By Simon Cahn, Filmmaker and Art Director
Words by Nikolaj Hansson / Illustration by Sine Jensen
You might not be familiar with Simon Cahn upon hearing his name, but you've definitely experienced his work. Cahn has worked for the likes of Hermés, Supreme and Hanni El Khatib while co-directing a short with none other than Spike Jonze, Simon Cahn is one to watch out for. We linked up with him for a discussion about curating projects, methodology and the world of film.
Do you tend to look back at past projects after having finished them, or do you go head-on into your next venture?
I tend to go full on into the next one, rather than looking back. When I look at back at my work, I always think: "Oh, I should have done this or changed that." I think it's very difficult to enjoy your own work.
You've worked with the likes of Gucci, Supreme and Hanni El Khatib; a very diverse spread of names. How do you go about picking what projects you'd like to work on?
For music videos, it's all about a crush on a track or an artist; someone that can give you enough space for creativity.
It's great when you can find a good collaboration with a musician, like the one I worked on with Hanni El Khatib.As for brand videos, I try to work with brands I like. It's always great to create for people whom you've always loved when growing up, like Supreme or a beautiful and leading house like Hermés. Then for commercial work, that's another story.
Hanni El Khatib - Penny, directed by Simon Cahn.
Jim Jarmusch once said: "Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination." How do you see this in relation to your own interpretation of filmmaking?
You always want to find the perfect idea, the most original one. But you quickly realize that a lot has been done already and someone will always be able to find similarities in your work. Now, the idea is to take the concept from the references and make them your own. Those inspirations will be filtered and transformed by your imagination. I don't know if my work is original or not, but what I know is, that I have a lot of fun trying to transform my inspirations.
You co-directed the stop-motion film, To Die By Your Side, with Spike Jonze. What was the process of working together with him like?
It was like a dream, co-directing with one of your own favorite directors. He's a great mentor to have and I learned a lot of things from working with him. What was great is that he also gave me space to work. We had a great collaboration, Me, Spike and Olympia Le Tan. He's a pretty funny guy to work with, so naturally it was a great experience.
Some directors place a heavy emphasis on the garments in their films. How essential do you find the costumes of the characters to be?
Of course it's essential. It's as important as art direction, sets and casting. It's part of those small elements and details that make the audience believe in your story. Also, after a few years working with art direction in fashion, you tend to be more careful with these elements.
In our day and age, there are endless amounts of tools that can be used for editing films, adding effects and so on. What balance do you aim for between high value effects and the simpler tools?
My producers call med Ca(h)rnage, because I often make my projects quite more complicated than necessary. I always want to use as many real, on-set techniques as possible, like wires, stop motion etc. I think it's just because it's fun and a good challenge. For now, I haven't really explored the new and fast tools for effects and filming. These new tools will always be there in the future and I'm sure I'll get the use of them at some point. Our generation have the chance, for not very long, to still use some old techniques, one being shooting on film rather than doing it the digital way.
To Die By Your Side by Spike Jonze & Simon Cahn.
You work both as an art director and as filmmaker. Are there other mediums which you'd like to work with?
Not really. I know that we're a multi-creative generation, but I don't want to scatter my work everywhere. As for now, I just want to make good things with what I have; film and art direction. We'll see in the future.
What initially sparked your interest in filmmaking?
I guess I've always wanted to direct films since I was a kid.
I grew up watching lots of great films with my father, which drew me towards filmmaking. Spending half of my time in a movie theater, I rapidly realized that I wanted to create images.
Do you believe that films can have a greater impact, far more important than just being entertainment, on our lives?
Yes, big impacts! But sometimes, we forget simply to just entertain.