Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot is just as impressive up close, Sydney-based filmmaker Ben Briand reveals.
"Her physicality was unlike anything that I have ever experienced on set," he says. "She's very present in her body, so I could ask her to perform certain actions and she would articulate it beautifully."
Shot in a nondescript warehouse over three days, Briand worked with Gadot on an ad for tech company Asus. Combining digital wizardry with good old-fashioned athleticism, they wrapped two months out from the Israeli megastar re-donning the iconic bracelets and tiara for the Wonder Woman sequel. "There was this really exciting air on set. She's one of the biggest stars in the world."
Women are front and centre in Briand's films, from the inimitable Jacki Weaver as a grieving mother in Hammer Bay, his powerful debut for MTV Australia, through to Ingrid Silva: The Journey, an award-winning documentary short illuminating the achievements of the Brazilian ballerina born in Rio's slums.
"I think it's wonderful to explore the world of femininity intertwined with masculinity, and the experience of empathy," he says.
Straddling narrative as well as commercial work, Briand took home the Emerging Australian Filmmaker Award from the Melbourne International Film Festival for his motel-set thriller Blood Pulls a Gun, starring Odessa Young and Josh McConville, in 2014. Recently he elicited tears with First Dance, Apple's marriage equality-celebrating ad shot entirely on an iPhone X.
His latest short, Armour, which has just been selected for the London Fashion Film Festival and A Shaded View on Fashion Film Festival, casts 24-year-old Natasha Liu Bordizzo, star of Netflix's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel, as a deadly assassin swaddled in a navy blue wool Paul Smith overcoat. Filmed in the rugged wilds of Tasmania's Merino country, the stylish noir replete with thuggish hit men, a car versus motorbike chase and a fiery dream sequence was commissioned by The Woolmark Company, marking 50 years of Australian trade with China.
Check out The Woolmark Company's short film Armour below.
The demands of the role
"Working with Natasha was an absolute gift," Briand says.
"She's extremely talented and has this amazing ability to straddle cultures and continents, raised in Australia with Chinese-Italian heritage and now working in America."
An impressive screen presence, Briand says the martial artist nailed the loneliness, vulnerability and strength required by the role in a very short period. Joined by a brooding Sam Smith, star of Benjamin Gilmour's daring Afghanistan-shot, Cinefest Oz film prize-awarded Jirga, he has appeared in many of Briand's shorts and plays the target of both her kill list and, possibly, affections.
"He's one of my best friends and we just get each other," Briand explains.
"I really enjoy creating work that has a sense of mystery and romanticism to it, and also a kind of brutality, and Sam really encapsulates all three of those elements."
Given free rein by Woolmark, Briand played on the idea of wool as something raw spun into something beautiful while channelling his passion for Shanghai noir: "It's almost like La Femme Nikita meets In the Mood for Love."
Prepping for his first feature, Fever Heart, as well as a possible TV series, Briand suggests the blurring of lines between ads and short films is nothing new.
"Growing up in the '80s and '90s, I remember when music videos started to become short films, and when feature films started hiring music video directors. A lot of high-end brands have employed directors like David Lynch or David O. Russell and given them a lot of autonomy, and I think that's fantastic. Since the death of the music video, which was really this confluence of art and commerce, it feels like that's been replaced by this elevated short film world."
Coming from a fine art background, studying installation art and photography, as he sees it, whatever medium a filmmaker works in, the most important focus is on maintaining your unique approach.
"I've found that the more you reaffirm your own voice in your narrative work, the more the commercial projects come to you for that voice."
To those who follow
And he has some solid advice for filmmakers considering ad work in what can be a very cash-strapped industry.
"Pick the ones you think that you can shine in, that your own voice will come through on. If you don't see anything in those that are particularly you, then you're just going to be butting your head against the wall."