s going to be cool.
It helps to have a sense of where you want to end up. I’ve been inspired by some very visual directors – Malick, Tarsem, Jeunet, Cuarón – and creating visually-driven content is very different from comedy directing, for instance. So have an aim, and consider how your work can translate from commercials to other formats.
You have to discover your own style and pace of working. Don’t just go along with other people’s way of creating if it isn’t for you. Taking the time to consider what kind of experience you want to create will lead you to new ground.
And… this sounds simple, but believe in each other. And actually express it.
Production Paradise: What’s the most intriguing part about joining the Production Paradise community? What do you think is the most interesting feature on Production Paradise?
Devi Brulé: Having my portfolio showcased before such a high-‐caliber network is definitely exciting. As humans and as professionals, we’re absolutely reliant on one another – for perspective, for friendship, for opportunity. So my work, and my way of working, is all about the people surrounding me. Team is everything, and especially with something as hands-‐on as filmmaking, I think it pays to be selective.
The Production Paradise community is clearly one of exceptional quality. This diverse pool of top professionals and amazing creative talent might not otherwise find each other. It’s really a blessing of the times we live in.
And I love that there’s the option to share individual magazine features with your network. That’s absolutely key.
If you want to show off your latest work to the industry in the next edition of Production Paradise’s Spotlight or Showcase magazine, contact us now at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.